CNU Baseball & Softball win in Saturday Regional Matchups. Softball advances to Super Regional

NEWPORT NEWS, VA (Courtesy of CNU Athletics) –

For the third season in a row the Christopher Newport baseball team will compete for a regional title after 10th-ranked CNU (28-9) captured a 7-2 win over 17th-ranked North Carolina Wesleyan (34-12) on a rainy day at Captains Park Saturday afternoon. The Captains got a mammoth two-run blast from Justin Liakos to highlight the offensive production while Brandon Cassedy (7-3) earned a hard-fought win with six shutout frames on the mound.

In 2022, Christopher Newport reached the NCAA Regional title game against Marietta College on their home field. In 2023, the Captains faced Shenandoah for a chance to advance to the Super Regional in Winchester. This year, CNU will compete for the regional championship on their own home field against either N.C. Wesleyan or Immaculata, who will face off in an elimination game on Sunday morning at 11:00 am. Immaculata defeated Scranton, 8-0, on Saturday, to advance in the regional bracket.

Facing wet and muddy conditions like the majority of the Division III regional landscape this postseason, the Captains took the field approximately two hours later than anticipated on Saturday afternoon but showed no signs of the wait hampering the red-hot CNU squad. The Captains and Bishops played through the first three innings unscathed as the starting pitchers worked around just three baserunners in the first 18 outs of the game.

Playing as the visiting team in the double-elimination tournament, the Captains struck first in the top of the fourth by taking advantage of a pair of Bishops errors. Zach Dzarnowski reached on an error and moved up to third when Ayden Stuffel, scorching at the plate, blistered a line drive off the pitcher and into right field. One batter later, Jake Benedict grounded to the third baseman, but he could not handle the play and Dzarnowski was able to score.

A pivotal moment in the game came in the next half inning as North Carolina Wesleyan attempted to answer the Captains game-opening run. Jackson Hobbs singled to lead off the inning and the next two batters walked to load the bases against Cassedy, who worked himself into a jam. Facing a tough situation with a one-run lead, the Captains pulled in the infielders to try and defend the bases loaded situation. With the count 3-2 against the batter, Cassedy induced a groundball to third that Sam Benedict picked cleanly and was able to fire home for the first out of the inning. Still stuck in the predicament, Cassedy worked himself out with back-to-back strikeouts to strand all three runners and hold onto the 1-0 lead.

CNU rewarded their sophomore star with another run of insurance in the fifth when Justin Liakos led off with a walk and advanced to third on a wild pitch and groundball to the pitcher. Scott Crosson stepped in and pounded a groundball to the right side, allowing Liakos to sprint home for the 2-0 lead.

Cassedy showed renewed confidence in the fifth by retiring the side in order, 1-2-3, with a pair of strikeouts, and again the CNU lineup backed up their starter in the top of the sixth. Stuffel logged his fourth hit of the tournament and ninth hit over the last four games when he led off with a single through the right side. After back-to-back strikeouts by the Bishops starter, Liakos stepped to the plate and worked his way through a strong at-bat at the plate. Liakos fell behind 1-2 in the count before watching a pair of balls to run the count full. Then, he turned on the next pitch and unloaded a towering two-run home run over the wall in left field to double the lead.

With some more breathing room, Cassedy worked around a pair of singles in the sixth before closing out his first career postseason start with a quality outing, striking out eight over 6.0 scoreless frames. He walked four and allowed three hits but kept the Battling Bishops off the board for the first six innings. Continuing to add to his sensational sophomore season, Cassedy still holds the highest K/9 for a single season in program history at 13.70 and eclipsed 100 strikeouts for the season during the game. Cassedy and Dylan Weber become the first set of Captains to strike out 100 in the same season since Rob Dye (126) and Cliff Wester (121) in the 2002 season and only the second pair ever to accomplish the feat.

In the top of the seventh, the Captains staked Cassedy to a 5-0 lead before exiting after tacking on another tally. Dzarnowski walked with one out and Lincoln Lubsen flared a single into left field to put two on. Jake Benedict walked the bases loaded to bring up rookie Aaron Maxie in an RBI opportunity. He did not waste the chance, smoking a single up the middle to drive in one.

Single runs in the eighth and ninth finished out the scoring for CNU as Sam Benedict led off the eighth with a double down the left field line. Crosson then singled to move him to third before Josh Reinhold added an RBI groundout to the third baseman. In the ninth, Stuffel walked and moved up on a wild pitch. Maxie then walked and Stuffel sped to third on another wild pitch. Liakos continued his hot run at the plate with an RBI single into left field, capping a 2-for-4, 2 R, 3-RBI day for the junior at the keystone.

North Carolina Wesleyan scored twice in the bottom of the eighth and threatened again in the ninth by loading the bases against Kyle Lewis, but the veteran reliever picked up a clutch strikeout of one of the nation’s top hitters in 2024, Tyson Bass, and got Javier Quintana to fly out to end the game.

