Randolph-Macon Holds off CNU in Nationally-Ranked Battle to Close Regular Season, 6-3

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ASHLAND, Va. -- In one of the marquee matchups of the entire Division III baseball season, a top-five billing awaited Tuesday's battle as nationally-ranked Christopher Newport traveled to Randolph-Macon for the regular season finale. The ABCA announced prior to Tuesday's first pitch that the Yellow Jackets were the top team in the nation, with CNU moving into the Top 5. In a game that had a postseason feel, the home team edged out the Captains, 6-3, as CNU dropped to 31-8 overall this season. 

The two teams met on a gorgeous Spring day at Estes Park on the campus of R-MC. The Yellow Jackets closed the regular season with a 29-5-1 record heading into the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament as the top seed. CNU will open play in the Capital Athletic Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed this Friday at Captains Park, hosting a three-team first round weekend starting at 9:00 am. 

In Tuesday's finale, rookie Gray Goodrich (5-3) started for the Captains and suffered the loss after Macon jumped on the freshman for three runs in the first two innings. Junior Austin Slough came on in relief, tossing a stellar three innings with just one hit allowed to keep CNU tight in the game. He struck out three batters and allowed just two base runners in his 3.0 shutout innings of work. 

Trailing 3-0 after the bottom of the first inning, the Captains clawed back to within one after four and a half. Rookie Conner Clark was the catalyst, driving in runs in both the third and fifth innings to make the score 3-2. In the third inning, junior second baseman Austin Henry delivered a one-out double down the left field line, and advanced to third on a Jordan Mason ground ball. Clark stepped in an shot a hard grounder through the left side, plating the Captains' first run. 

While on base, Clark also picked up his first of two steals in the game, giving him 28 on the season. He moved into a tie with Brian Gunn's 1997 season for third all-time on the single season steals chart. The rookie has re-set the CNU freshman record for steals by five, previously owned by David Mitchell with 23 in 1995. 

In the top of the fifth, Henry doubled down the line again, leading off the inning for CNU. Mason sacrificed him to third, setting up another RBI single from Clark, who slapped a shot into left field.

Randolph-Macon extended the lead back to two with a single run in the sixth, but the Captains pulled back within one in the top of the eighth. Nick DiNapoli singled into right with one out and promptly stole second base to get into scoring position. Junior catcher Ryan Grubbs then pounded a shot up the middle to chase DiNapoli to the plate with an RBI single. A two-out infield single by Mason put the go-ahead run on base, but the Yellow Jackets wiggled out of the jam with a strikeout to end the threat. 

In the bottom half of the eighth, Randolph-Macon tacked on two more runs thanks to a lead-off double from Cole Grinde and a sacrifice bunt. An RBI single and then a run scored on a wild pitch later in the frame extended the lead to the final score, 6-3. 

CNU got another runner on in the top of the ninth when Nicholas Baham flared a single into right field with two outs, but the Captains could not complete the comeback as Christian Cok picked up his fifth save of the season. 

The Captains will now turn their focus to the postseason as they prepare to host the CAC Tournament First Round. Third-seeded Penn State Harrisburg and fifth-seeded Southern Virginia University will travel to Newport News to face off against eachother in Friday's first game at 9:00 am. Then, second-seeded CNU will host the game one loser at 12:30 pm and the game one winner at 4:00 pm.