Bethune-Cookman wins MEAC again
Wildcats make it six consecutive conference titles
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Bethune-Cookman took care of business in all aspects of the game to dispatch Norfolk State 9-3 in the MEAC Baseball Championship final at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, earning B-CU its sixth consecutive MEAC title and 15th overall. Though the score grew close near the mid-point, the Wildcats were able to pull away late. Along with the Championship, Head Coach Mervyl Melendez earned Outstanding Coach, along with Peter O’Brien as Outstanding Player. O’Brien joined Ryan Durrence on the All-Tournament team.
“The key for us was to continue the pressure,” said Head Coach Mervyl Melendez, “continue to score runs, to build a big enough gap that when they did make a comeback we have enough distance to win.”
From the opening frame, Norfolk State showed fight in their game. The Spartans applied some championship game style pressure to the Wildcats early, with left fielder John Rasberry hitting a two-out home run just inside the left foul pole.
Led off by Peter O’Brien’s RBI double to the wall in left, the Wildcats responded with two runs of their own, also including Alejandro Sanchez taking home on a fielders choice tag-out to first.
Amidst a double steal in the second, Brandon Turner created a rundown (while not getting tagged), allowing Brashad Johnson to score on the overthrow from first base.
Nick Johnson made it three consecutive innings with the Wildcats on the board, hitting a shallow grounder to the right side and beating along with an RBI.
Despite the shutout in Friday’s semifinal, the Spartans showed fight to stick around, bringing the score tighter in the fifth with a two-RBI single, cutting the Wildcat lead to a single run. Meanwhile, NSU’s defense made a stand, keeping the ‘Cats off the board for the fourth and fifth.
Sanchez broke the Wildcats’ scoring silence in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI single to left center, sending Brandon Turner racing to the plate all the way from first. O’Brien batted him in with an RBI single to left center. DJ Leonard wrapped up the inning with an RBI single to extend the Wildcat lead back to four.
As the game rolled into the late innings, the Wildcats began to catch fire again in the seventh, Turner starting it with an RBI triple down the right field line, batted in three pitches later on a Matt Wright sacrifice fly for the winning run in the 9-3 Championship affair.
“Norfolk State had a lot of intensity,” said Melendez, “you’ve got to give them a lot of credit for coming back out of the losers bracket, and coming ready to play.”
As the Wildcats rushed together in celebration, Mervyl Melendez’ team had set a new program standard, clinching their program-high sixth consecutive MEAC Championship and eleventh in his twelve seasons at the helm. The Wildcats also wrapped the year with their NCAA best (according to B-CU Sports Information research) 46 consecutive conference win streak intact. There was much rejoicing to be had as the ‘Cats now head to their sixth consecutive NCAA Regional.
“They’re all special,” said Melendez of the sweetness of a sixth consecutive crown, “it doesn’t matter how many you win, it doesn’t get old.”
All-MEAC first-teamer Patrick Goelz took care of the Wildcats on the mound, collecting his eighth win of the year, tied with MEAC Rookie and Pitcher of the Year Scott Garner, teammate who pitched a combined shutout in the semifinal.
“He pitched very well, like he has for the last half of the season,” said Melendez of Goelz. “I’m so proud of him for making the adjustments that he made on the mound. [Pitching] Coach Matt Crane deserves a lot of credit for that.”
Goelz pitched six innings with three earned runs, five strikeouts and two walks, while inducing ten groundouts and three fly-outs. Relievers Jordan Dailey, Roman Lancara, and Chris Anselmo kept the Spartans off the board in the final three frames.
“We’ve worked hard so long this year, with pain along the way,” said Goelz, “it feels really good to get the win and help the team out; now we’ve got to take it to Regionals.”
Leading the Wildcat charge at the plate, Peter O’Brien hit 2-4 with two RBI, along with Alejandro Sanchez and DJ Leonard, who hit 2-4 with an RBI each.
Brandon Turner and Nick Johnson each picked up RBI as well in the championship win.
Mervyl Melendez added another Outstanding Coach of the Tournament honor with the sweep to the title. O’Brien was named Outstanding Player, as well as earning a spot on the All-Tournament team along with designated hitter Ryan Durrence.
O’Brien wrapped up the week hitting 8-14 with eight RBI.
“We came out here and did what we needed to do, put runs on the board and win the ball game,” said O’Brien after the win. “It feels great, but this is just a small step in what we want to accomplish this year.”
With the victory, Bethune-Cookman (35-22) earns the MEAC’s automatic qualification to the NCAA Baseball Championships. The pairings will be announced on Monday, May 30 at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN. The Wildcats will hit the diamond preparing hard for the familiar territory of the tournament, hoping to carry over the same type of play into Regionals.
“I feel good, because we’re playing with a lot of emotion and passion,” noted Melendez. “That’s what we need to do in the Regional. Those teams are usually the ones who make it to Omaha.”