Championship sinks in with Skipjacks
Chesapeake celebrates first-ever men’s regional crown
WYE MILLS, May 18 Region XX champions.
That’s a title no Chesapeake College men’s athletic team could ever claim until Sunday afternoon, when the Skipjacks completed their stunning run through the Region XX baseball tournament.
Chesapeake College’s 11-0 win over Allegany College of Maryland the newly crowned state champion and the top seed in the tournament clinched the Skipjacks’ first regional championship in any men’s sport. The only previous Chesapeake team to win a region title was the 1981 women’s softball team.
Bryan Brainer, who pitched a six-hit shutout in the title game, said the Skipjacks (37-15) are just now realizing the enormity of what they have accomplished.
"Each day we’ve come out to practice this week, I think it’s sunk in more and more," said Brainer, a sophomore left-hander.
"Everybody’s excited, but we also realize this is just the first step," said sophomore designated hitter Brett Ireland, one of three Skipjacks to hit grand slams in the five-game regional tournament. "It would really mean something to all of us if we got to play in the World Series. We really want to win the district."
The Skipjacks, ranked 14th in the nation, will host Region III champion Monroe (NY) Community College (35-12) in a best-of-three series this weekend to decide the Northeast District championship and determine the district’s representative in the NJCAA Division II World Series. The teams will play a Friday doubleheader beginning at noon, with the third game scheduled for noon Saturday, if necessary.
While the Skipjacks are looking forward to the district tournament, they are also taking time to reflect on the region championship.
"Going into the tournament I didn’t expect any team to roll over anybody, especially once they reached the Final Four," said Brainer, whose team outscored its five regional tournament opponents by a combined score of 51-16 while Brainer, Nick Lemmer, and Matt Fitzgerald all turned in outstanding pitching performances.
"It wasn’t just one person," noted Ireland. "Every game it seemed like someone new stepped up. That’s what’s so great about our team, and that’s why we’re the champs. Everyone played a part in it."
Brainer said head coach Frank Szymanski’s positive attitude rubbed off on the Skipjacks.
"Coach just really pushed us and helped us realize we could do anything we put our minds to," said Brainer. "He’s told us that all season, since the first day of practice."
The Skipjacks were just 3-5 in the regular season against the teams they faced in the regional tournament, and were 4-7 over the final 11 games of the regular season. None of those statistics particularly concerned Szymanski.
"We lost some games at the end of the regular season, but those were all against quality teams and we were competitive in those games," said Szymanski. "I knew if we could get some timely hitting and some well-pitched games, and play tight defense, we had a chance to win the tournament."
Clarke Rollins, who went 3-for-5 and drove in seven runs in Sunday’s title game, said the regional title has reinforced Szymanski’s positive message.
"Now we’re starting to believe in ourselves," said Rollins, who was named to the Region XX all-tournament team along with teammates Brainer, Fitzgerald, and Chad Wolfe. "By winning Region XX, everyone now realizes we’re a pretty tough team when we all come together."
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