Holy Cross baseball sweeps Army in Patriot League semifinal series

By JENNIFER TOLAND | Telegram & Gazette | Published: May 14, 2017

WORCESTER, Mass. (Tribune News Service) -- The Holy Cross baseball team, especially its 13 seniors, has had its season-long sights set on making a return trip to the Patriot League championship series and, more importantly, winning what has been a so-far elusive first PL title.

The Crusaders achieved part one of their objective Saturday by sweeping Army in a best-of-three Patriot League semifinal series at Fitton Field.

In Game 1, senior right-hander Brendan King was outstanding in leading HC to an 8-2 victory. The Crusaders rallied for four runs in the eighth inning of Game 2 for a come-from-behind 5-4 win.

"The first part feels pretty good," King said, "but everyone here understands that's not the full goal. We've made it this far before. Now, it's about making that next step."

Holy Cross (20-25), the No. 2 seed, will face the winner of the other semifinal series between top-seeded Navy and No. 4 Bucknell next weekend at the home field of the highest remaining seed.

Bucknell beat Navy, 4-1, in Game 1 Saturday. Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 will be played Sunday.

This marks HC's fifth championship series appearance since 2010.

"It's a great feeling," senior left fielder Bill Schlich said. "We've worked all year for this."

Army, the No. 3 seed, finished 25-30. HC won five of six games against the Black Knights this season.

King (4-5, 4.02) went seven innings and allowed two runs on five hits. He struck out eight and retired the Black Knights in order in the first, fourth, fifth and sixth.

"I felt strong," King said, "and I just tried to execute pitches, too, tried to get them to chase the off-speed stuff and throw enough quality fastballs."

King shut out Army in the first game of a doubleheader April 15. He yielded five hits in a complete-game, seven-inning effort to lead HC to a 2-0 victory. Holy Cross coach Greg DiCenzo thought his No. 1 pitcher was even better Saturday.

"It was one of his best performances of the year, if not his career here," DiCenzo said. "His stuff was as crisp and clean as I've seen it. This is why Kinger is one of the best pitchers in our league, if not the best."

Junior second baseman Cam O'Neill, senior first baseman Anthony Critelli and senior right fielder Josh Hassell powered the offense in Game 1 and staked King a 7-0 lead through four innings.

O'Neill bashed a three-run homer in the first. His team-leading ninth home run of the year went way beyond the fence in left. In the second, Hassell drove in freshman Chris Rinaldi, who doubled. HC added three more runs in the fourth. Hassell's two-run double to short right field highlighted the inning.

Critelli hit a solo blast, his seventh home run of the year, in the seventh.

Trey Martin broke up King's shutout with a leadoff homer in the eighth. David Monge followed with a single to right and King exited. Kris Lindner's single drove in Monge.

Army loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, but the Crusaders turned a 4-6 double play to end it.

Schlich had two hits in the first game and a solo home run in the second game. He made a great running catch near the left-field bullpen in the sixth inning of the first game. In the first inning of Game 2, Schlich slid to make another nice grab and take away a potential extra-base hit.

Army got on the board first in Game 2. John McCarthy reached on an error, advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on Alex Dickerson's single to center.

Schlich's home run to center tied it, 1-1, in the sixth.

With the help of two HC infield errors and a hit batsman, the Black Knights went ahead with a pair of runs in the sixth. Holy Cross, one of the PL's best defensive teams, committed an uncharacteristic five errors in Game 2.

Army added another run in the seventh to take a 4-1 lead.

The Crusaders scraped out four runs in the decisive eighth.

Pinch-hitter Jared Enders led off with an infield single, Schlich reached on a one-out error and freshman center fielder Austin Masel, the PL Rookie of the Year, walked to load the bases.

Critelli's single to right drove in a pair of runs.

After O'Neill walked to reload the bases, junior Thomas Russo grounded to second baseman Lindner.

Masel scored to tie it and Army got O'Neill at second. Shortstop Josh White's throw to first sailed over the first baseman's head and Critelli came home with the go-ahead run.

"It shows the fight we have," Critelli said. "We were down, but never out. It feels awesome."

Senior reliever George Capen (5-1, 3.58) pitched the ninth inning of Game 1 and earned the win in Game 2 after going 3-2/3 innings. He allowed one run and struck out five in Game 2, and shut Army down in the eighth after the Black Knights loaded the bases.

"That was as much grit as I've ever seen from a pitcher," King said. "Even when he was tiring out he refused to give up or give in. He took this game for us and willed us to win it."

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