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WEST POINT – The top-seeded Army West Point baseball team is on track to claim its fourth-straight Patriot League Championship after defeating No. 4 Holy Cross in a semifinal doubleheader on Saturday afternoon at Johnson Stadium.
The Black Knights (29-21) downed the Crusaders (17-37) by a score of 9-3 before out-slugging their visitors in a 14-2 second game.
Army 9, Holy Cross 3
After a few back-and-forth innings, Army took its final lead in the bottom of the fourth by scoring five runs that lifted the team to victory in game one.
Connelly Early pitched a career-high 8.0 innings in the contest, allowing just three earned runs on six hits. The Patriot League Pitcher of the Year fanned seven batters and did not crack 80 pitches until the top of the eighth.
The Black Knights took their first lead in the bottom of the first when Hunter Meade, who walked and stole a base to get into scoring position, came in on Sam Ruta’s single. Both teams traded runs over the next few frames, with Holy Cross using a pair of long balls to take a 3-2 lead in the top of the fourth. Army’s additional score during the action was recorded on Nick Manesis’ sac fly.
The Cadets did not remain behind the Crusaders for long, as the offense took care of business in the bottom of the fourth to overtake Holy Cross once and for all. After Blake Ledoux tied up the game at 3-3 with an RBI single, Derek Berg scored an additional run on a wild pitch before Kevin Dubrule and Manesis drove in three more with a double and a single, respectively, to put the home team on top 7-3.
Holy Cross’ two runs in the top of the fourth were their last of the game, as Early cruised through his last four innings of work. Ross Friedrick’s solo shot and Cam Cerruto, who scored on a wild pitch, added to Army’s total in the seventh and pushed the team to its final margin of victory.
Early (7-3) was relieved by Robbie Buecker at the start of the ninth and though two Crusaders worked their way onto the base paths, he preserved the win.
Army 14, Holy Cross 2
A consistent attack led the Black Knights past the Crusaders as they closed out the doubleheader in winning fashion. Army scored in six different innings to complete its sweep of Holy Cross, improving to 7-0 against the team this year.
The Cadets struck early once again and had claimed a 4-0 advantage by the end of the second. Manesis was credited with three RBI during the early spree, while Friedrick drove in a run with a single. Holy Cross’ starter bounced back with a zero in the third but was chased out in the following inning when Ruta’s double plated Meade. Manesis also picked up his fourth RBI to push Army’s lead to 6-0.
Brian Dawson got the start on the bump and did not have to deal with a runner in scoring position until the top of the fourth. Though two Crusaders reached in that frame, the starter held them to another zero.
Following four scoreless innings, Holy Cross got on the board in the top of the fifth with a two-out single before Dawson recorded the third out with a swinging punchout. After pitching a quality start, he was relieved in the top of the sixth by Trevor Finan, who sat down the Crusaders in order.
Army poured it on down the stretch, adding eight runs to its lead over the final three innings. Friedrick, Dubrule, Ruta and Manesis plated runners during the jamboree and contributed to the team’s 19 hits, which fell just short of tying a season-best 20 (vs. Holy Cross, April 2).
While the Black Knights ran away with the game, the Crusaders did tack on one final run to their total by drawing a bases-loaded walk in the seventh. The Black Knights used four arms to get through the final innings and Dawson (4-1) was credited with the win.