>’Jacks eager for playoff date with Potomac State
Chesapeake College opens Region XX tourney against four-time defending champs
HANOVER, MD The fourth-seeded Skipjacks drew top-seeded, four-time defending champion Potomac State College in the opening round of the NJCAA Division I Region XX Final Four and the Skipjacks couldn’t be happier.
"We know they have an outstanding ball club. We have to be prepared for their best," said Chesapeake College head baseball coach Frank Szymanski, whose team plays PSC Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. here at Joe Cannon Stadium. "The fun part about this is we’re still playing and we’ve got another chance to play them. That’s the opportunity we wanted."
The Catamounts, ranked in the NJCAA Division I top 10 in hitting (.366 team average), handed Chesapeake (32-15-1) a 17-2 loss at PSC earlier this season. Chesapeake, however, threw a scare at PSC (35-8) when the Catamounts visited Wye Mills, taking a 3-0 lead into the eighth before dropping a 5-3 decision.
"That was a great game to be involved in," said Szymanski, whose team defeated Garrett College, 6-2, in last Saturday’s sub-regional to advance to this weekend’s double-elimination tournament. "We’ve been competitive in most of the games that we’ve played (against teams in this weekend’s tournament)."
Second-seeded Hagerstown Community College (32-15-1) takes on Monroe College (24-10) at 10 a.m. Friday in the other first-round game. The first-round losers plays a 4 p.m. elimination game, with the first-round winners facing off Saturday for a spot in the finals.
The finals are scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday, with the "if" game to follow if the loser’s bracket survivor wins Sunday’s first game. The tournament champion will host a best-of-three Eastern District title series against the Region X champion for a berth in the 2008 NJCAA Division I World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
Chesapeake is almost certain to see one of PSC’s two pitching aces, Nathan Fike (7-0, 1.65 earned-run average) or Andy Altemus (5-2, 3.14). Fike earned a complete-game victory in the 17-2 win over the Skipjacks while Altemus left the second game trailing the Skipjacks, 2-0, after six innings.
While Fike has the better stats this year, Altemus is a big-game pitcher who threw a five-hit, complete-game win against Hagerstown in last year’s Region XX title game.
The Skipjacks, however, can counter with a strong pitching staff anchored by sophomores Evan Ford (6-2, 3.20 ERA) and Kurt Bruce (2-4, 2.77) and freshman Chris Custer (5-1, 3.12). They’ve been particularly stingy over the last dozen games, with Ford (1.28 ERA), Custer (1.62 ERA) and Bruce (2.13 ERA) combining for a 1.66 ERA over that time period.
Szymanski also has pitching depth, which may be critical as the tournament progresses. Sophomores Bryan Woolford (3-0, 2.66), J.T. Gregory (3-0, 4.41) and Greg Snyder (5-0, 5.46) are a combined 11-0. Five of the six aforementioned pitchers have also closed games at different points this season.
"We try to prepare during the regular season for these kind of games by putting players in different situations so that when we need them, they’re prepared and experienced," said Szymanski of the number of pitchers who have both started and closed out games.
Chesapeake’s entire pitching staff is ready to go, thanks to the six days off between the play-in and the Final Four. That wasn’t the case in the Skipjacks’ last trip to the Final Four in 2005 when they won the Division II region title as Chesapeake had to play twice on a Tuesday and then play the following Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"The schedule change for the play-in benefited us, allowing our players to be rested and all our arms to be available," said Szymanski. "After 48 games, we needed a little bit of time off to study for final exams (which started Wednesday) and prepare for the Final Four."
Chesapeake’s pitchers will be trying to shut down a Catamount attack led by sophomore shortstop Jacke Healey (.451 batting average, 10 home runs, 42 RBI) and sophomore third baseman Matt Schrader (47 RBI). Freshman outfielder Justin Grantham has scored 41 runs for PSC, while four other Catamounts (Kyle Orensky, Jason Lombard, Brock Stevens, and Chris Szafran) are hitting .347 or better.
The Skipjacks are hitting more than 50 points lower than PSC as a team, and have exhibited some offensive inconsistency this season. Chesapeake, however, has plenty of offensive potential led by freshman first baseman Andrew Markey (.343 batting average, four home runs, 44 RBI), freshman outfielder Tony Mitchell (.397, 36 runs, 23 RBI), sophomore infielder J.V. Herbert (.278, 36 RBI), freshman outfielder Mike Liddell (.333, 22 RBI, 32 runs), infielder Woolford (.345, five homers, 24 RBI), and shortstop Gregory (.327, 22 RBI, 23 runs).
"We’ve had the pitching most of the year and the defense has been pretty solid all year," said Szymanski. "The hitting has not been as consistent as I would like, but we came up with timely hitting last Saturday (in the playoff win over Garrett) and we have the potential to be tough at the plate."
While the Skipjacks are seeded fourth, Szymanski is encouraged by the fact that three of their four games against teams playing this weekend were decided by two runs or less. Hagerstown took a doubleheader from Chesapeake by identical 2-1 scores, while the Skipjacks played PSC tough in the 5-3 loss in Wye Mills.
"That’s how it was in ’05 we were competitive with everybody in the regular season," said Szymanski. "Some games went our way and some games didn’t, but we had the confidence we could play with those teams. I believe we have the confidence we can play with these teams this year."
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