Packert Sensational as Captains Open NCAA South Regional With a Rain-Soaked 5-1 Win Over Denison University

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HOLLY SPRINGS, N.C. -- Behind a masterful pitching performance by Christopher Newport's sophomore ace Thomas Packert, the Captains earned the program's first NCAA Tournament victory since 2012. The Captains (33-10) defeated 20th-ranked Denison University (32-11) in the NCAA South Regional, 4-1, behind Packert's ninth win of the season.
Packert improved to 9-1 after a dominating 7-inning performance in which he didn't allow a single ball into the outfield on a fly. He struck out eight batters and induced nine groundball outs with three infield pop-ups. The Captains' leader on the mound also endured an hour-and-a-half rain delay in the middle of his outing, returning to the mound for his final two innings pitched.
Despite only five runs on the board, the Captains' offense was as potent as ever on Thursday night, belting out 14 hits in the game. CNU stranded a program record 21 runners on base, but did enough against the Big Red's top two pitchers to advance in the championship bracket. Five Captains registered multi-hit games, led by a three-hit performance from rookie Conner Clark (3-for-6).
Denison took an early lead in the ball game, pulling ahead 1-0 on an unearned run in the bottom of the first. The Big Red manufactured the first run of the game on an error, base hit up the middle and an RBI groundout. From there, Packert was locked in. He retired eight straight and 14 of the next 16 batters.
Right at 7:30 pm, sophomore shortstop Nick DiNapoli roped a hard shot inside the bag at third base for a lead-off double. The Captains would have to wait for the next batter as heavy rainfall forced a ten-minute delay in the action. Denison's starter, Perley Provost (10-2), appeared to collect himself following the break, getting the next two batters out, but CNU's Jordan Mason delivered a hot grounder up the middle to plate the early game-tying run.
Packert cruised through the first five innings, giving up one unearned run on two hits with five strikeouts. The Captains would give him the lead in the top of the sixth during an inning that looked destined to be a bigger frame than it wound up being. The first three batters reached, including a go-ahead RBI single by Clark, and then the Captains loaded the bases with only one out. With one of their hottest bats coming to the plate, Craig Johnson, the CNU offense would be put into a holding pattern as the skies opened up.
An hour and a half rain delay allowed Denison reliever Mikey Rivera to collect himself and he struck out a pair of batters once play resumed, as CNU left the bases loaded.
In the bottom half of the inning, CNU sent Packert back to the hill despite the delay. He gave up an infield single and hit a batter before a sacrifice bunt moved the runners up. In one of the game's most pivotal moments, he fell behind the next batter, 3-0, before battling back to get a much-needed strikeout. With two outs and the game-tying run represented in scoring position, Packert strapped in for another K, his seventh strikeout of the day to end the threat, sending the Captains back to the plate with momentum swinging back their way.
CNU tacked on another run in the top of the seventh before Packert closed out his day with another impressive frame in the bottom half. The sophomore right-hander earned another strikeout, his eighth, and an inning-ending double play after another weak infield single. The final line in his first career playoff victory was 7.0 IP, 1 R, 4 H, 8 SO, 0 BB. During his outing, only two balls left the infield, and both came on groundballs up the middle.
In the eighth inning, CNU sophomore Brian Owens tossed a clean inning to make way for senior closer Joe Burris in the ninth. Burris wrapped up the NCAA win by striking out the side in order, closing out the 5-1 victory.
CNU outhit the Big Red, 14-5, led by Clark's 3-for-6 effort. Jordan Mason and Nicholas Baham were each 2-for-5, while Seth Woodard was 2-for-4 with a pair of walks. Rounding out the multi-hit performances was junior second baseman Austin Henry, going 2-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.
The Captains advance to play in the 7:00 pm game on day two, game six of the South Regional. CNU will take on The College of New Jersey (29-9), after the Lions earned a 5-2 win over Alvernia in the opening round.