The much-anticipated opening day of the 2020 DII baseball season did not disappoint. No. 1 Tampa and No. 4 Central Missouri fell and a 17-strikeout performance lit up the box scores.
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Here's a quick look at what stood out on DII baseball's opening day.
Mount Olive downs the defending champion Tampa Spartans 11-3
One night of DII baseball and the No. 1 team in the country is 0-1. This isn't a huge surprise as we had the Trojans ranked No. 20 heading into the season, and Friday night showed why.
Two big reasons we were excited about Mount Olive are returners Joe Mason and JT Stone and both got the ball rolling in the Trojans impressive 11-3 victory. Mason delivered a two-RBI single that Stone followed with an RBI-groundout in the decisive four-run third inning. On the night, Mason finished 2-for-2 with three runs scored and those two RBI while Stone went 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBI of his own. While starter Will Abbott didn't have his best night, he and Hunter Stevens combined to strikeout 13 batters and walk just one. Stevens was remarkable in relief, allowing just one base runner and striking out seven over five scoreless.
Don't count Tampa out. We told you heading into this game there are a lot of new pieces and some growing pains will be had in the early going. Star infielder Drew Ehrhard had a two-hit night and transfer Jose Cadenas and new catcher Luke McDonald both went yard in the bottom half of the third. The Spartans will have good days and bad days in the early going, but we know skipper Joe Urso will right this ship come March.
Ninth-inning dramatics help Flagler upset Central Missouri in Houston
The Houston Winter Invitational gave us a fantastic day of DII college baseball. The Colorado School of Mines highly-touted pitching staff — one which returns all three starters in Walter Pennington, Drew Hill and Tyler Blomster — showed its stuff as Pennington was part of a 2-0 shutout. No. 18 Millersville struck next, quickly rebounding with a five-run bottom of the first after falling 2-0 in the early going.
But the nightcap, well as they say, they saved the best for last.
No. 4 Central Missouri is pegged as one of our eight teams heading to Cary, North Carolina in May and a big reason is ace Mason Green. He showed why Friday night, tossing five innings allowing one unearned run and striking out eight. But it was the late-inning heroics of Flagler's John Fiorenza that saved the day for Flagler.
The Saints, unranked and projected to finish sixth in their own conference, had the game tied against the Mules heading into the ninth. Fiorenza came to the plate with two-outs and one on in the top of the ninth and took an 0-2 fastball over the wall. It gave Flagler the 4-2 lead that would hold on to win the game. It was the JUCO transfer's first game of DII baseball.
There was more walk-off magic as well. Wayne State (Neb.) was lifted to victory when senior DH Bryce Bisenius hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to give the Wildcats an 8-6 win over Newman.
Roy Robles strikes out 17 to give Missouri Western the 5-3 win
This will be a tough one for Robles to follow up in 2020. On the very first night of the season, the senior lefty made program-history, whiffing 17 Oklahoma Baptist hitters in six innings of work. If you aren't good at math, that means he struck out all but one out he retired.
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Now, Robles was a little shaky in the first. He walked back-to-back hitters and then allowed an RBI single. But then he struck out seven of the next nine hitters before having a perfect fourth and fifth: six up, six down, all strikeouts. It certainly was an impressive feat for a pitcher who had 44 strikeouts all of last season.
Sticking with strike outs, how about Central Oklahoma? The Bronchos pitchers tied the single-game mark, striking out 19 Henderson State Reddies in their 10-4 win. Starter Dylan Hall stuck out 10 over five, Brayden Nelson added four in his two innings of relief and Kylar Patterson and Jake Terry combined for five more in the final two innings of work.
North Greenville shows its muscle in 15-9 win
The Crusaders headed to Fort Lauderdale for a top 25 showdown against Nova Southeastern and their bats delivered in a big opening night win. This was the team we thought they could be, driving Nova Southeastern's Duncan Pastore — who has received numerous preseason accolades — from the game in just 2.2 innings.
Catcher John Michael Faile — one of our preseason player of the year hitters to watch — led the way. He brought in the first run of the game with a solo shot in the first and added on a two-run dinger in the third. Faile had a monster freshman campaign and after a 2-for-3 opening night — with three runs scored, three RBI, and two walks — there is plenty of reason to be excited for his sophomore year.
Florida Southern dominates No. 19 West Florida in must-needed opening night win
By no means does a win on Jan. 31 mean the Mocs are back. But this was a big deal for Florida Southern.
Last year, Florida Southern finished 23-27 amid a rash of injuries and simply not meeting expectations. The Mocs are one of the most-storied programs in DII baseball lore and the last time they had back-to-back sub-.500 seasons was in 1958-59. To get off on the right foot against a consensus top 25 team and in shutout fashion is certainly a step in the right direction.
Ace J.J. Niekro tossed six innings of shutout baseball, striking out six and walking three to pace the Mocs in their 5-0 victory. First baseman Jacob Teeter — who had a big summer on the Cape — continued swinging the hot bat with an RBI single, but it was DH Zach Diewart's three-run bomb in the eighth that did the bulk of the damage. We're not saying this counts West Florida out, but if any team right outside the top 25 needed a decisive victory on opening night, you can argue it was these Florida Southern Mocs.