By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah University second baseman Jon Holcomb didn't seem to mind the chill one bit late Satuday night.
In fact, Holcomb had a smile on his face as he stood near the left-field line. And why not? Only moments before, Holcomb had ended a four-hour, 23-minute marathon with his game-winning single in the 14th inning of the second game to clinch a USA South Conference sweep of Christopher Newport University.
Holcomb's one-out single through the right side scored Adam Delauter -- who had doubled with one out to begin the rally -- from third and gave SU an 8-7 victory.
"[Delauter] came up big with the huge [hit] over the left-fielder's head, and that started it all off," Holcomb said. "Coach [Kevin Anderson] always wants me to go through the right side. That's all I'm allowed to do. That's my mindset up there, really."
The first game of the doubleheader also went well for the Hornets, with ace Greg Van Sickler (5-1) throwing his third straight complete game in conference play by holding CNU to one run through eight innings in an 8-3 win.
"It was two quality teams competing at the highest level of Division III," Anderson said. "We went to our bullpen a lot [in the second game] and I think we used four catchers. We have a lot of confidence in a lot of our players and they hung in and they hung in, and Jon got the big hit."
With two weeks left in conference play, every team is fighting for the best seed possible. Only Greensboro is still without a shot at earning the top seed for the USA South Conference tournament, which begins April 15 in Burlington, N.C.
"Aw, man, it's huge because it kind of gets the conference monkey off our backs a little bit," Van Sickler said of the sweep of CNU. "We've been swept and getting splits [in other series]. But it's great when you hear [Anderson] talk in our huddle about putting guys in there. I mean, I can't think about anyone who really didn't contribute, so that really was a team win."
The Hornets (20-5, 5-3 USA South) travel to Averett on Friday and Saturday before wrapping up league play on April 11-12 at home with Ferrum.
"That [the sweep of CNU] puts us back where we can control our own destiny," Anderson said. "That No. 1 seed gets a first-round bye and that's huge."
That Holcomb was able to win the second game with a crucial hit made up for plenty of missed opportunities throughout the back end of the doubleheader.
The Hornets did well to rally from a two-run, late-inning deficit with Cory Nelson's homer in the eighth and Van Sickler's double in the ninth to plate Holcomb for a 7-7 tie. Once in extra innings, SU continued to rally, only to come up short.
The Captains (13-9, 5-5), who got a combined five hits in the doubleheader from Strasburg graduate Parker Neal, received a solo blast from Steven Keener in the 11th to move back ahead. In the bottom half, Holcomb, Jesse Henry and Van Sickler all singled with one out. Scott Van Dusseldorp struck out, leaving the Hornets down to their last out.
The pressure on Nelson was lifted when Holcomb raced home on a wild pitch. The Captains intentionally walked Nelson to set up a force play, but CNU closer Chris Malvagna fell behind 3-0 in the count to Jake Yokum.
However, Malvagna came back with three straight strikes, including a called strike three, to end the threat.
SU would put a runner in scoring position each of the next two innings, but come up short. Through 13 innings, the Hornets left 24 runners on base.
Finally, in the 14th, timely hits came. With one out, Delauter, who had struck out two times in the game and four times during the doubleheader, laced a deep fly the opposite way to left for a double. An intentional walk to Kevin Brashears (eight hits in the doubleheader) followed, and Delauter moved up to third on a Kyle Harsanyi pitch in the dirt.
Having seen little time before Saturday, Harsanyi (8 2/3 innings pitched, 10.78 ERA in six appearances) followed Malvagna to the mound as CNU's fifth pitcher in the second game.
With runners on first and third, Harsanyi next saw Holcomb, who grounded a single through the right side for his fourth hit of the game to plate Delauter and win it for the Hornets.
In the doubleheader sweep, Holcomb went 7-for-12. In USA South Conference games, Holcomb ranks second on the Hornets in average (.417) and RBIs (six).
"What Jon does well, he knows what his strengths are and he tries to hit to his strengths," Anderson said. "He went up there with a plan to go the other way, and he got a pitch to hit the other way, and fortunately, we came out on top."
SU had 22 hits in the second game -- twice as many as did the Captains. Brashears had five hits, Holcomb four, Van Sickler and Nelson three apiece, and Van Dusseldorp homered for the second straight game.
The Hornets had to be pleased that they got good pitching in the second game as well. Freshman Vince Claudio made his first start in a conference game and went 5 1/3 innings, allowing four hits, three earned runs, two walks, and struck out seven. Six SU relievers combined to allow only two earned runs.
"To see Vince show up for six innings like he did is awesome," Van Sickler said. "And then the horde of pitchers we brought out of the bullpen, it was awesome to see, very promising."
The win went to Mike Smith (1-0), who played left field in the first game. Smith struck out Ben Lenda with two runners aboard to end the 13th before pitching a perfect 14th.
Smith was the fourth pitcher used by Anderson in the 13th.
In the opener, Anderson had no need to look to his bullpen. Van Sickler (5-1) made 132 pitches, but was given the opportunity to get a complete game.
"We probably would not have done that if it had not been a doubleheader," Anderson said. "What we wanted to do was save [our] bullpen because we were [starting] a freshman the second game. If we had played [on Sunday], we would have taken [Van Sickler] out at the end of eight [innings]."
In conference games, Van Sickler is 3-1 with a 2.67 ERA. After getting knocked out in the fifth inning of his first conference start, a loss at North Carolina Wesleyan on Feb. 27, Van Sickler has gone the distance in wins over Greensboro, Methodist and now CNU.
"I felt comfortable, for once," Van Sickler said.
SU put across four runs in the first and never trailed against the Captains, knocking ace Josh Brinkman (3-3) out after four innings.
Brashears, Holcomb and Van Dusseldorp all had three hits in the win, and Nelson went 2-for-2 with two RBIs. Nelson had a sacrifice fly in the fifth in the first game, ending a streak of reaching base safely in nine straight plate appearances. Nelson had a school-record six hits in SU's 35-13 win over St. Joseph's-Long Island (N.Y.) on Thursday.