By Josh Belanger
No team hit more home runs than the Night Owls this season. In fact, no team hit more home runs than the 23 hit by Austin Gauthier, Carter Cunningham and Rob Weissheier. All three hit home runs again in yesterday’s semifinal to help the Night Owls erase a four-run deficit and knock off the Bunt Cakes, 11-7, to advance to Saturday’s NVCL championship.
Jack Cone (William & Mary) could not have given the Bunt Cakes a better start, hitting a home run on the first at-bat of the game and then shutting down the Night Owls in order in the first inning. Jay Cassady (Christopher Newport) would follow with a two run homer in the second to stake a 3-0 lead for the Bunt Cakes.
The Night Owls got the board in the bottom of the second on a heads up hustle play from both Aiden Tierney (Longwood) and Cunningham (Florida Southwestern State). After Cunningham singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch with two outs, Tierney beat out a slow ground ball to the shortstop and allowed Cunningham to score from second.
The Bunt Cakes would add two more runs in the third on RBI from Alex Lemery (Marymount) and Will Bean (West Virginia). Lemery finished the season on fire, hitting safely in 10 of his last 11 games (including postseason) and ending the season with a .432 batting average.
Trailing 5-1, the Night Owls offense came alive for six runs in the third behind a two-run shot from Gautheir (Hofstra) and a three-run bomb from Cunningham that grabbed the lead. Gauthier would extend the Night Owls lead in the fourth on a sacrifice fly.
Cone hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot that landed high in the tree past the center field fence, to bring his team within a run. But, the bats for the Night Owls remained relentless, answering yet again with a two-run homer from Weissheier (Hofstra) in the bottom half. Garrett Riley (Potomac State) added on with an RBI in the sixth.
“We just told them to play every pitch, every inning, every at-bat,” said Night Owls coach Sal Colangelo. “This [summer] is about getting better. It’s about working on your craft, perfecting your craft and having a good time and having some memories forever. That’s what we instill in them. They are not going to quit. They could be down 20 on Saturday and they are not going to quit. I won’t let them quit, that’s not in our nature.”
Jack Braley (Christopher Newport) started for the Night Owls and battled over four innings despite not having his best stuff. The right-hander allowed five runs through the first three innings but provided a scoreless fourth inning on the heels of the Night Owls six-run third that proved to be the turning point in the game. Jarrod Schmitz (Marymount) tossed the final three innings for the Night Owls, allowing just one run on three hits.
“It wasn’t one of [Jack’s] best outings but he competed for us,” Colangelo said. “We felt if we could get Cone’s pitch count up and keep it close, whoever they were bringing in we could score five, six, seven runs. That has been the strategy.”
The Night Owls will take on the Sliders in the NVCL Championship on Saturday. Both teams finished atop the NVCL standings and split their two games during the regular season. Randy Prosperi (Williamd & Mary) and Jared Dingus (Potomac State) are the likely pitchers for the Night Owls.
Photo of Carter Cunningham courtesy of Fred Ingham