Army captures Patriot League title
Watkins' three-run homer in seventh provides winning margin
WEST POINT, N.Y. -- J.T. Watkins' three-run homer capped Army's four-run seventh inning uprising as the top-seeded Black Knights defeated second-seeded Holy Cross 8-4 to clinch the Patriot League title in the completion of a suspended game on Tuesday afternoon at Doubleday Field.
The Black Knights, who have won four conference championships in the last nine years and six overall, secured the Patriot League's automatic berth into the upcoming NCAA Regionals. Army (41-13) will learn of its postseason destination on May 27, when the field of 64 is unveiled.
"I'm very proud of what this group has accomplished," Army head coach Joe Sottolano said. "Our captains, J.T. Watkins and Zach Price, are two of the finest I've ever had the privilege to coach. We're nothing without the leadership of our senior class, and that starts with our captains. This team will go down as one of the toughest teams that I've ever coached, and that's saying a lot because we've had a lot of great teams come through here."
Army and Holy Cross split the first two games of the PLCS, but the third and decisive contest was suspended on Monday evening due to rain with the score tied at 4-all in the top of the seventh inning.
Gunnar Carroll (2-0) came on to begin the seventh when play resumed on Tuesday and pitched three scoreless innings to earn the win.
"I was thankful to have the opportunity to go out there and contribute to the win," Carroll said. "It's an exciting time for everyone. It means a lot because this is such a hard-working group of guys. To share this with them means a lot to me. It's especially exciting for the seniors, since this is their last go-round."
Zach Price went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and one RBI to pace Army offensively. Daniel Cortes, Kevin McKague, J.T. Watkins and Harold Earls each finished with two hits apiece to help ignite the Black Knights' 12-hit attack.
The Black Knights' offense wasted little time giving Carroll all the run support he would need, scoring four times in the bottom of the seventh.
Price and Cortes hit consecutive one-out singles and McKague was intentionally walked to load the bases for Mark McCants, who lifted a sacrifice fly to deep right center field to deliver what proved to be the game-winning run. Watkins followed by crushing an off-speed pitch over the fence in left field. The three-run shot gave Army a commanding four-run cushion.
"Mark McCants came up in a key situation and jumped on the first pitch to drive in that first run," Sottolano said. "Then, J.T. hit a big home run for us. We played to win all weekend long, and my hat goes off to our guys. Our attitude and our belief was the difference in these ballgames."
Carroll faced the minimum in the seventh and eighth innings, before allowing two base runners in the top of the ninth. He was able to get Stephen Wadsworth to ground into a fielder's choice to Earls at third base, though, to end the game and set off a frenzied celebration near the pitcher's mound.
"I just feel lucky to be a part of this team," Watkins said. "These guys go out there every single day looking to compete and win ballgames, and that's exactly what we've done all year. It's just great to be a part of it."
Army had to rally from a 4-2 deficit to knot the score at 4-all with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, before the game was suspended on Monday. A run-scoring base hit by Earls and an RBI groundout by Cody Murtle made it 4-4 in the bottom of the sixth inning, before the skies opened up.
Holy Cross (33-22) got on the scoreboard in the top of the third, scoring an unearned run on Mike Ahmed's RBI single.
Army came back with two runs in the bottom of the third to take a 2-1 advantage. Price and McKague both came through with run-scoring singles to provide the Black Knights' runs.
Holy Cross tied it up at 2-all in the fourth inning when Patrick Puentes homered leading off the frame. The Crusaders then built a 4-2 cushion with single runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
Carroll was able to hold Holy Cross without a hit over the final three frames.
Brandon Cipolla went 2-for-4 with two runs scored to lead the Crusaders. Ahmed finished 1-for-4 with two RBI.
Donny Murray (4-1) took the loss for Holy Cross after giving up base hits to Price and Cortes to open the seventh inning. The Crusaders used three different pitchers during the seventh, and all three were charged with at least one earned run.