TAMPA, Fla. – Despite a 19-day layoff since they last took the field, the Nova Southeastern Sharks (0-4) put up an impressive fight against one of the top teams in the country, with a chance to take the lead on the final pitch. In the end, it was not quite enough, as they were felled by the No. 3-ranked Tampa Spartans (8-1) by a score of 8-5 at the University of Tampa Baseball Field on Friday afternoon.
INSIDE THE MATCHUP:
Final Score: No. 3 Tampa – 8, Nova Southeastern – 5
Records: Tampa (8-1), Nova Southeastern (0-4)
Location: University of Tampa Baseball Field – Tampa, Fla.
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HOW IT HAPPENED
Making his first career start, freshman Carlos Rey used a clutch double play to get out of a jam in the bottom of the first inning, but he was not as lucky in the second, surrendering three runs on a walk and three hits, despite the ball leaving the infield only twice. Jeremy Cook came in as the first man out of the bullpen and put up zeroes in the next two frames, without allowing so much as a hit.
Meanwhile, the Sharks’ offense seemed to be flummoxed by Spartans starter Michael Paul, managing just two walks and a single through the first four innings, despite a runner at second with one out in both the third and fourth. They broke through in the fifth, however, as Adam Smith, Alejandro Macario, and Stephen Schissler logged consecutive singles to load the bases. Daniel Irisarri proved that good things happen when you put the ball in play, reaching on an error by the shortstop that allowed two runs to score, and Tyler Epstein followed with a sacrifice fly to even the game at 3 apiece.
As quickly as the Sharks tied it, the Spartans took the lead right back with a solo homer to begin the bottom half. However, Cook struck out his fourth batter of the afternoon with the bases juiced to avert any further damage. That was the first of three straight home run innings for Tampa, who quickly extended their advantage to 8-3 with just two innings left for the Sharks to stake their comeback.
Looking at the final three NSU outs, Michael Uz got it going with a pinch-hit single and Smith chipped in his third hit of the contest. After retiring the next two batters, the Spartans turned to the bullpen, but Irisarri greeted the new pitcher with an infield single to load the bases, Tampa then summoning another new reliever.
Once again, the Sharks benefited from a Spartan miscue, with another two runners coming home after the second baseman sent Epstein’s would-be game-ending grounder wide of the first baseman. Adan Fernandez drew a full-count walk, and head coach Laz Gutierrez called on Nik Sanders to represent the go-ahead run. Sanders, traditionally a pitcher with 39.1 innings under his belt, did record his first career hit, a pinch-hit RBI single in the second-to-last game of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, and didn’t look the least bit out of place in this tense, do-or-die situation. Sanders drew to a 2-2 count, then gave the next pitch a ride into right field, but unfortunately in play for the fielder to make the catch and thwart the Sharks’ threat.
STATS OF THE GAME
- The Spartans had a 10-8 advantage in hits, and both teams were charged with two errors, though neither committed by the Sharks resulted in any runs.
- Freshman Adam Smith, playing first base in his collegiate debut, tallied three hits, including a double, and scored twice out of the 7-hole. DH Kolbe Aven and second baseman Alejandro Macario also made their Shark debuts.
- Johnny Leone closed out the game on the mound for the Sharks with two scoreless innings, allowing just a pair of singles.
- The Sharks’ troubles with runners in scoring position continued from three weeks ago, as they had just two hits, both singles, in 14 at-bats.
The series will conclude on Saturday with the Sharks’ first home doubleheader of the new season. First pitch from the NSU Baseball Complex is set for 3:00 p.m.