The Navy baseball team (23-25) concluded its regular season with an 8-5 victory against Elon (28-18) on Sunday afternoon at Terwilliger Brothers Field at Max Bishop Stadium. The win saw Navy score 17 hits and move into the Patriot League semifinals with momentum.
Led by Alex Smith, who achieved four hits, and three-hit games from Kyle Rausch and Zane Raba, five Midshipmen recorded multi-hit performances. Matthew Shirah set the tone on the mound by tossing four shutout innings for his fifth win of the season. The bullpen, including Landon Kruer, held off Elon to secure the win and Kruer’s Patriot League-leading ninth save of 2023.
After a slow start, Navy finally broke through offensively in the third inning, with Logan Keller smashing a double off the left-field wall to plate both runners. Colin Smith followed four pitches later by singling home Keller to give the Mids a 3-0 lead. Ivan Aguirre and Raba then increased the lead, while Nick Burch’s two-run double in the fifth inning gave the Mids a 7-2 lead. Elon fought back with a two-run home run from Connor Coolahan in the seventh, but Raba hit another single in the bottom of the inning to put the Mids back in front 8-4.
In the eighth inning, a Tanner Holliman double made it 8-5, but Navy turned the ball over to Kruer for the start of the ninth. The closer responded by getting Connor Offshack to ground out into a game-ending double play after allowing a Haskin single, securing his 16th career save.
Shirah held Elon to just three hits and struck out four batters in his four frames of work. Thomas Russell followed by giving up two runs over two innings, Jackson Beattie got three outs in the seventh, while Nolan Jorgenson surrendered one run in an inning out of the bullpen to set up Kruer for the three-out save.
Navy evened the all-time series with Elon at 1-1. Brock Murtha extended his on-base streak to 17 games with two hits, while Alex Smith’s four-hit day gave him a team-best 15 multi-hit contests this season, and Burch’s two hits on Sunday gave him 14 multi-hit games on the campaign. Raba’s three hits matched his season-high from April 12 at Maryland Eastern Shore. Shirah’s four shutout innings marked his first scoreless outing of the season. Shirah has now recorded three-or-more strikeouts in each of his last 10 starts. Kruer is now one save shy of tying both the single-season and career Navy save records. Navy has won or split nine of its 12 weekend series this season.
Paul Kostacopoulos, head coach of the Navy baseball team, was pleased with the performance, stating, “We had a complete effort today. From a standpoint of offense, defense, and pitching, we executed a game plan of what we wanted to try to do, and the guys stayed with it. We did a good job overall, and it was a good win for us.”
Looking ahead, Navy’s victory ensures it will move into the Patriot League semifinals against second-seeded Bucknell at Depew Field in Lewisburg, Pa. Navy, the third seed, will open the series on Saturday, May 13, with Game 1 at noon and Game 2 at 3 p.m. The deciding Game 3, if necessary, is set for a 1 p.m. firstpitch on Monday, May 15. Navy’s coach emphasized the importance of a good week of practice heading into the postseason and being mentally focused on what they have to do.
The Patriot League championship will feature four teams battling for the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The winner of the semifinal series between Navy and Bucknell will face either Lehigh or Army in the Patriot League Championship series. The Lehigh Mountain Hawks clinched the top seed in the tournament with a record of 23-17 overall and 17-7 in the Patriot League. The Army Black Knights earned the fourth seed with a record of 17-22 overall and 12-12 in conference play.
The Navy baseball team has been inconsistent this season, and they have struggled with injuries and inconsistency. The Mids had a slow start, winning only five of their first 20 games, but they bounced back and finished the regular season with a 23-25 record. Navy has a talented team that can compete with anyone when they play to their full potential. Coach Kostacopoulos praised his team’s resilience, saying, “We’ve been in a lot of close games, and our guys have battled through a lot of tough times this year. It’s great to see them playing their best baseball when it matters most.”
Navy will look to carry the momentum from their regular-season finale into the postseason. They have a tough matchup against Bucknell, who they split a four-game series with earlier this season. Bucknell has been a consistent team this season, posting a 24-20 overall record and a 15-9 mark in the Patriot League. The Bison feature a potent offense that ranks second in the Patriot League in scoring, averaging 6.7 runs per game. Navy’s pitching staff will need to be at its best to shut down Bucknell’s lineup.
Navy’s offense has been inconsistent this season, but they have shown flashes of brilliance. The Mids rank fourth in the Patriot League in scoring, averaging 5.2 runs per game. They will need to continue their hot hitting against Bucknell to have a chance to win the series. Alex Smith has been the team’s best hitter this season, batting .345 with 23 RBIs and 11 stolen bases. Kyle Rausch and Zane Raba have also been key contributors, batting .293 and .280, respectively.
The Navy baseball team will look to make a deep run in the Patriot League tournament and secure their spot in the NCAA tournament. The Mids have the talent to win the conference championship, but they will need to play their best baseball to do so. Navy’s coach summed up the team’s mindset heading into the postseason, saying, “We’ve got a lot of guys who have been through this before, and they know what it takes to win. We’re just going to take it one game at a time and try to come out on top.”