Around the Bases
Thomas, B-CU win arms
race in MEAC finals
By Phil Stanton
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
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
Norfolk State was able to avoid the shutout as
Jerrod Farley, a CBI journalist, smacked a two-run homer in the
“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