April 6, 2012

#3 CNU Clinches USA South Regular Season Title With 6-3 Win Over #12 Shenandoah

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WINCHESTER, Va. -- The third-ranked Christopher Newport Captains (25-4, 9-2) clinched the 2012 USA South Baseball Regular Season Title today, defeating the 12th-ranked Shenandoah University Hornets (21-8, 7-4) on the road, 6-3. CNU needed only split the two-game series to seal the outright championship, and took care of locking it up with a 6-3 win in Friday night's opener.

It is the third time CNU has won the regular season title in baseball, and the second outright championship. CNU last took the top seed in 2008, when they also won the conference tournament. Shenandoah will finish second and captures the number two seed for next week's USA South Conference Tournament in Burlington, N.C. Remaining seeds and tournament schedule will be announced this weekend.

CNU trailed twice in the game, as the Hornets high-flying offense got to Captains ace Greg Goldsmith with one run in the first and two more in the bottom of the third inning after CNU had tied it at one in the top half. League-leading hitter Joey Donofrio scored in the opening inning to give Shenandoah a 1-0 lead.

Senior Luke Saunders singled home a run in the top of the third to even things up, but Donofrio again kicked things off in the bottom half, with a lead-off double. Kurt Krout tripled to score Donofrio, and then came in himself on a sacrifice fly to take a 3-1 lead.

Goldsmith found himself working out of tough situations over the next four innings, but would not surrender another run as he escaped several tough jams. The Hornets got a one-out triple from Nick Beall in the sixth, but the Captains starter got a pair of groundouts to hold him 90 feet from home plate.

Meanwhile, the offense had started to back their ace. In the fifth, Saunders again was the catalyst in tying to score at three, when he doubled down the right field line with two outs to plate a pair of his teammates, Shannon Mark and Billy Steel, who had each walked.

In the sixth, CNU took its first lead of the game as junior DH Christopher McDougal singled home Steven Keener after doubling earlier in the inning. The Captains leading run producer, senior Connor Madden, then stepped up and drove in a pair with a single up the middle to give CNU a three-run cushion, 6-3.

Junior right-hander Richard Lindsay came on in relief in the eighth inning, striking out a pair while he kept the Hornets off the board. Lefty set-up man Matt Verdillo came on in the ninth to face Donofrio, getting some help from Steel on a pop-out to short. Steel made a diving play to snare the fly, retiring the Hornets hottest hitter. Coach Harvell then called on closer Ryan Fleischmann for the final two outs, and with a pair of groundouts, he picked up his seventh save of the season.

Goldsmith got the win, pitching seven innings of quality baseball, improving to 5-1 overall this season by scattering seven hits and allowing three earned while striking out a pair. 

Seniors Luke Saunders and Connor Madden combined for five RBI in the win, as CNU was forced to come-from-behind twice in the victory. Each were 2-for-5 while Saunders drove in three and Madden a pair. Steel added a 2-for-4 performance while collecting six assists in the field.

Vince Claudio was saddled with the loss for Shenandoah, allowing all six earned runs despite striking out eight in five and a third. Donofrio was 2-for-5 with two runs scored while Jake Pendergraft had a pair of RBI in a hitless night.

The two teams will return to the diamond on Saturday to complete the two-game series at 1:00 pm. CNU will look to extend its season-long nine game winning streak.

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