Air Force sweeps Sunday's twin bill to win 2019 Freedom Classic

Air Force sweeps Sunday's twin bill to win 2019 Freedom Classic

Air Force senior catcher Rob Dau (9) prepares to swing the bat during Sunday’s finale of the 2019 Freedom Classic. Dau was the star of that game’s win for the Falcons, as he finished 2-for-4, with four RBIs in the contest. Photo by Linda Whittington / Neuse News

EDITOR’S NOTE: Neuse News is the official media sponsor of the 2019 Freedom Classic at Historic Grainger Stadium.

The Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy have played in the Freedom Classic nine consecutive years. Following AFA’s doubleheader sweep Sunday at Historic Grainger Stadium, it’s the ninth straight season neither team has won all three games of a single Classic.

In front of an estimated 2,000 fans, the Falcons defeated Navy 6-4 in Game 1 of the doubleheader and 7-2 in the nightcap to win the 2019 Freedom Classic, two games to one. Navy won Friday’s opener, 2-1, but following Saturday’s rainout, Air Force won both halves of Sunday’s twin bill to claim its fifth Freedom Classic title. The Falcons also won the Freedom Classic in 2017, 2015, 2014 and 2012. Navy won in 2011, 2016 and 2018 and the teams tied two games to two in the only four-game series in 2013.

“When we come to the Freedom Classic in Kinston, we know it’s going to always be a battle,” AFA coach Mike Kazlausky said. “There are outstanding young men on both sides.”

Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulos applauded his team’s effort and that of his opponent.

“It’s always going to be competitive between us,” he said. “It was another good series and it was well-played by both teams, including some really good defensive plays.

“They just got the better of us today.”

Thanks to a whipping, powerful wind that gusted to as much as 25 to 30 miles per hour to left and centerfield, the long ball ruled Sunday’s first game, a seven-inning affair. Senior outfielder Drew Wiss, junior outfielder Ashton Easley and freshman walk-on Gabriel Garcia all hit their first home runs of the season to score all six runs for the Falcons.

Garcia’s two-run, pinch-hit dinger was particularly effective for AFA as it provided the game-winning RBI.

“He’d only had two at-bats so far this year – we called him off the bench and he hits the game-winning home run,” Kazlausky said of Garcia. “We’re very proud of that young man.”

Senior pitcher Jake Gilbert earned Sunday’s opening game victory in relief of starter Matt Hargreaves. The right-hander from Evans, Ga., only gave up two hits and no runs in 4.1 innings of work, striking out five Midshipmen and walking one.

Navy sophomore pitcher Jared Leins (51), Sunday’s Game 1 starter, prepares to deliver a pitch. Photo by Linda Whittington / Neuse News

Senior first baseman Gabe Martinez had three of Air Force’s 11 hits in the opener, while Easley and Nic Ready had two hits apiece. Wiss’ three-run shot in the third gave the Falcons a 4-2 lead after Easley’s dinger in the first. Garcia’s two-run home run broke a 4-4 tie in the sixth.

Navy had seven hits in Sunday’s first game, led by senior catcher Christian Hodge and junior outfielder Evan Lowery had two hits each. Junior third baseman Jacob Williamson had a solo home run for the Naval Academy in the third inning, while the other Navy RBIs came from Lowery and his brother, senior designated hitter Liam Lowery, had the others.

In the nightcap, preseason All-American Rob Dau showed what all the fuss is about for his senior campaign. The Air Force catcher went 2-for-4 with four RBIs and a run scored.

While Dau had two of Air Force’s eight hits in the finale, senior second baseman Colby Brown also had a pair of hits, while also scoring two runs. Sophomore outfielder Christian Gambale hit his first home run of the season in the fourth inning, a two-run shot that also scored Dau, while Easley’s first inning single scored freshman Alexander Pup.

Senior southpaw Ethan Nichols (1-1) struck out 10, walked none and scattered four hits in six innings to earn the nightcap victory for the Falcons, who improved to 4-3 with Sunday’s sweep.

Navy, which fell to 1-5 after Sunday’s results, had seven hits in the final game and was led by freshman outfielder Matt Wolff’s 2-for-4, one-RBI performance. Evan Lowery had Navy’s other RBI, a seventh-inning fielder’s choice that scored Wolff.

It was another successful weekend at Grainger Stadium for Freedom Classic organizers, including tournament chairman Scott Alston, who said he’s already looking forward to next year’s 10th edition of the series.

“Today was beautiful, the crowd was great and we had two close games,” Alston said. “We really can’t ask for better than that. Going into our 10th year next year, the rivalry and the series is getting better and better.”

Kazlausky – who has, like Kostacopoulos, said many times this is his program’s favorite trip of the season – said the Falcons were again treated well this weekend.

“These young men are treated the way they deserve to be treated,” he said. “The respect that is given to these young men from people in Kinston, especially knowing what they are going to do for our country, is appreciated.

“Kinston has become family for us.”

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