June 5, 2004
BATON ROUGE, La. - Army has grown accustomed to producing clutch hits at critical moments all season long. Unfortunately, the Black Knights could not come up with the big hit on Saturday as Army's record-setting season drew to a disappointing end with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to College of Charleston in the Elimination Game of the Baton Rouge Regional, Saturday afternoon at Alex Box Stadium.
Despite the loss, Army (37-15) finished the finest season in Academy history with a school-record number of victories and the program's second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Less than 24 hours after suffering a 9-0 loss to eighth-ranked LSU in the opening game of the regional, Army struggled to get its offense untracked again versus third-seeded College of Charleston. The Cougars landed in Saturday's elimination game after squandering 3-0 and 5-3 leads during a 6-5 loss to second-seeded Southern Miss on Friday.
Black Knight right-hander Justin Kashner
and Cougar left-hander Ryan Edell locked up in classic pitcher's duel at LSU's home stadium on Saturday. Edell retired 15 of Army's first 17 batters and faced just two batters over the minimum through five innings. Kashner, meanwhile, fired four shutout innings, before College of Charleston finally broke through with an unearned run in the fifth.
Matt Kirkpatrick drew a leadoff walk in the fifth and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Anthony Fairchild. Army first baseman Walker Gorham fielded the ball, but threw high to first base, pulling Nate Stone off the bag and Fairchild was safe on the play. It proved to be a costly error for the Black Knights.
After Kashner threw out Kirkpatrick on Phillip Coker's unsuccessful sacrifice bunt attempt, Brett Gardner singled through the left side of the infield, driving home Fairchild with the first run of the game.
Army threatened in the top of the sixth inning, bunching together singles by Kyle Scogin, Wes Bumgardner and Schuyler Williamson, but Scogin was thrown out stealing second on a failed hit-and-run try and Gorham lined out to right field with runners on first and second to end the threat.
The Cougars added what proved to be a very important insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning, capitalizing on another defensive misplay by the Black Knights. Kevin Bulger opened the inning with an infield single to shortstop. He advanced to second base on the play when Scogin's throw to first eluded Gorham. Jess Easterling sacrificed Bulger to third and Campbell was walked to place runners at first and third with one out.
Junior right-hander Dan Pluff relieved Kashner and appeared to work out of trouble when he induced Kirkpatrick to ground to short for what could have resulted in an inning-ending-double-play. But Scogin and Stone mishandled the exchange and the Black Knights were only able to register the out at second base, allowing Bulger to score with what proved to be College of Charleston's winning run.
"Coming in today, I just knew I had to throw strikes, keep College of Charleston off base and try to control the running game," Kashner said. "They did their job. They got on base and manufactured some runs. You've got to give them credit. It's tough to go out like this, but we played hard today. I think we gave everything we had."
The Black Knights failed to convert a golden scoring opportunity in the top of the seventh inning, placing runners at first and third with no outs. Stone opened the inning with a single, extending his personal-best hitting streak to 20 games, one shy of the Academy record. He advanced to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on a single to right field by Justin Long. But Nolan Cork struck out, Jeremy Stache's safety squeeze bunt back to Edell resulted in Stone being tagged out in a run-down and Scogin's sinking liner was snagged by a diving Coker in right, ending the inning.
Army finally broke through in the eighth when Milan Dinga singled to center field, stole second base and scored on a clutch, two-out double to left-center field by Gorham. Nick Chigges then replaced Edell on the mound for College of Charleston and fanned Stone with the potential tying run in scoring position.
"All weekend long we saw real good arms and great composure (from opponents' pitchers). I don't think I saw a ball above my knees more than once," said Gorham. "Each at-bat I was looking for a pitch that I could drive. Lefty on lefty I was looking for a ball I could drive out to that gap and I got it. It was a ball down and away. I stayed back just enough to get it in the gap. (Edell) worked all of us well. He didn't make a lot of mistakes."
Chigges retired Long on a flyout one step in front of the fence in center field for the first out in the ninth, then fanned Cork before Stache singled to center to extend Army's inning. But Scogin's bullet one-hopper was picked cleanly by Cougar second baseman Chris Campbell to end the game and the Black Knights' season.
Army outhit College of Charleston by a 10-6 margin, but stranded eight runners on base and could not overcome a pair of fielding errors in the end. Scogin and Schuyler Williamson paced Army's offense with two hits apiece.
"Obviously, it's tough to go out this way," said Army head coach Joe Sottolano, "but then again if you're gonna go out, you want it to be in a close ball game and your kids really competing. I've got to give a lot of credit to College of Charleston. They came up with the big play at the right time. They pushed across some runs in key situations and made us execute. For the first time in a long time, we didn't come up with clutch hits and we didn't make the big play. But that's going to happen. That is baseball."
"College of Charleston stayed steady, made big pitches and threw strikes. You have to give them a lot of credit and tip your caps. I compliment every one of our players. They competed. They never gave up. We went through a series of frustrations, but our kids hung with it and they competed."
Army fell to 0-4 in NCAA Tournament play. Two of those losses were decided by one run and another by two runs.