The Stetson baseball team took another big step forward this weekend by taking two of three games from North Florida. The Ospreys came into the weekend leading the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The Hatters clinched the series victory with a dramatic 7-6 victory in Sunday’s opening game when freshman Patrick Mazeika led off the ninth inning with a game-winning solo home run. UNF was able to avoid getting swept by taking the second game, which was shortened to seven innings, 3-0.
With the split on Sunday, the Hatters move to 23-24 overall on the season but, more importantly, 12-9 in A-Sun play. Stetson has a magic number of just one to clinch a berth in the A-Sun Tournament, and is just three games behind new league co-leader, Mercer, with six games left in the conference season.
North Florida moved to 34-14 overall and 15-6 in league play and the Ospreys clinched a spot in the A-Sun Tournament for the first time since 2010. UNF is now tied with Mercer for first place in the league race and owns the tie-breaker after defeating Mercer twice earlier this year.
“If someone had told me going in that we would get two out of three, I would have taken it right there,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “But, after you win the first two you get greedy. You have to give UNF credit because they have a good ball club and are in first place for a reason.”
“That is the number two hitting team in the nation and in three games our pitching staff only gave up 21 hits. That is pretty good. I thought our pitching staff did a good job for us overall and that was a good series for us. We just have to keep doing that.”
GAME 1 – Stetson 7, North Florida 6
The Hatters took a 4-3 lead into the eighth inning of the opening game, but the Ospreys continued to put up a fight.
Stetson starting pitcher Austin Perez had pitched a solid game for the Hatters, holding UNF to just three runs, two earned, entering the eighth. The Ospreys’ Tyler Marincov opened that inning by working a walk and, after he moved up on a sacrifice bunt, Stetson turned to freshman Tyler Warmoth.
Marincov immediately stole third off Warmoth and then scored on a single to left by Drew Weeks to tie the game at 4-4. Weeks then stole second and scored on a single by Kyle Brooks to give UNF a 5-4 lead.
The Hatters had an answer, but not in a traditional manner. Tyler Bocock opened the home half of the inning with an infield single off UNF reliever Kyle Westwood (3-1). After a sacrifice bunt moved him to second, Robert Bruce blooped a single to left to put runners on the corners.
That was where things got strange. Mitchel Brennan pinch hit and struck out on a pitch in the dirt that bounded toward the first base dugout. By the time UNF catcher Corey Bass tracked the ball down, Bocock had scored the go-ahead run and Bruce had raced all the way to third base.
Kevin Fagan followed by drawing a walk and, with Mike Fernland in an 0-2 hole, broke for second base to draw a throw from Bass. The play worked when Fagan stopped between first and second and UNF shortstop Kyle Brooks took his eyes off Bruce just long enough for him to swipe home, giving Stetson a 6-5 lead.
Warmoth appeared ready to make that lead stand up but he could not find a way to retire Marincov. The Ospreys’ preseason All-Conference outfielder battled through an eight pitch at bat that included facing five two-strike pitches with the Stetson crowd standing and clapping in anticipation of a victory before blasting a double into left center to tie the game at 6-6.
Cameron Griffin (4-3) came on in relief of Warmoth and got the final out of the inning on two pitches, and then picked up his second easy win in as many games when Patrick Mazeika blasted the second pitch he saw from Westwood down the right field line and out for a walk-off home run.
“It was kind of a roller coast, but I was proud of the kids because every time they came back on us to tie it or take the lead, we answered and did what we had to do,” Dunn said. “It was a big win. Mazeika hitting the game winner in the bottom of the ninth was pretty dramatic.”
Perez allowed just six hits in his 7.1 innings of work, allowing three earned runs while walking two and striking out two.
“AP is AP,” Dunn said. “He has pitched better than that, but he certainly didn’t pitch poorly. He kept us in the game. Cam was the ultimate vulture this weekend because he pitched a third of an inning in two games and got two wins, but that is baseball. He came in there and did a nice job in the two wins and did what we needed him to do.”
GAME 2 – North Florida 3, Stetson 0
Stetson had plenty of scoring chances in the second game on Sunday, but left eight runners stranded on base against UNF starter Michael Renner (9-0) who went the distance in a seven-inning game.
“Renner is awfully good,” Dunn said. “He is 9-0, so he is obviously awfully good. We just never really made great adjustments. We had some opportunities, but he seemed to always buckle down and get a fly ball, a weak ground ball or a strikeout when he needed it.”
The Ospreys got all the runs they needed in the second inning off Stetson starter Chad Rood (0-3), who was his own worst enemy in the inning by allowing a walk and hitting two batters. He almost got away with only allowing one run when Bass grounded into a double play, but Spencer Herrmann, who was batting for the first time in the series, delivered a two-out RBI single to plate a second run.
Stetson had multiple runners on base in four different innings, but only once had a runner advance past second. The Hatters were 0-for-7 in the game with runners in scoring position.
Rasmussen and Tanner Blackman had two hits each in the game for Stetson. Paul Karmeris and Brooks had two hits apiece for UNF.
The Hatters will play their final non-conference games of the season this week when top 10 ranked Florida State (38-9) brings its eight-game win streak into Melching Field. The Seminoles are coming off a weekend sweep of UCF in non-conference play.
“We are going to have to piece our pitching together this week and we know that,” Dunn said. “We are short of arms right now with (Kurt) Schluter and Fagan down. We have to get everyone involved, try to get some quality innings from everyone and just try to swing the bats.
“It is not going to be an easy task with as good as they are. The big thing is we are not going to cut ourselves short or jeopardize our arms for the weekend, but that doesn’t mean we can’t go out there and be competitive and win the games.”
After the two games against Florida State – Tuesday’s game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and Wednesday’s game is set for a 4 p.m. start – the Hatters will close the home portion of the 2013 season with a three-game series against A-Sun newcomer Northern Kentucky.
“We have a team coming in next week that is playing a lot better,” Dunn said. “They have made some adjustments since early in the year when they were new to Division I.
“We just have to keep getting better. It is obvious that we are a better team now than we were early in the year, but we are still not real good. We just have to keep grinding to try to get better and build some momentum to get into the post-season. We just have to keep doing what we have done the last five weekends, and that is win and take care of business ourselves.”