Things looked promising for the Florida baseball team early on against Bethune-Cookman.
Facing the Wildcats at home in the Gainesville Regional final of the NCAA Tournament, UF’s bats came alive in the bottom of the second inning, loading the bases with no outs off a pair of singles and a walk.
Second baseman Deacon Liput then came to the plate and hammered a ground ball up the middle, scoring two runs and chasing BCU starter Donte Lindsay off the mound.
From there, however, Florida’s offense went ice cold and the Wildcats shocked those in attendance at McKethan Stadium with a 6-2 win on Sunday night.
Second baseman Nate Sterijevski led the way for BCU with a 4-for-4 day at the plate and a game-high four RBIs. Right fielder Kyle Corbin added in a 2-for-2 outing with two runs scored, and usual starting pitcher Anthony Maldonado came out of the bullpen and earned a perfect, four-inning save.
For the Gators, their offense was held to a total of five base hits, including only two in the final seven innings of the contest.
Right fielder Nelson Maldonado went 0-for-4 to dip his batting average down to .302, its lowest mark since April 21. Shortstop Dalton Guthrie and left fielder Austin Langworthy also failed to record a hit in four plate appearances, and Liput’s second inning single served as Florida’s only RBIs on the night.
“We just didn’t do enough offensively, that’s the bottom line” coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “(Bethune-Cookman) deserves all the credit. They played much better tonight.”
Sophomore right-hander Brady Singer got the starting nod for UF and allowed five runs in 7.1 innings pitched.
BCU got its offense going against Singer in the top of the second with a two-out double from Sterijevski that scored Corbin all the way from first base. An error from Singer the very next at bat allowed Sterijevski to cross home plate as well, giving the Wildcats an early 2-0 lead.
After Liput’s single tied things up in the bottom of the frame, Bethune-Cookman struck again in the top of the sixth off another two-out RBI from Sterijevski.
The sophomore from Clermont, Florida, connected on a 1-2 pitch from Singer and drove it in to left field, scoring Corbin again from third base to take back the lead 3-2.
Sterijevski would come up big one more time two innings later against reliever Frank Rubio, driving in two big insurance runs off a single with the bases loaded to increase his team’s lead to three.
“I was trying to get something over the middle of the plate that would come back in and try to drive it to left field,” Sterijevski said. “Having that approach helped me going into the last inning.”
Pinch-hitter Michael Deeb then doubled down the left field line to score Sterijevski and solidify BCU’s win by a score of 6-2.
Meanwhile, on the mound for the Wildcats, freshman right-hander Anthony Maldonado entered the game in the sixth inning after starting just two days prior against USF.
Maldonado was lights out against the Gators, allowing only one batter to reach base on a hit by pitch in an otherwise flawless four-inning save.
“He did a great job coming back after that first outing,” coach Jason Beverlin said. “As a freshman, that’s kind of what it takes. Figure out what it’s all about, get the jitters out after that first game and realize that you’ve just got to go out and execute pitches.”
The win for Bethune-Cookman means the Wildcats and Gators will meet again on Monday at 4 p.m. for a chance to advance to the super regional round of the NCAA Tournament against Wake Forest.
UF has advanced to the super regional six times in the past eight years, while Bethune-Cookman has never reached the round in its program’s history. Neither coach was sure who will start on the mound for their respective teams in the regional’s final game, but said it would be an “all-hands-on-deck” situation.
“We’ve got to come out and play better,” Singer said. “I hope our starter does the job, and we’ve got to hit to win.”