By ZACH GILLELAND
The Salisbury University baseball team (24-8, 15-1 CAC) has all but clinched home-field advantage throughout the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Tournament after defeating Christopher Newport (23-13, 13-3 CAC) 7-2 on Wednesday.
Looking for revenge for its only CAC loss of the season, an extra innings loss to the Captains on March 22, the Sea Gulls received a complete game gem from senior right-hander Pete Grasso. Grasso kept CNU batters off-balance throughout the game, allowing eight hits, two runs and striking out nine on 121 pitches.
The complete game lowered the senior’s ERA to a CAC-best 1.38 mark.
“It was a huge game,” Grasso said. “This was for first place in the conference. We all came out here fired up to get a win and host the conference tournament. I knew I had to come out and throw strikes and let our defense play.”
Helped out by his defense behind him, the defense yielded only one error. The double play combination of junior shortstop Scott Ardoin and sophomore Ron Villone, who occupied second base in place of Grasso, took hits away from the Captains with diving plays and barehanded catches.
With the CNU hitters aggressive throughout, Grasso pitched to contact, allowing him to get quick outs.
“I tried to get the pitch count down and get as deep [into the game] as I can,” Grasso said. “We attacked them the whole game.”
The Sea Gulls received a spark from the bottom of the order in the second inning. Back-to-back singles with two outs brought junior left fielder Kyle Canavan to the plate.
After a 0-for-4 game against Johns Hopkins just two days prior and sporting a .185 batting average coming into the matchup, Canavan came up big for the maroon and gold, waiting out an 0-1 curveball and driving the ball to right center field, scoring two.
The left fielder bounced back in Wednesday’s ballgame with a 3-for-4 performance and two RBI.
“We faced [CNU starter Thomas Packert] the first time and all he was doing was pounding the zone,” Canavan said. “When you get in there you know he’s going to throw strikes so you have to be ready.”
Trading scoreless innings in the third, Salisbury received another boost in the fourth after freshman center fielder Justin Meekins hit his second homerun of the season to extend the lead to five. Meekins’ homer looked like a routine fly ball to right center, but the wind carried the ball just out of the reach of a leaping Captains right fielder Craig Johnson.
Shutting out CNU through six innings, Grasso ran into trouble in the seventh, surrendering two runs. The Salisbury starter pitched his way through many jams in the game and forced a groundout to third with a runner on to end the inning.
“He limited his walks, had good velocity and movement and had a ton of groundballs,” SU head coach Troy Brohawn said. “That’s what he does.”
The Sea Gulls tacked on insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth. An RBI single from Ardoin pushed the lead to four, and Villone scored on a wild pitch to finish the scoring at seven.
CNU redshirt freshman starter Thomas Packert, sporting a third-best 1.91 ERA in the CAC and holding opponents to a .127 batting average coming into the game, allowed seven runs off 12 hits.
Packert kept the ball around the strike zone, and the Salisbury offense was aggressive throughout, swinging early in the count. The bats of the maroon and gold had another solid game offensively, producing 14 hits.
“We had seen him already once,” Brohawn said. “Our guys came out and barreled the ball up. We talked about hunting their pitch and I thought they did a pretty good job today.”
Salisbury faces York College of Pennsylvania Saturday in a doubleheader on senior day this Saturday. The Sea Gulls need to win just one game of the doubleheader in order to host the CAC Tournament next week.
“This is a lot of momentum for us,” Canavan said. “We get to come out to our home field and get our home crowd on our side.”