After losing its first game at the 2017 NCAA Gainesville Regional on Friday afternoon, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference baseball champion Bethune- Cookman’s wondrous run to a deciding final game ended Monday with a 6-1 loss to host and top-seed Florida.
Bethune-Cookman had beaten the Gators for the first time in 31 meetings 6-2 on Sunday evening to force Monday’s 4 p.m. championship contest. The No. 3 national seed Gators (45-17) got a three-run homer and a solid pitching effort from freshman lefty Austin Langworthy to take the title and advance to next weekend’s Super Regionals.
“Well, really a heck of a game,” said B-CU head coach Jason Beverlin of the deciding contest. “It’s funny how when both teams think they don’t have any pitching, yet the first five innings are shutouts. That’s the way it usually goes. It was a great game and they had some guys step up.
“I am just proud of our guys and the way they never quit” Beverlin said. “All I really ask of them every day when we come to the field, is that they play hard from first pitch to last pitch and they did that all year. I’m really proud of them.” “First of all, I’d like to compliment Bethune-Cookman, because they gave us everything we could handle these last two days,” said Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan. “To get to Monday after losing the first game says a lot about their team and character.”
B-CU, which defeated two nationally ranked teams in USF (South Florida) and Florida on Sunday and posted more regional victories (three) in 36 hours than the two they had in the previous 36 years, concludes the season at 36-25 with its 19th MEAC championship.
The 36 victories are the most in the sixth season for Beverly and the third-most in program history. Langworthy’s blast broke open a scoreless tie. Before his big hit, Florida put men on second and third on a questionable no-call where Florida batter Mike Rivera appeared to interfere with B-CU first baseman Danny Rodriguez. It was ruled an error on Rodriguez.
“I don’t think he meant to [interfere],” said Beverlin. “I felt like they were both kind of going down the line in the same plane. The argument was the ball took him into the infield, so I can understand both ways. That being said, it’s a play we need to make.”
Bethune-Cookman broke the shutout in the seventh when Kyle Corbin scored from second when Josten Heron beat out a two-out infield single, cutting the deficit to 4-1. Two teams supposedly all but depleted of pitching, both playing in their fifth game in four days, put on a defensive display the first five innings.
Bethune-Cookman forced Florida to leave eight runners in scoring position before the sixth, while the Gators limited the Wildcats to three hits during that time and seven overall. Tyler Krull started for B-CU, working three scoreless innings before yielding to Joseph Calamita. Isaak Gutierrez and Nate Sterijevski also worked relief. Adonis Lao and Heron each had two hits for the Wildcats. For the tournament, Sterijevski finished with a .500 average (10-20) with one home run and eight RBI. Lao hit .352 (6-17) while Austin Garcia batted .333 (5-15).
“They’ve got three really good outfielders (Lao, Heron and Corbin) that can run balls down and they can all throw,” said O’Sullivan. “The shortstop’s (Sims) a really good player and the second baseman (Steriljevski), I don’t think anybody figured out how to get him out all weekend. And they’re pitching did a nice job. They just ran out of arms there at the end.” B-CU earned its way to the final game despite losing 9-1 to USF in Friday’s first game.
They came back Saturday to knock off and eliminate Marist as pitcher Tyler Norris pitched a complete game in a 4-2 victory. Norris, an all-MEAC performer, improved to 9-1 on the year and became the first nine-inning complete-game performer for B-CU since Alex Seibold went the distance against North Carolina A&T on March 26, 2016. He allowed just two runs on six hits, picking up seven strikeouts and walking a pair.
In the bottom of the fifth, junior third baseman Jameel Edney connected for his fifth home run of the year, lifting a two-out solo shot to clear the wall in left that staked the Wildcats to a 3-1 lead after five innings. Sterijevski had a two-run scoring single in the game.
B-CU made history later Saturday, beating and eliminating South Florida 6-4 to earn their first trip to a region final in program history.
Sterijevski, Garcia and Sims each had two hits, while Alex Herrera, Ivan Countinho and Calamita combined to throw six consecutive shutout innings to help the Wildcats (35-24) pull away from a 3-3 tie.
The Wildcats blew the game open in the eighth when Sterijevski singled home Rodriguez and Garcia. Pinch hitter Michael Deeb’s double off the left field wall brought in Sterijevski to conclude the scoring. Sterijevski smacked a two-run homer to left in the third.
The weekend went from historic to legendary as the Wildcats defeated Florida 6-2 Sunday on its home field. Sterijevski drove in four runs, while T. J. Densmore and Anthony Maldonado combined for 7 2/3 innings of shutout relief as the Wildcats (36-24) ended a 31-game losing streak to the top-seeded Gators (44-17).
Rodriguez, Corbin and Adonis Lao each had two hits for the Wildcats, who outhit the Gators 12-5. On the mound, Densmore relieved starter Donté Lindsay in the second and limited Florida to two hits in his stint while Maldonado, who started Friday’s opening loss to USF, finished the game with four no-hit innings with just one walk.