After a long few months, Xavier Baseball's offseason mercifully came to end this afternoon when the Muskies faced the Black Knights of Army in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Although today's matchup is the only time these two teams are slated to play each other this season (and the first time the programs have ever faced each other), it turned out to be quite the game for Opening Day.
Similar to the Musketeers, Army also had a terrific season last year, posting a 33-18 record and taking a share of the Patriot League crown. Going into this season, the Black Knights were picked to finish second in Patriot League (according to a preseason coaches poll) and returned two preseason all-conference players.
Once it was time for first pitch, sophomore (and last year's closer) Brad Kirschner took the mound for Xavier. And for five innings, Kirschner dazzled (2 H, 2 BB, 0 ER, 7 K). Aided with a first inning run from preseason All-BIG EAST selection at catcher Daniel Rizzie, the X-men narrowly held the lead when freshman Zac Lowther stepped in to relieve Kirschner.
In the top of the seventh inning, the Musketeers got on the board again with runs from senior first baseman Joe Forney and redshirt senior left fielder Patrick Jones, thanks to a double to left center by junior shortstop Andre Jernigan. For the moment, Xavier sat comfortably with a 3-0 lead.
Unfortunately, it wasn't all smooth sailing for the boys from Victory Parkway. In the bottom of the eight inning, with two outs, Lowther let Army get away with some small ball and allowed a run to preseason All-Patriot League senior third baseman Harold Earls. Anxious to stem the momentum the Black Knights were gaining, Xavier coach Scott Googins put senior Jacob Bodner in to relief Lowther, who promptly got a fly-ball out and ended the inning.
Rather than rest on their laurels, Xavier continued to push offensively and scored another two runs before yielding the bottom of the ninth to Army. Each of these runs followed a Joe Forney single to center field, which brought in redshirt senior right fielder Brian Bruening and freshman outfielder / pinch runner Will LaRue. Headed into the last frame, the Muskies were holding to a 5-1 lead.
And then, of course, the Black Knights started inching themselves back into the picture. Bodner, who relieved Lowther, began the bottom of the ninth with some control issues. He initially loaded the bases (BB, single, HBP), then walked Army third baseman Jon Rosoff to narrow the lead to 3 runs. After a much-needed strikeout of Harold Earls, Bodner's control issues returned when he hit shortstop Alex Jensen with a pitch and made it a 5-3 ballgame.
Without fail, Xavier's Coach Googins went back to his bullpen and called upon sophomore lefty Greg Jacknewitz for the final two outs. With the bases loaded, Jacknewitz struck out the first batter he faced and needed just one more out. This time, Jacknewitz would give up a single to right field and one run would score to make the game 5-4. Because the bases were still loaded, the man on second base, Jon Rosoff, took off toward home to tie up the ballgame. Fortunately, the throw to the plate beat his last-ditch effort, Rosoff was called out, and the Musketeers escaped with their first victory of the season.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. Your 2015 Xavier Muskies Baseball team has started the season 1-0. If this game is indicative of things to come, we are in store for one heck of an exciting season. So don't forget to come back and stay up-to-date with Xavier Baseball all season long.