UNION - For the 5th consecutive season, the Cumberland County College Dukes were playing in late May in the Region XIX Baseball Final Four. After handling a feisty Ocean County team in the first round, the Dukes were entering the double elimination tournament with the confidence and focus needed to make the World Series. Unfortunately, Cumberland faced misfortune as they would run into a hot-hitting Northampton team and lose a heartbreaker to Rowan-Gloucester to be eliminated from the tournament. Due to the unpredictable weather, the tournament was moved from Lehigh Carbon Community College in Schnecksville, PA, to Jim Hynes Field on the campus of Kean University in Union, NJ.
Game 1 - Northampton
In the opening matchup, Cumberland would face Northampton, a team they handled with surprising ease in a late season doubleheader just under a month ago. With that in mind, the Dukes were as confident as they could be despite having much more on the line this time around. Cumberland would send freshman pitcher, Anthony Capasso, to take the ball and jump start the charge back to Greenville, TN, the site of the NJCAA D3 World Series. Capasso had faced Northampton earlier the season and was magnificient, striking out 8 in a complete game effort. This time around, Northampton was prepared as they scored 2 runs in the top of the 1st to take an early 2-0 lead.
Cumberland would answer with 4 runs of their own in the bottom of the 1st as it looked as if the Dukes were as confident and focused as they needed to be. The Spartans had other plans as they proceeded to catch fire as they would go on to score 15 more runs and pound a total of 22 hits en route to a 17-6 victory. Shawn Vazquez was the highlight of the Cumberland offense in the opening game as he belted a deep 2-run home run in the 1st inning.
Game 2 - RCGC
Facing elimination, Cumberland would do battle against Route 55 Rival, Rowan-Gloucester. This would be the 5th consecutive year that these two teams would face each other in an elimination game, 3 times in the Championship game and once in the loser's bracket final. Both teams were in unfamiliar territory as they both took an unexpected loss in their opening games. After losing to Brookdale in Game 1, RCGC looked to bounce back versus an equally hungry Cumberland team.
At the outset of the game, it looked as if Cumberland had gave it their all in Game 1 as RCGC put up runs in every inning except one leading up to the 7th, while the Dukes could only muster 1 run in the early stages of the ball game. Down 7-1 with only 3 frames to go, Cumberland would score 3 to the cut deficit to 7-4 heading into the 8th. After going down quietly in the 8th, Cumberland found their second wind and charged their way to 4 runs to take an 8-7 lead. Nicholas Milhan would drive the go-ahead 2-run single between the 3rd baseman and shortstop to send the Cumberland dugout and the Dukes faithful into a frenzy.
The momentum would stall as RCGC would tie the game in the 9th and then drive a walk-off homerun to send Cumberland to an early, unexpected exit with a 9-8 loss in 10 innings.
Cumberland returns nearly their entire roster for next year as the majority of the 2018 campaign helped usher in the next era of Cumberland baseball. With a large number of impactful freshmen returning, look for the Dukes to return with a vengeance.