Courtesy: B-CU Athletics Communications
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (27-32) held off a late charge by the Columbia Lions (29-20) in the 2014 NCAA Regional elimination game on Saturday afternoon at Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, holding on for the 6-5 win and earning the first postseason victory for the program in 12 seasons.
“It was a great moment for Bethune-Cookman baseball history to take the first step in eventually, hopefully winning a Regional and moving this program forward,” Head Coach Jason Beverlin said. “[There is] Definitely a lot of tradition and history and this is just building on that tradition and history and that’s where we want to get to.“
“They did a good job of preparing themselves for today’s game like they did yesterday, and the results were just a little bit different,” Beverlin added. “But both days I was proud of the way they went about their business.”
Right fielder Josh Johnson got the Lions’ attention early and set the tone in the first inning, sending a high leadoff home run over the left field wall, granting B-CU the early 1-0 advantage.
Although Columbia starter Kevin Roy settled in and limited the Wildcats’ damage for the next two frames, B-CU kept continuous pressure on and capitalized in the third, as an RBI single for shortstop Shaun McCarty brought Eric Sams in from second base, while Eros Modena scored from first on a fielding error by CU right fielder Gus Craig, moving the lead out to 3-0.
In the fifth the Wildcats tacked up another run, as Johnson led off reaching base on balls and Matt Noble scored his classmate from second base on a single through the left side to go on top 4-0.
As the Wildcats began to drive Roy’s pitch count with a four-run advantage, the Lions opted to go to the bullpen and senior Joey Donino, who put together a quick and tidy sixth inning. However, the seventh frame got away from the right-handed reliever. Johnson led off with a 4-0 walk and Bryant Munoz followed with a single through the left side. Noble capitalized on the scoring opportunity with his 13th double of the season, a two-runner to outer left field, pushing the Wildcats ahead 6-0.
After six steady shutout innings, Zuniga allowed three consecutive Columbia hits to open the bottom of the seventh, allowing the Lions to put a run on the board off John Kinne’s RBI single to left center.
Trailing from the opening frame, Columbia began to put some pressure of their own on the Wildcats, who went to the bullpen, cycling through three relievers in the frame before John Sever closed it out on an Aaron Silbar pop-up to second base. When the dust settled, the Lions had put in four runs off four hits to trim the B-CU advantage to just two runs.
CU reliever Zach Tax took over on the rubber for the Lions, holding preventing the Wildcats from adding insurance runs in the final two frames, giving Columbia a chance for a final run to avoid elimination. The Lions sliced the lead down to a single run in the bottom of the ninth, scoring pinch runner Logan Boyher from third on a Craig RBI single with two outs. The Lions top hitter in the Regional, Robb Paller, lined out to Eros Modena in center field, securing the final out and the 6-5 victory.
With the win over Columbia, the Wildcats will advance to a third game in NCAA Regional play for the first time since defeating Florida International, 7-4, in the 2002 Gainesville (FL) Regional. The win moves B-CU’s all-time Regional record to 2-27 and 3-31 overall in NCAA postseason games.
Pitching six innings in the start, Zuniga (8-4) picked up the win, allowing seven hits and three runs, while striking out one Lions batter. Sever pitched three completed frames, striking out two batters to earn his fourth save of the year.
Noble topped the Wildcats at the plate, hitting 2-for-3 with three RBI. McCarty added another RBI with a 2-for-4 hitting performance, while Johnson scored three runs on the day.
The Wildcats move on to game five of the Coral Gables Regional bracket, slated for a 2 p.m. meeting in a Sunday (June 1) matchup with Miami (FL) at Mark Light Field at Alex Rodriguez Park.