May 19, 2008

Around the Bases

CBI Live
Thomas, B-CU win arms race in MEAC finals


By Phil Stanton Co-Founder


NORFOLK, Va. – After playing five games in the past three days in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, fifth-seeded Norfolk State ran out of arms.


Top-seeded Bethune-Cookman was playing just its third game and had the best arm, claiming a 13-2 victory and its third straight MEAC title and 11th in the past 13 years.


Eric Thomas (9-0) was dominant for the Wildcats (36-20), going seven scoreless innings with six hits, no walks and 10 strikeouts. He threw 85 pitches, 61 for strikes.


“Today I felt real good,” Thomas said. “I was a little sick, I’ve got a little stomach flu right now, but all day I said I was going to spot and locate. The slider was the key pitch today.”


The Spartans (25-24) had a 0.61 ERA in the first five games, but could not contain the bats of the Wildcats. Facing three pitchers in the first five innings who had already combined for 26 innings in the tournament, B-CU was patient at the plate and took advantage of its opportunities in the middle innings. The Wildcats were blanked the first two innings, but then scored in each of the next five to take control.


Each of the B-CU starters reached base and eight of the nine had at least one RBI.


“That’s how you know the team is doing a pretty good job,” said B-CU’s Jose Lozada. “That’s how you have to be. The team has to be all nine, it can’t just one guy.”


Lozada was one of six Wildcats to have two hits and led the team with three runs. Osvaldo Torres and Neal Jones each drove in two for the champions.


“Right before the game I said we’re a family,” said Bethune-Cookman head coach Mervyl Melendez. “This is a team. This is not about me, this is not about my coaches, this is not about any individual here. We win as a team, we lose as a team. It is a team effort. We can’t have heroes. The game of baseball does not call for individual honors. We have to do it as a team. That’s what I’ve been preaching the whole entire year. And that’s what this team is about.”


The Wildcats got on the board in the bottom of the third.  Jose Ortiz reached on a fielder’s choice and moved to third on a single by Justin Hoyte, who took second on the throw. Following an intentional walk, Torres hit a grounder to second that could not be turned for a double play, bringing home Ortiz with the first run.


B-CU added a run in the fourth as Jeremy Ruperto drew a one-out walk, moved to second on a fielder’s choice, advanced to third on an infield single to the pitcher and kept going home on the play as the ball squirted away from the first baseman to make it 2-0.


The Wildcats blew it open with three in the fifth on RBI singles by Lozada, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, Neal Jones and Emmanuel Castro to expand their lead to 5-0. Neal Jones’ RBI double capped a two-run sixth as B-CU made 7-0. The Wildcats added six in the seventh for their total of 13.


Norfolk State was able to avoid the shutout as Jerrod Farley, a CBI journalist, smacked a two-run homer in the ninth.


“From what we have done this week, we never give up,” said NSU head coach Claudell Clark. “We felt like any pitcher in this conference our hitters can hit. Eric Thomas, give the credit to him. He had a great slider going today and we knew it was going to be tough to generate a lot of runs, but we did think that our pitching, piecing it together, was going to hold them a little tighter. It just did not, and our injuries started to wear on us. Eventually we just ran out of energy, but not out of heart.”


Bethune-Cookman advances to the NCAA Tournament and will look for that elusive first-game victory in a regional.


“We had Miami on the ropes,” Melendez said, “and a lot of people said ‘Good game’. I’m not looking for good games, I’m looking for victories. I’m looking for wins. I think we have a staff to get that done. We win that first game, we’re in the driver’s seat. We don’t win that first game, then we’re back to square one. We’re going after the first game and take it one game at a time. We’ve never won that first game in regional. We’ve won the second game, but never the first game.”


The Spartans registered their first winning season since 2000 and matched the school’s Division I record for victories in a season.


“We did do some successful things this year,” Clark said. “It’s not all a bad thing. We’re getting closer to the goals that we want, and that the MEAC Championship. And the championship game is the first place to do it. It’s bittersweet, but we fought and got here and I can’t say that I’m going home upset.”