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Skipjacks play way into Region XX Final Four
Bruce, Custer shut down Garrett; four-run fifth provides needed offense

WYE MILLS – Kurt Bruce and Chris Custer combined on an eight-hitter, and the heart of the Skipjacks’ batting order drove in five runs as fourth-seeded Chesapeake College defeated sixth-seeded Garrett College, 6-2, Saturday afternoon in the NJCAA Division I Region XX sub-regional.

Bruce battled for 5 2/3 innings, allowing six hits and seven walks while constantly working his way out of jams. Custer took it from there, blanking Garrett on two hits over the final 3 1/3 innings as the Skipjacks reached the Region XX Final Four for the first time since going all the way to the NJCAA World Series in 2005.

The Skipjacks (32-15-1) will play top-seeded defending champion Potomac State College of West Virginia University (33-7) Friday at 1 p.m. at Anne Arundel Community College in the opening round of the double-elimination Region XX Final Four. Second-seeded Hagerstown Community College plays the Region XV entrant (either Globe Institute of Technology or Monroe Community College) in the other half of the draw.

Bruce said his main challenge may have been having too much rest.

"I think I struggled because I hadn’t thrown in a while, but it seemed like whenever I really needed to I threw a big pitch," said Bruce, who indicated having Custer available was comforting. "It’s nice when you know the person behind you can do just as good a job as you can."

"Kurt and Curley (Custer) did a great job pitching," said Chesapeake shortstop J.T. Gregory. "Even though Kurt struggled a little bit in the beginning, he really came through for us."

Offensively, the heart of the batting order did its job. Gregory, Bryan Woolford and Andrew Markey – who hit third, fourth, and fifth, respectively – combined to score four runs and drive in five as the Skipjacks beat Garrett (22-25-1) for the third time in eight days.

Gregory (2-for-4, two runs, two RBI) had a two-run single and Markey (2-for-4, run, two RBI) delivered a two-run double during a four-run fifth inning that erased a 2-1 deficit. The four-run explosion answered Garrett’s two-run rally in the top of the fifth, which wiped out Chesapeake’s 1-0 lead.

"You don’t want to let it (Garrett’s 2-1 lead) sit out there for a couple of innings," said Markey, who indicated it was important the Skipjacks came right back with a big inning after Garrett’s two-run fifth. "It made it a lot easier playing the last few innings with a big lead."

Garrett, which used an 8-5 win over fifth-seeded Anne Arundel Community College earlier in the day to set up its showdown with Chesapeake, stranded seven runners over the first four innings. The Lakers’ biggest opportunity came in the first inning when they had the bases loaded with one out, but Bruce struck out Joe Wilt and induced Garrett Rogers into an inning-ending groundout.

"This game told the whole story of our season – we were knocking on the door, but just couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it," said Garrett head coach Eric Hallenbeck.

Chesapeake took a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Markey lined a double to left field, took third on a J.J. Corriveau single and scored on a Brian Brown groundout.

The Lakers finally broke through against Bruce in the fifth when Wilt delivered a run-scoring single and Bruce walked Kris Torrence with the bases loaded to force in the go-ahead run. Bruce, however, avoided further damage when Dave Angle hit an inning-ending foul pop-up.

Chesapeake came right back as Talley opened the home fifth with a single off Garrett starter Juan Kreider. Tony Mitchell’s grounder forced Talley at second, but Mike Liddell (2-for-4) singled up the middle and took second on an unsuccessful attempt to cut down Mitchell at third.

Gregory followed with what proved to be the winning hit, a two-run single to left that scored Mitchell and Liddell for a 3-2 lead and knocked Kreider out of the game. Reliever Reed Aliferi immediately walked Woolford, gave up Markey’s two-run double, and walked J.V. Herbert before being replaced by Jeb Bennett.

Custer replaced Bruce after the sophomore ace issued consecutive, two-out walks in the sixth. Custer retired 10 of the 12 hitters he faced to finish out the game.

Notes: The Skipjacks’ 32 wins is the second-most in school history, trailing only the 40 wins posted by the 2005 World Series team.

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