Peter Hoenig tossed a clean inning in relief for the Captains and Danny Checkosky struck out a pair in the eighth.

Liakos and Stuffel led the way at the plate with a pair of two-hit performances. Stuffel reached base for the 20th straight game, marking the second longest active streak for CNU and raised his season’s average to .319, up nearly 50 points during a red-hot tear at the plate that has seen the sophomore go 14-for-26 since April 27.

With the win, Christopher Newport holds the advantage heading into the 2024 NCAA Newport News Regional Championship, needing to win just one game to hoist the trophy. The elimination game between Immaculata and N.C. Wesleyan will be played at 11:00 am on Sunday with the championship slated for 2:30 pm. If necessary, the two teams vying for the title in the double-elimination format will play a game seven on Monday morning at 11:00 am.

(Courtesy of CNU Athletics) – Fifth-year senior Delaney Nuckols had three hits and drove in three runs, and freshman Candace Slaw also posted three hits and scored twice Saturday, as third-ranked Christopher Newport University wrapped up its regional in the rain at Captains Park by beating Pfeiffer University, 6-4. The victory was the 18th straight for the Captains, and improved Keith Parr‘s team to 33-5 on the season. CNU will next play Rowan University in a best-of-three Super Regional next Friday and Saturday at a site still to be determined.

The start of the regional final game was delayed three hours by rain, but once the teams were able to take the field, the scoring came early and often. CNU jumped on top with two runs in the first inning, only to see the Falcons surge ahead with three in the second. After the Captains pulled even with a run in the second, Pfeiffer, Champions of the USA South Athletic Conference, re-claimed the lead, 4-3, with a run in the third. The Captains bounced right back with a big frame in the bottom of the third, scoring three times to take a 6-4 lead. CNU starting pitcher Kate Alger and Pfeiffer reliever Emma Bullin then settled in and didn’t allow another run the rest of the way, as the Captains ended the Falcons season with a record of 45-4.

Slaw and Nuckols got the Captains going with back-to-back singles in the opening inning, and Slaw scored the first run of the game thanks to a throwing error by the Falcons. Nuckols then came home on a double by senior Brooke Greaver to stake the Captains to a 2-0 lead. Pfeiffer’s three-run second inning was aided by two CNU throwing errors, and two of the three runs were unearned. Nuckols evened the game in the second inning with an RBI single, scoring pinch runner Reagin Luby to knot the score at 3-3.

The Captains again found themselves trailing in the third after a Pfeiffer single run in the top half of the inning that made it a 4-3 game. Again, it was Slaw and Nuckols taking the spotlight. Junior Meredith Brickner smacked a one-out single, and freshman Marly Hoefler was inserted as a pinch runner. After Hoefler stole second, freshman catcher Mackenzie Sowonik walked. With two on and two out, Slaw delivered an RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 4-4. Nuckols then provided what proved to be the winning runs with a double to centerfield scoring both Slaw and Sowonik to make it 6-4.

Alger found her groove after a tough start, and held the Falcons scoreless over the last four innings to earn the victory, striking out eight and improving her record to 16-4 on the season. Alger was chosen for the All-Tournament team for her two victories and 22 strikeouts over 14 innings of work, and was aided by outstanding defense over the final two innings. Alger started a double play in the fifth inning, throwing to second base and turning two. Greaver made two strong plays at third base in the sixth frame, and also turned two on an infield grounder. Senior outfielder Brooke Childress also made a fantastic catch in right, retreating on a fly to make the grab after initially starting in on the play to open the seventh inning.

The matchup was just the fourth meeting all-time of the schools, and CNU has now won three of the four. Pfeiffer starter Kali Morton took the loss to fall to 25-2 for the season after giving up five runs over the first two and two-thirds innings.

Slaw, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of the regional, posted six hits in 11 at bats in the three games, and also scored three runs, drove in two, and stole two bases. Seniors Jules Donnelly (four for eight at the plate), Nuckols (four for nine), and Greaver (three for nine) were also named to the team.

Christopher Newport went 3-0 in the regional this week at Captains Park, beating John Jay College (4-1), Ramapo College (7-4), and Pfeiffer University (6-4) on consecutive days to advance to the Super Regionals to play Rowan, Champions of the New Jersey Athletic Conference. The site of the best-of-three Super Regional will be announced later this weekend. Rowan defeated MIT on Saturday to advance to the final 16.

The complete All-Regional Team:
Candace Slaw – CNU – Most Outstanding Player
Kate Alger – CNU
Jules Donnelly – CNU
Brooke Greaver – CNU
Delaney Nuckols – CNU

Kenzi Lyall – Pfeiffer
Charly Cooper – Pfeiffer
Emma Chopko – Pfeiffer

Avery Kontura – Ramapo
Alexis Corra – Ramapo

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