No. 1 CNU swept in three

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Misericordia advanced to the super regional with a three-game sweep of the No. 1 team in the country.
Misericordia athletics photo

Misericordia completed a sweep of top-ranked Christopher Newport with a 4-3 victory, Saturday afternoon to advance to the NCAA Super Regional. The Cougars had taken the first two games 8-4, and 14-9 on Friday before finishing the series in the minimum three games.

The Captains wrapped up their season with a 35-10 overall record, tying for the third most wins in a season and closed out the exceptional careers of 12 seniors that littered the CNU lineup. The final game for six record-breaking players in the Captains' starting lineup was played on a beautiful, hot day at Captains Park in front of a postseason crowd of just under 300 fans. 

With the win, Misericordia will advance to the first ever NCAA Division III Super Regional round, taking on the winner of the Salisbury Regional. 

Taylor Price earned the win in relief and Kyle Melahn tied his own school record with his eighth save of the season. Billy Kerwien had a two-run single for the Cougars and Parker Abate and Steve Weisensee each drove in runs with consecutive hit by pitches in a four-run sixth inning. Kenny Jarema reached base four times, including three walks, to extend his on-base streak to 34 consecutive games.

The dangerous CNU offense was held at bay for the majority of the weekend against Misericordia, as the MAC Freedom champs consistently wiggled out of jams with the Captains on the basepaths. CNU stranded 30 baserunners in the three-game set, including 12 during Saturday's clinching victory. The Captains were held to seven hits or fewer for just the eighth time this season.

Leading Christopher Newport's effort on Saturday was sophomore right-handed pitcher Nathan Clements, who dazzled through the first five shutout innings against a Misericordia offense who had scored 22 runs on Friday. Clements put together one of the finest outings of his career as he blanked the Cougars into the sixth inning. He struck out three and allowed just one hit. That base hiit, a soft single by Cougars lead off man Kenny Jarema, was erased two pitches later when Clements induced an inning-ending double play. Misericordia called a hit and run, but a liner to second base by Parker Abate allowed CNU senior Joseph Cutchins to end the top of the third with the double play.

CNU gave their sophomore starter a 2-run lead in the bottom of the fifth courtesy of a big blast by Nick DiNapoli. After Seth Woodard walked to lead off the inning, DiNapoli laced a 1-1 pitch over the left field wall to get the Captains on the board first. With his 13th home run of the season, the senior shortstop became just the fifth player in program history with as many long balls in a single season.

Clements retired the first batter in the top of the sixth before a walk that would bring on reliever Brian Owens. Shane Hughes took the first pitch he saw from Owens and lifted a lazy double just over the outstretched hands of Trey Hicks in right field, putting two on in scoring position with one out. Billy Kerwien tied the game with a two-run single down the line and the Cougars took the lead on a pair of RBI hit-by-pitches. The second would be the deciding run, as CNU could only scratch one more run across before the end of the game.

Misericordia answered with all four of its runs in its next at bat. Tyler Holzapfel began the rally with a one-out walk and went to third when Shane Hughes double to right field. Kerwien ripped a single down the right field line to plate both runners and tie the game, 2-2.

Sean Boylan reached base on a two-out throwing error to keep the inning alive and Jarema was intentionally walked to load the bases. Abate was hit on a 1-1 pitch to force in the go-ahead run and Weisensee was hit plunked on the first pitch to add an insurance run.

In the bottom of the sixth, a CNU run would come in loud fashion off the bat of Seth Woodard, as the senior third baseman hit a monster blast over the left field wall for the team's 75th roundtripper of the season. It was Woodard's 24th career home run in just two years as a member of the Captains, tied for fourth all-time. For the game, Woodard was 2-for-3 with a walk and scored two of CNU's four runs.

After the four-run sixth inning, Owens was lights-out for the Captains, retiring 11 straight batters to close out his final appearance of the year. Owens and Clements combined to allow just three hits in the game while striking out five and allowing two earned runs. But Melahn retired the Captains in order in the seventh. After a scoreless eighth, CNU put two runners on in the bottom of the ninth, but Melahn got a fielder's choice grounder and a strikeout to end the game.

Misericordia got the win out of Price (3-0) in relief while Melahn picked up his eighth save of the year. Melahn appeared in all three regional games for the Cougars.

The Captains, ranked No. 1 in the final Top 25, conclude their season in the NCAA Regional Round for the second straight year. CNU has reached the NCAA Tournament ten times in program history.