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Hatters Dominate OSU, 10-3, and Roll into NCAA Regional Final

The team surrounds Jorge Arenas in the dugout.

The team congratulates Jorge Arenas, No. 2, on Saturday night. His three-run bomb in the fifth inning turned a 3-1 Stetson lead into a 6-1 advantage.

The most difficult thing about Saturday night’s 10-3 Stetson victory over Oklahoma State at Melching Field in the NCAA DeLand Regional, besides having to wait until after 9 p.m. to start the game, was finding the right list of superlative adjectives to use in describing the game.

Picking out a star of the game for the Hatters – who ran their NCAA best win streak to 17 games and improved to 47-11 on the year – could prove to be equally taxing. So, in true ESPN fashion, here is a top 10 list of the Hatters’ best from an amazing evening, starting at No. 10.

10. Jonathan Meola’s bounce-back night: After going 0-for-4 at the plate in the win over Hartford on Friday, with two errors in the field, Meola had three hits on Saturday, scored a run and was just a home run short of hitting for the cycle. For Meola, the offensive production wasn’t even the highlight of the night.

9. Jacob Koos mad dash in the first inning: Fans were still settling into their seats after a long lightning delay when Koos drew a two-out walk in the first inning. Brooks Wilson followed with a single down the right field line, and Koos was off like a shot. Hatters coach Steve Trimper said he heard the Cowboys calling for a throw to second to keep Wilson at first, and he never hesitated, sending Koos home without a play for the first run of the game.

Logan Gilbert

8. Ben Onyshko’s two innings on the mound: Starter Logan Gilbert gave the Hatters seven strong innings, but when he came out of the game, the good pitching continued. The Hatters’ senior left-hander allowed an unearned run thanks to an error in the ninth, but also struck out five in his two innings of work, saving the rest of the Hatters pitchers for Sunday.

7. Wilson’s night at the plate: After flying out in his first two at bats against Hartford on Friday, Wilson walked and scored, had an RBI double and a two-run single in his final three plate appearances. That momentum carried over to Saturday as Wilson reached base five more times, scored a pair of runs and drove in two more. Following his RBI single in the first, he walked and scored in the fourth, was hit by a pitch and scored in the fifth, tripled in the sixth and singled in a run in the eighth. The senior is now hitting .387 during the Stetson win streak, raising his season average to .305.

6. Mike Spooner’s acrobatics at the plate: Things didn’t get off to a great start for Spooner on Saturday. He drew a walk in the first inning, but was thrown out trying to steal on a pitch out. Things got better in the five-run fifth when Spooner singled, moved up when Wilson was hit by a pitch and then went to third on a wild pitch. When another pitch got away from OSU catcher Colin Simpson, Spooner came home, exhibiting a perfect Willie Mays style slide at the plate to beat the tag of pitcher Jensen Elliott. The very inning he doubled, moved up on a ground ball and then scampered home on a wild pitch, with another spectacular slide to avoid the tag.

5. Austin Hale’s catch: The Hatters’ senior catcher is no stranger to making spectacular catches in the NCAA Tournament. He made one of the best you’ll ever see in 2016 in the Coral Gables Regional, earning a spot on the SC Top 10. On Saturday he made another one, racing straight back behind the plate on a foul pop by Christian Funk in a tie game and with two runners on base. He sacrificed life and limb, sliding hard into the wall to make a catch, ending the inning. In reality, the play may have been his second best catch of the night. More on that later.

4. Jorge Arenas goes deep: Back to Friday, the Hatters’ sophomore shortstop probably had the hardest hit ball of the game in the win over Hartford, but on a typically muggy Melching Field night, his shot fell just shy of the wall in left. On Saturday, he made up for that with a three-run bomb in the fifth inning that turned a 3-1 Stetson lead into a 6-1 advantage. The home run was his fourth of the season and his third hit of the regional.
3. Logan Gilbert’s record performance: The Stetson junior came into Saturday’s game just seven strikeouts shy of 300 in his career. He blew that total away, tying his season-high with 14 strikeouts in seven innings of work against the Cowboys. Combined with the five Ks from Onyshko, it was the most strikeouts ever for a Stetson pitching staff in an NCAA Tournament game, besting the old record of 13 set against Florida State in 1992. The performance gives Gilbert 157 strikeouts on the season, one shy of second place on the ASUN’s all-time single season list. The combined 19 strikeouts also gives the Hatters 605 Ks on the year, setting a new ASUN team season mark.

2. Meola’s spectacular effort: Meola’s night started the right way in the second inning, and not just with his first hit of the Regional in the top of the frame. It was in the bottom of the inning, with Oklahoma State threatening to score that Meola shined. Cowboys’ sophomore Carson McCusker, who hit a long home run against USF on Friday, fouled off a pitch toward the third base dugout with two out in the inning. Meola took off after the ball like he had been shot out of a cannon, racing to, and over, the newly installed railing and nets that were installed just this spring to protect players sitting in the dugout. He disappeared over that railing, with Hale racing over to grab him at the last second, preventing him from crashing head first to the concrete steps below. While his feet were still in the air, Meola held the ball up for the umpire to see, recording the final out of the frame. It was what coach Steve Trimper called the “best baseball play I have ever seen.”

1. Just keep winning: The Hatters ran their win streak to 17 games, tying the school record, and also moved to within one win of a first NCAA Regional title and of tying the school record for most wins in a season. The performance against the Cowboys was dominant in every phase and showed that Stetson belongs among the elite teams in college baseball this year.

So there you have it, a top 10 list fit for SportsCenter all ready to go.

The Hatters will now have to sit back and wait to see who they will face in that Regional title game on Sunday. Oklahoma State (30-25-1) and South Florida (36-21-1) will play for a second time in three days at 1 p.m. on Sunday, with the winner advancing to face Stetson Sunday night.

USF already survived one elimination game when the Bulls outlasted Hartford 9-4 in 11 innings on Saturday.

There will be single-game general admission tickets available at the gate on a first-come, first-served basis.

-Ricky Hazel