Sussex Central made two key defensive stops to halt any celebration at Chris Short Field May 8, as the Golden Knights spoiled Cape's opportunity to clinch the Henlopen North title with a 5-4 win.
The loss dropped Cape to 7-6 on the season with a Henlopen North record of 5-2. Milford also lost May 8, falling 4-0 to Caesar Rodney. The Bucs also have a North record of 5-2, but beat Cape earlier this season.
Trailing 5-4 in the sixth inning, Cape put runners on first and third with one out. When Cape runner D.D. Gooch broke for second base, Zach Stevenson did the same at third. In a fundamental first-and-third play, Central's shortstop cut the ball off behind the mound and easily threw out Stevenson at the plate. Central cruised to victory from that point.
“We had straight steal on and it was a read with the guy on third base,” Cape coach Ben Evick said. “He felt he read it well, but he didn't get the best jump.”
Central coach Todd Brock said that play was huge.
“It's one of those plays we have in looking for an aggressive base runner, and we found it,” he said. “Hats off to Jimmy Ryan, our catcher, and Robert Macelle, our shortstop; two great throws and we got the job done.”
The other big play in the game came in the third inning. With a 3-0 lead, Cape was poised to break the game open when the team loaded the bases with no outs. After a routine pop-up to shallow center, Cape batter Jon Warren's attempt to lay down a suicide squeeze bunt backfired. He popped the bunt up; it was easily caught, and runner David Kwan, who was already past home plate, was easily doubled up. It provided the spark Central needed to get the bats going. In the next half inning, the Golden Knights plated three two-out runs to tie the game.
“That was a huge part of the game. In high school baseball or any sport, momentum is huge,” Brock said.
Central's offensive spark came in the way of lead-off hitter Zach Clausen. With two outs in the fifth inning, Clausen's RBI double got the Knights on the scoreboard for the first time. One inning later, his two-out magic continued, as he knocked in another run with a single. Senior Skylar Murray smashed two doubles.
The Vikings were led offensively by Diaz Nardo. The senior smashed an RBI double down the right-field line in the first inning and hit a go-ahead solo homer to center field in the fifth. Kwan was 2-for-3 with an RBI, and senior Adam Marcinizyn and junior Griffin Kammerer each finished 2-for-4.
Nardo got the start on the mound, but only lasted 4.2 innings, striking out three batters while walking three. Kammerer relieved Nardo, but struggled to find the strike zone. He walked five batters and allowed two runs in his 2.1 innings. Cape catcher Brandon Keller had a stellar game behind the plate, throwing out three runners on steal attempts.
Central starter Garrett Hudson pitched a complete game for the Golden Knights. His final line featured seven strikeouts, one walk and one hit batter. He allowed 10 hits, but Central's defense bailed him out of more than one jam.
"I thought it was a well-played game on both sides. Their kids pitched well. Diaz didn't have his best, but held it and did well for four, five innings,” Evick said. “We missed a few opportunities, and we should've scored a few more runs than the four we had.”
The Vikings were set to host Indian River May 9. They will be back in action Monday, May 13, when they will host Seaford at 4:15 p.m. It will be a busy final week for the Vikings, who will also play Woodbridge May 14, Delmarva Christian May 15 and St. Mark's May 17.