DeLand, FL – Not even a 45-minute lightning delay could mar the festive mood at Melching Field on a historic night for Stetson University’s baseball program.
Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year Brooks Wilson’s double past the 1st base bag in the bottom of the 7th scored left fielder Austin Bogart, giving the #1 seed Hatters (46-11) the lead for good over #4 University of Hartford (26-30).
Stetson would go on to an 8-3 victory in the second game of the first-ever NCAA Baseball Tournament regional in DeLand’s history, with normal starting pitcher Mitchell Senger getting his ninth win of the year after pitching the final three innings in relief.
The win is Stetson’s 16th straight – the longest currently in Division I – and it came in front of 2,064 people at the Hatters’ home ground.
Earlier in the day, #3 Oklahoma State University (30-24-1) pulled away late from #2 University of South Florida (35-21-1) to take a 9-2 win, scoring eight of its runs in the 5th inning or later after the Bulls took an early 1-0 lead over the Cowboys.
Stetson’s first regional game on its home field started out as a pitchers’ duel – as it has been many times this season for the Hatters – between midweek starter Joey Gonzalez and Hawks ace Nicholas Dombrowski. As has also been true for much of the season, it was the other starter who blinked first.
Taking the Friday night ball from normal starting pitcher Logan Gilbert, Gonzalez managed to hold Hartford to 5.2 scoreless innings before catcher Drew Holtgrieve’s RBI single in the top of the 6th inning plated right fielder Ashton Bardzell to tie the game at 1.
The Hawks managed to make the junior right-hander from Miami sweat a few times before that, notably in the top of the 3rd inning after Hartford got runners at 1st and 3rd base with two outs.
Designated hitter Chris Sullivan got the count to one ball and one strike when nearby lightning forced the teams off the field and the grandstands to be cleared for safety. Once play resumed, Gonzalez struck out Sullivan to end the threat, and Stetson head coach Steve Trimper said that shows how well the team kept its focus.
“I thought Joey’s stuff was better after the delay,” Trimper added during the post-game press conference.
Dombrowski kept the run column clean for the first three innings, but the lefty freshman ran into trouble in the bottom of the 4th after Hatters first baseman Eric Foggo smacked a one-out double past the 3rd base bag.
A groundout from shortstop Jorge Arenas moved Foggo to 3rd base. After that, a wild pitch from Dombrowski went between Holtgrieve’s legs, giving Foggo the chance to take home and a 1-0 lead.
Holtgrieve’s two-out RBI single in the 6th not only tied the game. It set the stage for maybe the most surprising play of the season so far for a Hatters team known for solid defense.
With Holtgrieve on 1st base and shortstop Jackson Olson at 2nd base, Hawks second baseman Drew DeMartino tapped a roller right to Stetson third baseman Jonathan Meola, but the ball went under his glove into left field. As Meola went to cover 3rd base, he collided with Olson, resuting in an interference call which gave Olson a free trip home and a 2-1 lead for Hartford.
It wouldn’t take long for Stetson to get the lead back, though. The Hatters would plate two runs in the bottom of the 6th to take the lead temporarily before taking it for good an inning later.
Center fielder Jacob Koos led the inning off with a walk, then stole second and third base before scoring on an RBI single from Eric Foggo.
Dombrowski was then lifted for lefty sophomore Drew Farkas, but shortstop Jorge Arenas wouldn’t wait long to make the Hawks pay. His double to left field scored Wilson after he got on board with a walk, giving the Hatters a 3-2 lead.
Hartford would tie the game at three on an RBI single from Bardzell in the top of the 7th inning before Stetson took the lead for good in the bottom of the 7th with two more runs, including Wilson’s RBI double and Koos scoring from 3rd base on a wild pitch.
The Hatters would add three more runs in the bottom of the 8th to close out the scoring.
Friday’s results means USF will face Hartford in the losers’ bracket in the first game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Melching Field. Whoever loses that game is out of the double-elimination tournament, while the winner will try to stay alive on Sunday by facing the loser of the winner’s bracket game at 7 p.m. Saturday between OSU and Stetson.