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Skipjacks roll to region baseball crown
Chesapeake blanks Allegany, advances to district play

FREDERICK, May 15 – Chesapeake College´s march to its first NJCAA Division II Region XX baseball championship was hardly easy – fall scrimmages, winter workouts and conditioning, and a grueling, 47-game regular season all preceded the regional championship tournament.

Still, the Skipjacks (37-15) made their weeklong championship run look almost effortless. That´s how dominating Chesapeake was in rolling to five straight postseason wins by a combined score of 51-16, climaxed by Sunday´s 11-0 romp over top-seeded Allegany College of Maryland.

Sophomore ace Bryan Brainer (6-2) provided a championship-quality pitching effort, throwing a six-hit, complete-game shutout while striking out 10. And Brainer got more than enough offensive support as Clarke Rollins went 3-for-5 and drove in seven runs, four on an eighth-inning grand slam that put the exclamation point on the championship.

"It means a lot to us," Rollins said moments after Sunday´s final out, trying to explain the significance of the title. "The guys really wanted this, more for Coach (Frank Szymanski) than even for ourselves."

Catcher Kevin Weems, who went 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI, said the Skipjacks felt "honored to win it (the region title) because we play in one of the toughest regions in the country."

"It´s a feeling of great success for what we´ve accomplished, but this is just the first step," added Weems, whose team will host Region III champion Monroe (NY) Community College in a best-of-three series to decide the Northeast District championship and the district representative in the NJCAA Division II World Series.

Chesapeake, ranked 14th in the nation in NJCAA Division II, put itself in position to win the region title by outlasting Allegany, 11-7, in Saturday´s winners´ bracket final. The Trojans (41-14) earned their spot in Sunday´s title game by beating CCBC-Catonsville, 3-2, later Saturday afternoon, but it became apparent quite early Sunday that the Skipjacks were ready to make the most of their championship opportunity.

Brainer took command from the start, striking out five Trojans the first time through the batting order.

"I´m so confident with him (Brainer) out there," said Szymanski. "When he throws strikes, changes speed and works quickly, like he did today, he´s dominating."

"He had his slider working, he was throwing pretty hard, and he had great location," said Weems, who obviously had the best vantage point to evaluate Brainer´s performance.

"My game plan from the start was just to throw strikes because I knew our bats would be alive," said Brainer, a left-hander who starred for Kent Island High School before coming to Chesapeake. "We´ve been a great hitting team all year, especially in the playoffs."

Brainer´s effort was a testament to Szymanski´s patience. Szymanski held out his ace until Sunday so Brainer could get his full rest time between starts.

"I knew the best chance would be to wait until Sunday," said Brainer, who watched Nick Lemmer and Matt Fitzgerald turn in gutsy pitching performances as the Skipjacks beat Catonsville on Friday and Allegany on Saturday. "The guys told me there was no way we wouldn´t make it to Sunday."

Ryan Bell started the hit parade Sunday, roping a ground-rule double over the left-center field fence with one out in the second. Brett Ireland (2-for-4, run, double) singled Bell to third and Mike Kelch brought him home with a sacrifice fly. Ireland went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Weems´ two-out single in the hole to make it 2-0.

The Skipjacks tacked on two more runs in the fifth, taking advantage of Trojan starter Eric Donahue´s wildness to stretch their lead to 4-0.

Donahue hit Justin Armiger with a one-out pitch, but Armiger was caught stealing to give Donahue a chance to get out of the inning unscathed. Instead, Donahue proceeded to walk three straight hitters, leading Allegany head coach Steve Bazarnic to bring in reliever Shane Suter.

Rollins greeted Suter with a single to center, scoring both Jimmy Carroll and Will Delawter to make it 4-0.

Rollins was also right in the middle of a two-run seventh inning, hitting a two-out double to right to score Chad Wolfe, who had been hit by a Suter pitch. Bell (2-for-4, run, RBI) then singled in Rollins to make it 6-0.

Chesapeake settled the issue with a five-run eighth, highlighted by Rollins´ grand slam off reliever Patrick McKitrick.

"I knew that one was gone," Rollins said of the laser he hit for the Skipjacks´ third slam of their five-game postseason. "They had just put a new ball in play that was easy to see, and I got a good pitch right down the middle of the plate. I just tried to put a short swing to it and the ball just jumped off the bat."

Region Notes: Four Skipjacks – pitchers Brainer and Fitzgerald, outfielder Rollins, and catcher/outfielder Chad Wolfe – were named to the Region XX all-tournament team. . .

Rollins said the Skipjacks owe a special debt of gratitude to the Wye Mills Market, located right down the street from the college.

"We´d all like to thank the Wye Mills Market – they´ve been feeding us all the time," said Rollins, noting the players often go there before practice or after games.

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