May 18, 2008

Around the Bases

Around the Tournaments - MEAC
Lozada lifts Bethune-Cookman to Championship Game


By Chuck Curti,

Special to


NORFOLK, Va. – Bethune-Cookman’s Jose Lozada, the 2008 MEAC Player of the Year, proved Saturday afternoon that he was effective both hitting pitches and getting hit by them.


Lozada hit a tie-breaking solo homer in the fifth, then, after getting hit by a pitch to lead off the eighth, came around to score what proved to be the winning run on Emmanuel Castro’s single. Top-seeded Bethune-Cookman escaped the winner’s bracket game against North Carolina A&T with a 3-2 victory.


The Wildcats advance to Sunday’s championship game with a 2-0 tournament record. They will meet either A&T or Norfolk State in the 2 p.m. final, and one of those teams will have to beat Bethune-Cookman twice to steal the title from the reigning champs.


Bethune-Cookman was able to win despite getting only three hits off Aggies starter Marquise Frink. Frink struck out a career-high 14 batters, but he got himself in trouble by hitting five batters.


Wildcats starter Gio Gautier was equally impressive, scattering six hits over 8.1 innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. Phil Enright came on to earn the save.


After the game, Bethune-Cookman coach Mervyl Melendez was in awe of both pitchers.


“His (Frink’s) slider was outstanding, and we couldn’t make any adjustment on him,” said Melendez. “He was not giving us a lot to hit.


“Gio was outstanding. He pitched one of the best games I’ve seen him pitch this year.”


Frink got himself into an early jam in the first. He gave up a lead-off single to Jose Ortiz, then, after striking out Justin Hoyte, hit Lozada and walked Osvaldo Torres to load the bases. Neal Jones brought home the game’s first run the hard way, taking a Frink pitch off his lower leg to force home Ortiz.


But Frink escaped without further damage by striking out Castro and getting Drew Clark to ground to first base.


The 1-0 score persisted into the fifth, when the Aggies tied the game. Nelson Santos drove a triple off the right-field wall, then came home on a squeeze bunt by Nick Mayo.


Lozada brought Bethune-Cookman right back in the bottom of the fifth, but not without some difficulty.


Back in the third inning, Lozada was hit a second time by Frink, this time in his right elbow. There was some swelling and pain, and Lozada told Melendez he was considering turning around and hitting right-handed because the extension of his right arm on the left-handed swing was bothering him.


Lozada decided, however, to stay left-handed. The choice was a good one as he drove an inside fastball over the right-field wall for a 2-1 lead.


“I guess he made the right choice,” said Melendez with a smile.


“He’s pretty good,” said Lozada about Frink. “We hadn’t faced him this year. I think he’s the best we’ve faced in the conference.”


Bethune-Cookman added a run in the eighth, and it proved to be a valuable insurance policy. Lozada led off the inning by getting hit for the third time and was sacrificed to second by Torres. After Frink struck out pinch hitter Ken Ford for the second out, Castro delivered an RBI single to plate Lozada.


North Carolina A&T wasn’t finished. Jeremy Jones, the MEAC Player of the Year three years ago, led off the Aggies’ ninth with a single, and C.J. Beatty was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second.


After Gautier struck out Joe McIntyre, he was lifted for Enright. Nick Rogers, the hero of A&T’s two previous MEAC Tournament wins, came through again with an RBI single to cut the gap to 3-2.


Enright finished the threat by getting Santos to hit a shallow fly ball to right field and getting pinch hitter Joe Wade to hit into a force out at second.


Now, the Wildcats are just one win from claiming yet another championship.


“Our minds are on winning this thing,” said Lozada. “We feel confident. We’ve got the team to win this series.”