By Kevin Brockway
UPDATED AT 11:24 a.m. Florida had reasons to feel confident heading into its NCAA regional matchup against Bethune-Cookman on Sunday night.
Hard-throwing sophomore righty Brady Singer was on the mound for the Gators, and the Wildcats had to use three pitchers earlier Sunday afternoon in an elimination win over USF.
But Florida’s offensive malaise the night earlier against USF extended into Sunday. The Gators managed just five hits. Singer went deep into the game, but not did not pitch well enough and Bethune-Cookman walked away with a stunning 6-2 win over the Gators before 2,077 at McKethan Stadium.
As a result, the Gainesville Regional comes down to a rematch between Florida (44-17) and Bethune-Cookman (36-24) Monday at 4 p.m. (SEC Network). Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said he didn’t know who would start, but it will be an all-hands-on-deck situation.
“They did a really nice job battling with two strikes and we just didn’t do enough offensively and that’s the bottom line,” O’Sullivan said. “We’ve got a chance to win the game and advance and it boils down to one game. It’s just that simple. Bethune deserves all the credit. They played much better than us tonight.”
Bethune-Cookman had been 0-31 all-time against the Gators before picking up its first win against UF on Sunday night.
“I knew we never beat them when I was here, let’s put it that way,” Bethune-Cookman coach Jason Beverlin said. “And I knew our record, if we had beat them, we hadn’t beaten them much. To beat anyone of their caliber, any of the big three in our state, is a big deal for us. But that’s one thing the guys are starting to believe, it doesn’t matter what the name on the front of the jersey says, it’s baseball, anything can happen.”
Bethune-Cookman second baseman Nate Sterijevski was a thorn in UF’s side all night, going 4 for 4 with four RBIs to lift the Wildcats to the upset win. Sterijevski put Bethune-Cookman ahead 3-2 in the sixth inning with an RBI single off the left-field wall against Singer. Then, after Bethune-Cookman loaded the bases against Singer in the eighth, Sterijevski came up with a big hit again off UF senior righty reliever Frank Rubio, sneaking a two-RBI single past shortstop Dalton Guthrie into left field to put BC up 5-2.
“We knew Brady Singer was going to come inside, his ball tails in a lot,” Sterijevski said. “I was trying to get something over the middle of the plate to come back in and drive it to left field. Having that approach helped me.”
Singer (7-5) allowed five runs (four earned) on 10 hits in 7.1 innings, walking one and striking out eight.
“I definitely could have pitched better,” Singer said. “My mindset wasn’t as good as it should have been.”
Bethune-Cookman had staved off elimination with a 6-4 win over USF earlier Sunday afternoon. The Wildcats carried that momentum into facing the Gators. Bethune-Cookman jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the 2nd. Sterijevski put the Wildcats up 1-0 with an RBI double down the third base line. Singer then had a chance to get out of the inning by getting a slow tapper to the left of the pitcher’s mound. But Singer’s rushed throw skipped past first baseman JJ Schwarz, and Sterijevski scored from second on the error to put BC up 2-0.
The Gators answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second. After loading the bases with nobody out, second baseman Deacon Liput laced a two-RBI single up the middle, tying the score at 2-2. But Florida center fielder Nick Horvath was thrown out at third on the play, and the Gators couldn’t sustain the rally when Beverlin replaced starter Donte Linsday with freshman reliever T.J. Densmore.
“You don’t want to make the first out at third base,” O’Sullivan said. “It was a mistake.”
From there, Florida could generate little offensively. Densmore (2-1) pitched 3.2 scoreless innings for the win and freshman Anthony Maldonado pitched four scoreless innings for his first save of the season. Maldonado allowed just one hit and retired 12 of the final 13 batters he faced.
“We were late on fastballs,” O’Sullivan said. “We got beat on fastballs the entire night.”
EXTRA BASES: The Gators also had their string of eight straight regional wins snapped on Sunday night, dating back to 2015.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.