Navy, Air Force ready to resume competitive series at Freedom Classic
EDITOR’S NOTE: Neuse News is the official media sponsor of the 2019 Freedom Classic at Historic Grainger Stadium. Be sure to visit neusenews.com all weekend for all the scores, stories and behind-the-scenes action from the Navy and Air Force teams!
It’d be hard for Navy and Air Force to be any more competitive than they’ve been in the previous eight editions of the Freedom Classic at Historic Grainger Stadium.
Game 1 of the 2019 Freedom Classic, an annual three-game series between the Midshipmen of Navy and Falcons of Air Force, begins Friday at 5 p.m. Game 2 of the Classic is at 2 p.m. on Saturday while Game 3 is Sunday at noon.
The teams have played 25 times in the first eight years of the Freedom Classic (the teams played four times in 2013). No team has ever swept a Freedom Classic and Air Force leads the all-time series 13-12, although Navy took last year’s series 2-1. It was Navy’s third Freedom Classic title, joining the ones they won in 2011 and 2016. Air Force won the Freedom Classic in 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2017 and the teams tied 2-2 in the four-game 2013 Classic.
The overall scoring between the teams in the Classic shows exactly how close this series has been – Air Force has outscored Navy 135-133 in the 25 games of the Freedom Classic.
“It seems like it’s always Air Force winning two and Navy winning one or Navy winning two and Air Force winning one,” said Falcons coach Mike Kazlausky, whose team enters this weekend with a 2-2 record in 2019. “That seems to always be the expectation.”
So why have the teams been so competitive in the first eight years?
“Historically, we’ve always been very evenly matched,” said Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulous, whose Midshipmen are winless in three games this season. “All the kids play very hard. It’s a big weekend because the kids get to play against players that experience the same lifestyle they do. They’re all incredibly bright kids that work hard and play hard.”
Freedom Classic Chairman Scott Alston has been impressed with the level of talent Air Force and Navy have brought to Kinston every year. He said it’s also a sneak preview for Down East Wood Ducks fans.
“It’s a good kickoff for baseball in the area,” Alston said. “It’s a good chance to get a preview of what you’ll see later in the year with the (Down East) Wood Ducks. These are Division I players; there are no slouches.”
Alston is correct – both squads feature impressive talent, but none may be greater than Navy senior pitcher Noah Song. The Claremont, Calif., native is scheduled to be the Friday night starter for the Midshipmen. He’s a 6-foot, 4-inch right-hander who has already been selected for several preseason All-American lists.
Both coaches said Song, whose fastball tops out at 95 miles per hour, is likely to be selected high in June’s Major League Baseball draft.
“He’s garnered a lot of attention and has been a pretty high profile player,” Kostacopoulous said of Song. “He’s exciting to watch; he’s got an old-fashioned fastball. He’s had nights that even when you know it’s coming, he’s still hard to hit.”
Another Midshipmen player that has popped up on preseason All-American lists is second baseman Zach Biggers. The junior from Walhalla, S.C., was a Louisville Slugger second team All-American in his sophomore campaign after leading Navy with a .343 batting average, 73 hits, 20 doubles while starting 52 games.
“He’s a little guy, but man, does he play the game,” Kostacopoulous said of Biggers, who is listed at 5-foot, 9-inches and 170 pounds. “He does a lot of special things on defense but is a very good offensive player.”
Air Force has some All-Americans of its own. Senior first baseman Nic Ready was a third-team Collegiate Baseball All-American in 2018 following a junior season in which he batted .341. The Dallas native had 20 home runs and 74 RBIs – both the second-most in program history for a single season. He finished seventh nationally in home runs, eighth in RBIs, 10th in slugging (.699) and 10th in total bases (160).
The Falcons also feature Rob Dau, a senior catcher from Dallas, Ga., who was named the team’s MVP in 2018 after posting a team-high .350 batting average, along with five home runs and 52 RBIs.
“Nic and Rob are great team leaders,” Kazlausky said. “But this team is full of leaders; it’s my honor to coach these young men, who are true heroes. They understand life is more than just about baseball.”