FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Playing their first twinbill within their own friendly confines, the Nova Southeastern Sharks brought much of the same effort as in the close series-opener defeat and gave the No. 3 Tampa Spartans their biggest test of the young season and their first Sunshine State Conference loss of the season, emerging victorious, 7-4 in the first game, before dropping the finale, 6-3.
INSIDE THE MATCHUP:
Game 1 Final Score: Nova Southeastern – 7, No. 3 Tampa – 4
Game 2 Final Score: No. 3 Tampa – 6, Nova Southeastern – 3
Records: Tampa (9-2), Nova Southeastern (1-5)
Location: NSU Baseball Complex, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
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HOW IT HAPPENED:
The first game was a pitcher’s duel from the very beginning, with starters J.P. Williams and Braydon Nelson matching each other for the first three innings. Both teams had two runners aboard with two outs in the first, but a strikeout in the top half and a flyout in the bottom stymied the threats. Williams notched 1-2-3 innings in both the second and fourth, stranding a runner at third in between, while the Sharks’ two-out singles over their next two frames didn’t lead to anything, either.
It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth that the tie was broken, when the Sharks strung together four straight one-out base hits, starting with an Daniel Irisarri infield single off the pitcher’s foot. Adam Smith followed with his second double in as many games, just out of reach of a diving right fielder. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, Irisarri scoring the first run. Olivier Mayrand brought Smith home with a bloop single inside the left field line, and Alejandro Macario had the fourth hit of the streak, continuing the station-to-station ball with a single of his own over the shortstop’s head. Tyler Epstein drove in the third and final run of the inning with another bloop, this time to shallow center.
Despite the long layoff that the offense gave him, Williams appeared to be continuing to cruise through the fifth, getting the first two outs with ease, before the Spartans had their own streak of four consecutive base hits, bringing two runs in to put some pressure on the Sharks, but Williams delivered a clutch strikeout looking to leave the bases loaded.
A leadoff double in the sixth chased Williams from the game, and head coach Laz Gutierrez went straight to closer Matt Kavanaugh. The first batter he faced laid down a sacrifice bunt, but Macario was unable to handle the throw covering first, allowing the runner to score from second and tying the game at 3. Holding the runner at third after a one-out double seemed to put Kavanaugh in a jam, it turned out to be an opportunity for him to be an escape artist, as he struck out the next two batters to keep the game tied.
The offense went back to work in their half after two quick outs, Stephen Schissler starting a two-out rally with a single and stolen base. Tyler Epstein showed his elite speed on a stand-up triple towards the opposing bullpen in the right field corner, then Michael Uz, facing a new reliever, singled into center and advanced two bases when the catcher lost track of a wild pitch. Despite a full count, the Spartans allowed Adan Fernandez to take first, giving way to pinch-hitter Alex Steinbach after another pitching change. Steinbach pushed the lead back to three runs with another RBI bloop into shallow right-center.
Kavanaugh, meanwhile, kept the Spartans at bay, recovering from a two-on, no-out situation in the seventh with another pair of strikeouts and a foul pop-up.
The Sharks added an insurance run in the eighth, Michael Uz reaching on an infield single, despite a great diving stop by the third baseman, advancing to second on the ensuing errant throw. He then scored on another Spartans error when the throw to complete a double play went wide of the bag.
Though the Spartans added a run in the ninth and had two in scoring position with one out, Kavanaugh finished the game, inducing a strikeout and pop out of the game’s potential tying batters.
In the second game, the Spartans offense wasted no time, scoring in each of the first four innings. In the first, the infield fly rule was called on a bases-loaded pop up skied high on the first-base line, but no one actually made the catch, resulting in a bizarre play in which all three runners advanced because of the ball still being live, despite it landing but a handful of feet from the plate, as Brady Acker’s hurried throw was wide of home. An inning later, the wind carried a two-out fly ball from medium depth into right field all the way to the wall for an RBI double, and another one came in the third.
After single runs in the first three innings, Tampa put up a three-spot in the fourth, leading off with a single and yet another double, followed by a passed ball and a two-run homer.
Offensively, the Sharks’ first scoring opportunity came in the third. Macario and Schissler both singled with one out, but Schissler didn’t have quite have the jump that Macario did, who had third base stolen easily before the Spartans could even think about a throw, but they were able to catch the trailer at second. NSU did finally scratch their way onto the scoreboard in the next inning, all thanks to Adan Fernandez, not for his power, but instead his aggressive baserunning. He reached by being hit by a pitch, then stole a base and advanced when the throw reached center field and scored on a wild pitch.
The Sharks had another golden opportunity in the fifth, loading the bases to chase the Tampa starter from the game, but reliever Jordan Leasure was throwing gas, finishing the inning with strikeouts on three pitches each, then striking out the side in the sixth. Much like the series opener in Tampa, the Sharks were down to their last three outs when they made a comeback attempt. This time, in the seven-inning nightcap, freshman Kolbe Aven finally ended the streak of five straight strikeouts with a leadoff home run to left. Epstein and Uz hit back-to-back two-out doubles, putting the tying run in the on-deck circle, but a strikeout put an end to the late push.
STATS OF THE DAY
- The Sharks matched their season-high of seven runs and set a new high with 13 hits in the first game.
- With seven strikeouts each from Williams and Kavanaugh, the Sharks’ 14 the most as a pitching staff since March 7, 2020, their second-to-last game of the shortened season, when they totaled 15 in a 12-4 win vs. Concordia.
- The Sharks also stole a season-high five bases as a team in the win, going 7-for-9 on the day.
- Michael Uz had the first 4-hit game by a Shark this season and tying his career high (also vs. Concordia), while Epstein and Macario also added a pair of hits.
- The offense finally came through with runners in scoring position, going 5-for-15, as well as 7-for-19 with runners on base and 7-for-14 with two outs.
- Kavanaugh’s four innings and 7 strikeouts are both career highs. Tampa’s ninth-inning run was also the first he has allowed in his career, ending his scoreless streak at 13 innings to begin his career as a freshman.
- In the nightcap, Macario and Schissler had two-hit games out of the 8- and 9-holes, combining for half of the team’s eight hits.
- Despite the Spartans being a perennial National Championship-contending powerhouse for several years, the Sharks are now 10-10 against them at the NSU Baseball Complex.
- The Sharks had six wins against NCAA top-25 ranked opponents last season, the highest of those being No. 2 Colorado Mesa, who the Sharks defeated 11-7 on Feb. 8.
The Sharks are scheduled at home for their next matchup, facing off against the Rollins Tars in SSC play on Friday. First pitch is set for 5:00 p.m.