´Jacks reach first regional Final Four
Brainer baffles Frederick; Ireland slams Dundalk
DUNDALK, May 10 It´s been such a great baseball season that the Skipjacks simply didn´t want to see it end.
So they made sure it didn´t.
Sixth-seeded Chesapeake College routed seventh-seeded Frederick Community College, 9-1, Tuesday afternoon as winning pitcher Bryan Brainer tossed a two-hitter in the first round of the NJCAA Division II Region XX tournament. The Skipjacks then upset third-seeded Community College Baltimore County-Dundalk, 11-7, in a second-round contest as sophomore Brett Ireland swatted two home runs, including a grand slam.
The twin wins sent the Skipjacks (34-15) into this weekend´s Region XX Final Four for the first time in school history. That´s on top of a regular season in which Chesapeake smashed the school record for victories, set by last year´s 26-win team.
"The team really worked hard this off season with this goal in mind," said Ireland, who went a combined 4-for-8 with seven RBI in Tuesday´s two games. "I´m really glad we got it for Coach (Frank) Szymanski. He´s been working so long to get the program to this point. It feels good we were the first team to get him to the Final Four."
"It´s just a great day for the college and all the people that have invested in this program," said Szymanski, who has guided the Skipjacks to six straight regional playoff berths after inheriting a program that was a combined 1-37 in the two seasons before his arrival. "The faculty, staff, administration, the players and their parents, our coaches I hope everyone feels a part of this."
The Skipjacks will take on second-seeded Community College Baltimore County-Catonsville Friday morning at 10 a.m. at Frederick Community College, the site of the region´s double-elimination Final Four. The tournament, which also features top-seeded Allegany College of Maryland and fourth-seeded Baltimore City Community College, continues Saturday and Sunday with the champion earning a berth in the NJCAA Division II national tournament.
Brainer (5-2) gave up a first-inning run to Frederick, then slammed the door on the Cougars. He struck out 13 and issued just one walk against a Frederick squad he no-hit earlier this season.
"We knew Brainer was well-rested and he´d had success against them in the past," said Szymanski. "He´s been there for us all year and it was his ball all the way."
Justin Armiger (2-for-5, two doubles, two RBI) doubled and scored on a Jimmy Carroll (2-for-3) single in the bottom of the first to tie the game, 1-1. The Skipjacks then put together a three-run third to take control of the contest. Ireland (2-for-4) singled in what proved to be the winning run and Mike Kelch (2-for-4) added a two-run single to make it 4-1.
The Skipjacks added single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, then ended the game on the eight-run mercy rule with a three-run seventh highlighted by Armiger´s two-run double.
Ryan Bell went 3-for-4 and drove in a run for the Skipjacks, who finished the Frederick game with 14 hits.
The Skipjacks kept right on hitting in Game 2 against Dundalk, blowing out to an 8-0 lead in the top of the third inning. Ireland hit a two-run homer during a three-run second and launched a grand slam as part of a five-run third off Dundalk starter Kenneth Morris, who lasted only three innings.
"The first homer, I was just looking for a first-pitch fastball and it just happened to be there," said Ireland. "The second homer, with bases loaded and one out, I was just trying to hit a fly ball. It was a first-pitch fastball again."
"It was Brett´s day," said Szymanski. "He was seeing the ball well and had good cuts. He drove the ball and hit it where it was pitched."
Dundalk answered with four runs in the bottom of the third as Nick Bowen hit a three-run homer and John Zorich followed with a home run. The Lions added two fifth-inning runs and got within 8-7 on Bowen´s sixth-inning, RBI single.
The Skipjacks broke the game open with three eighth-inning runs. Clarke Rollins (2-for-4) and Kelch (2-for-4) singled before Bell was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Pinch-hitter Anthony Archie then slammed a three-run double to make it 11-7.
Matt Fitzgerald was the Game 2 winner, improving to 6-0 while yielding 11 hits and four walks in seven innings. Brainer then pitched the final two innings, striking out four while allowing just one hit and one walk.
"Brainer had a low first-game pitch count and was willing to come back in and pitch," explained Szymanski.
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