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Army baseball rallies twice, moves to Patriot championship

Tommy Richman’s “Million Dollar Baby” will play a few more times in the Army baseball locker room after an incredible 18 innings that caught even coach Chris Tracz at a loss for words.

The song has become a rallying vibe for the Black Knights this season. And with their backs against elimination twice Monday, Sam Ruta and his teammates simply didn’t want their season to end.

Down 7-2 in Game Two of the Patriot League semifinal series against Bucknell, Army rallied for five runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Ruta’s two-run, eighth-inning double broke and helped the Black Knights win 9-7 and force winner-take-all Game Three.

Army, the top seed, trailed 5-2 before striking for four runs in the eighth inning of the elimination game. Justin Lehman delivered a pinch-hit, game-tying, two-run hit and Chris Barr drew a bases-loaded walk for the series-deciding run in a 6-5 victory.

Perhaps, the Simple Minds tune “Alive and Kicking” should have been played on the Johnson Stadium speakers Monday night as the Black Knights continue their quest for an amazing sixth straight Patriot League tournament title.

”Resilient is a good word,” Ruta said. “We call ourselves ‘The Cardiac Knights, the Cardiac Kids.’ We had three games where we didn’t start off too high. Pitching kind of kept us in the game, defense was huge in three games and timely hitting. We were never really up most of the games but in the end we got clutch hitting from guys like Justin Lehman, Derek Berg and Chris Barr. Just never giving up.”

Berg homered for Army’s first run in Game Three and walked to keep the eighth inning alive.

“It’s the games that you dream of playing in where you are out in the backyard imagining your team’s season is in the line and you have to come through.

“As an older guy, it’s cool to see the younger guys take some of those at bats and come through and do it for the team and piece it all together and keep our season alive.”

Army received standout efforts out of its bullpen in both games. Andrew Berg fired 4.1 innings of scoreless relief in Game Two. Tanner Gresham, who is coming back from Tommy John surgery, recorded the final four outs for his first win of the season. Steven Graver pitched the last four innings, allowing one run on three hits to earn the victory in Game Three.

Army’s miracle Monday sets up the ultimate Patriot best-of-3 championship series. The Black Knights will host rival Navy, beginning Sunday. Army won the season series 3-2. The two service academies last met in the championship finals in 2019. Army took the series in three games.

”You can’t draw it up on the board any better,” Ruta said. “It’s a storybook thing to play Navy (in the finals).”

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