Hatters Defeat UNF 6-5 and Secure Spot in ASUN Tournament
It was not until the very last pitch on Saturday afternoon that the Stetson Hatters could finally exhale.
Senior Vlad Nunez, the Stetson closer, was running on fumes in the ninth inning as he battled to protect a 6-4 Hatters lead and secure a spot in the ASUN Tournament.
The longest outing of the year for the right-hander had been three innings, but he had already surpassed that mark when he went to the mound in the ninth. After getting a line out on the first pitch of the inning, Nunez walked consecutive batters, putting the tying runs on base to face the heart of the North Florida order.
He got a strikeout of Tanner Murphy to get within one out, and was up two strikes on David Mayberry, who was a Stetson killer all weekend. Mayberry continued that trend, driving an RBI single up the middle to get the Ospreys to within one run.
With Jay Prather at the plate, Nunez continued to battle, working to a full count before getting a pop up to short. When Jorge Arenas squeezed the fly ball for the final out, the Hatters were able to breath, and rushed from the dugout to celebrate the 6-5 win.
The victory for Stetson (24-30, 11-12) secured the No. 6 seed in the ASUN Tournament, which will be played on the Hatters’ home field starting Wednesday morning. North Florida (31-23, 12-11) will be the No. 5 seed.
It was not until after the clinching victory was in hand that the Stetson players found out that Kennesaw State, which trailed big early at home against Jacksonville, rallied to take a 13-10 victory over the Dolphins. The result means Stetson edged the Owls by just a half game for the final spot in the tournament.
Florida Gulf Coast held off Liberty to take the regular season title and will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Eagles will be the Hatters’ opponent on Wednesday. Second-seeded Liberty will face UNF while No. 3 Lipscomb will play No. 4 Jacksonville. Game times will be set on Monday.
Play at Melching Field did not get off to a great start for the Hatters on Saturday as UNF plated three runs in the third inning off Stetson starter Robbie Peto. Mayberry, who had three hits and drove in three runs on Friday, continued to swing a hot bat, picking up three more hits and plating three more runs on Saturday.
It was Mayberry’s two-run single in the third that followed an RBI single from Wes Weeks to give the Ospreys an early lead. It was also during that inning that things got testy between the Stetson dugout and the umpires. Volunteer assistant coach Brandon Brewer was ejected after UNF’s Tanner Murphy was called safe at second on a stolen base attempt as a result of an obstruction call.
The Hatters answered in the bottom of the inning with a single run off UNF starter Brandon Reitz. Nick Cardieri drew a walk to open the inning, moved up on single by Austin Bogart and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Jacob Koos.
Stetson tied the game in the fourth inning, chasing Reitz in the process. Arenas reached on a swinging bunt to open the frame and Kyle Ball drew a one-out walk. Noah Dickerson followed with an RBI single, moving Ball to third, and then Cardieri dropped down a squeeze bunt to drive him home.
The Hatters missed a chance to take the lead when MacNeil hit a fly ball to left with Dickerson tagging at third, but the freshman was called out for leaving the bag too early, ending the inning.
UNF regained the lead and chased Peto in the fifth. Three walks loaded the bases with two out, bringing Nunez in early with the game potentially on the line. Blake Marabell greeted him with a single up the middle on a 1-2 pitch for a 4-3 UNF lead, but Nunez got a strikeout to end the inning and avoid further damage.
Stetson responded in the bottom of the inning, scoring three runs off Ospreys’ reliever Zach Chappell (1-1). Koos opened the frame with a single – a hit that moved him into a tie for 18th on the Stetson career list. Koos stole second, moved up to third on a wild pitch and then tied the game on a ground ball to third by Arenas.
Arenas reached safely on the play when UNF Berry failed to catch the ball on the play, which opened the door for the Hatters to score more. Ball made the mistake pay with an RBI double into the left field corner and moved up to third when Blake Marabell failed to come up with the ball cleanly. Dickerson followed with an RBI single to give Stetson a 6-4 lead.
That was where things stayed until the ninth. Nunez retired the Ospreys in order in the sixth and seventh innings before allowing a two-out single in the eight, a runner that was erased on a ground ball.
That led to the drama in the ninth. Nunez improved to 2-2 on the year with the win, throwing 75 pitches over 4.1 innings to get the victory. He struck out four and walked three while allowing the one run on three hits.
Dickerson led Stetson with two hits and two RBI in the game.
Play in the ASUN Tournament will begin at 11 a.m. on Wednesday with games also scheduled for 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. each of the first two days of the tournament.