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Army baseball team looks for redemption at NCAA regionals

Army's Alex Jensen stops a ball during an

Army's Alex Jensen stops a ball during an NCAA regional game against Oklahoma in Charlottesville, Va. (June 3, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

For the second year in a row, the Army baseball team has traveled to Charlottesville to open NCAA regional play against Virginia.

The Black Knights, however, are hoping for a different result this time around.

Last season, the Cavaliers defeated Army 9-1. The Black Knights were bounced from the double-elimination regional the next day by Oklahoma, leaving the tournament without a win.

The Virginia loss was the lone blemish on Army All-American pitcher Chris Rowley's record -- he finished the season 11-1.

Rowley will again be the Black Knights' starting pitcher when they face Virginia (47-10), the No. 6 overall seed in the NCAA regionals, at 1 p.m. Friday. The game will be streamed online on ESPN3.

North Carolina-Wilmington (37-21) and Elon (32-28) are the other teams playing in the Charlottesville regional. Army, which qualified for the regionals by winning the Patriot League tournament championship, has a 29-21 record.

"We feel like it's kind of an opportunity to take care of some unfinished business," Rowley said. "Last year, in the Charlottesville regional, we went 0-2 and went home. And we felt like we were a much better team than that."

While Rowley and a few other key contributors are back, this year's Army squad is a quite a bit different from last season's. Only 10 players are still on the roster, and only two position players -- third baseman Harold Earls and shortstop Alex Jensen -- were regular starters in 2012.

That turnover resulted in some growing pains, and when the Black Knights started the season 0-7, it appeared a return trip to the NCAA regionals might be far-fetched.

"We were far from a meshed unit back then," Rowley said. "I think we've come a really, really long way since then."

Army coach Joe Sottolano said, "They were patient. It was a difficult road, especially early (in the season). We believed, and we stayed with the plan that we wanted to do. And they matured, and they came together as a team."

Rowley enters the game with a 9-3 record and a 2.68 ERA.

"We'd like to think if Chris throws the ball the way he's capable of throwing it, that we'll be in the baseball game," Sottolano said.

The Black Knights' top hitters are junior first baseman Patrick Mescher (team-best .345 batting average), and freshman outfielder Jacob Page (.314 batting average and tied for the team lead with three home runs).

Sophomore outfielder Mike Papi leads the Cavaliers with a .400 batting -- seventh-best in the nation. Senior righthander Scott Silverstein is Virginia's ace pitcher. He has a 9-1 record and 3.07 ERA.

Virginia's starting catcher, Nate Irving, is from Yonkers and played at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx.

"They are consistent year after year, and that's a tribute to the coaching staff," Sottolano said of the Cavaliers. "We have a lot of respect for them, and we're going to have to be at our best to compete with them."

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