Courtesy of Bethune-Cookman Athletics
ATLANTA – Three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning saw Bethune-Cookman stave off elimination from the 2023 Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Baseball Tournament on Thursday afternoon, as the Wildcats defeated Jackson State 12-11 in an elimination game at Mac Nease Baseball Park. This year’s tournament is taking place on the campus of Georgia Tech.
Bethune-Cookman (30-26) trailed 11-9 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning.
After the first three batters reached safely on three-straight walks from Jackson State relievers Brandon Haston and Daelan Caraway to begin the Wildcats at-bat in the home-half of the ninth, substitute catcher Irvin Escobar singled through the left side to plate pinch runner Malik Stephens and designated hitter Robert Moya to tie the game at 11-all.
Two batters later, third baseman Luis Tuero registered a fielder’s choice to second base, allowing Colton Olasin to score from third as the throw from Jackson State second baseman Myles White was wide of catcher Marshal Luiz, giving the Wildcats their 30th win of the season. This is the first 30-win season for fourth-year head coach Jonathan Hernandez, and the first for the Maroon and Gold program since 2017 – the season in which the Cats advanced to the NCAA Gainesville [Fla.] Regional Final against eventual national champion University of Florida Gators.
Jackson State (28-25) took an 11-9 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning after scoring a pair in the top-half of the frame.
Leadoff hitter and centerfielder Jatavis Melton tripled to drive in Cesar Saavedra and give the Tigers a 10-9 advantage with one out. That was followed by a run-scoring single up the middle from Daniel Bannon to cross Melton and give the No. 4 seed in the SWAC Eastern Division the 11-9 edge.
Trailing 9-8 in the bottom of the eighth, Garret Chun walked to load the bases with two outs before All-SWAC First Team member Hylan Hall came up with an RBI-single to left driving in Jeremy Garcia to even the score at 9-9.
The Tigers added a pair of runs in the top of the eighth on the strength of Marcus Atterberry’s fielder’s choice RBI, as well as Ty Hill scoring on an error charged to the Wildcats.
BCU grabbed its first lead of the game in the bottom of the second inning.
Shortstop Jeremy Garcia singled to begin the Wildcats’ at-bat. After a walk and sacrifice bunt, Garcia advanced the Cats in front 4-3 when a balk was called on JSU starter Colby Guy, allowing Garcia to score from third. Hall increased the Maroon and Gold lead to 5-3 after Hall crossed Tuero on a sacrifice fly. Moya’s second triple of the season scored Boris Peña to make it 6-3.
The Cats scored two additional runs when Moya came in on a wild pitch, followed by an RBI double down the line in left from Olasin that scored Manny Souffrain, after the BCU first baseman walked in his earlier plate appearance.
Jackson State got a run back in the top of the third inning to cut into the BCU lead, 8-4 when Marshal Luiz scored Mersman with a deep sacrifice fly to right field.
The first five batters reached safely for Bethune-Cookman in the bottom of the first after the Wildcats trailed 3-0 heading into the bottom of the inning.
An RBI double from Garret Chun drove in leadoff man Luis Tuero to cut the score at 3-1. That was followed by All-SWAC Hitter of the Year Hylan Hall delivering a two-run home run to straightaway center field, knotting the game at 3-3.
Jackson State plated three runs in the top of the first inning, getting to BCU starter Daniel Gaviria early-on.
The Tigers placed runners on second and third with one out, setting the stage for designated hitter Marcus Atterberry to line an RBI single up the middle to score leadoff man Jatavis Melton. That was followed by Bret Mersman’s RBI single through the left side plating Ty Hill. The third run scored off the end of an Omar Gomez’s bases-loaded single to center, putting the Tigers up 3-0.
The win went to Joan Gonzalez (5-2) out of the bullpen in throwing two innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits, one walk and one strikeout. The loss was tagged to JSU reliever Caraway (3-1) as he failed to register an out, allowing a hit, one run and walking two.
BCU starting pitcher Daniel Gaviria went just three innings, as he was responsible for six runs on nine hits allowed an one walk. Pablo Torres worked 3.1 innings in a relief effort, allowing two runs on three hits and two strikeouts.
The Tigers were led at the dish by Bannon with a perfect day at the plate, as he collected four hits in four appearances, adding three RBIs and two runs. JSU also had three hits apiece from Hill and Mersman, respectfully.
The BCU offense was led three Wildcats with two hits each, including Hall with a 2-for-4 afternoon, adding four RBIs and a run scored. Peña was 2-for-5 with a run scored, while Garcia finished 2-for-4 with two runs.
Bethune-Cookman awaits the loser of the final game on Thursday between Grambling State and Southern (La.). The Wildcats will face the SWAC loser in another elimination game Friday at 9 a.m.