Bethune Cookman Sports Information
Wildcats down Eagles on the road in season opener at Ft. Myers
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Bethune-Cookman Baseball opened the Jonathan Hernandez era as head coach of the Wildcats with an important 6-3 non-conference season opening win over Florida Gulf Coast on Friday evening at Swanson Stadium.
Bethune-Cookman (1-0) used two runs in the seventh inning and strong pitching down the stretch to collect the series opening win from the homestanding Eagles. For the Wildcats, the series opening win from the Eagles of FGCU was the third of its kind in the last three meetings between the two Sunshine State institutions.
“It feels great to get my first Division I coaching win, but more importantly a win for this program,” said first-year Head Coach Jonathan Hernandez afterwards. “The guys worked hard all fall and leading into the spring, and I can’t say enough about the assistant coaches as well. Everybody has come together and bought into what we’re teaching, and it showed tonight with a big win against a very good team.”
With the game tied at 2-all in the top of the seventh inning, centerfielder Zach Spivey – a Preseason Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) selection, put Bethune-Cookman on top for the first time on the night with a single through the right side that allowed Brady Van Hook to score from second.
Spivey, a transfer from Florida Gulf Coast to BCU during the summer of 2017, scored one play later when Josten Heron singled to shortstop, and Spivey later reached home safely courtesy an error charged to FGCU shortstop Christian Proffitt.
Bethune-Cookman led 4-2 after seven innings in the books.
The Wildcats would score an additional run in the top of the eighth, using a two-out RBI single through the right side from Joseph Fernando, pushing across Isaak Gutierrez for the 5-2 BCU lead. For Gutierrez, a former pitcher turned infielder for the Wildcats, it was his first career run scored as a collegiate baseball student-athlete.
Florida Gulf Coast (0-1) would bring back a run in the home-half of the eighth.
Bryan Melendez made his collegiate debut on the mound for the Maroon and Gold to begin the Eagles at-bat in the eighth, but he quickly walked third baseman Richie Garcia and allowed the base runner to move up 90 feet courtesy a wild pitch. That made way for redshirt senior Brandon Wilkes to toe the rubber for BCU.
With the bases loaded and just one away for the Eagles, Garcia would score on a wild pitch to bring his team to within 5-3. However, Wilkes would settle to down the next two batters in order, including a fielder’s choice force at second for Eric Gonzalez in his at-bat.
BCU would seal the victory in the top of the ninth with Josten Heron scoring on a wild pitch from FGCU reliever Keegan Collett. That produced the final 6-3 score line in favor of the visitors from Daytona Beach.
“It’s going to be about the seniors this year,” remarked Hernandez. “We knew that going into the year. Josten [Heron] set the tone at the plate, and Danny [Rodriguez] is just Danny. We need him to give us quality at-bats, and that’s exactly what he did. But then there’s Zach [Spivey], who battled back from an injury and he did what we need him to do and made great plays defensively.
Bethune-Cookman kicked off the game’s scoring in the top of the second inning to take the early 1-0 lead.
After senior first baseman and all-conference preseason selection Danny Rodriguez started the BCU at-bat with a single to right, Gutierrez would reach on a fielding error charged to FGCU’s Garcia at third. Two plays later, shortstop Fernando – filling in for Nate Sterijevski who is sitting out the weekend with an illness, laced a RBI groundout to short that allowed Rodriguez to score unearned from third.
FGCU would claim the lead in the bottom of the frame with two runs off junior right-hander Anthony Maldonado, the 2019 MEAC Preseason Pitcher of the Year.
Eric Gonzalez doubled down the line in left for the tying run, followed by the go-ahead score from left fielder Brian Ellis on a wild pitch by Maldonado.
“Anthony Maldonado did well in his first five innings of the season,” commented Hernandez. “I just told him to give us an opportunity to win the game. Throw strikes and pitch his game. He did that, and we know what he’s going to mean for us this year, and so does everyone else in the country. And tonight, he did his job.”
The Cats tied the game at 2-2 in the fifth inning as Spivey delivered a RBI groundout to score Van Hook.
Jordan Pinto (1-0) collected the win in a relief effort for the Maroon and Gold, as he went two innings on the bump, walking two, striking out three and not surrendering a hit. The save was collected by Wilkes (1) as he worked the final two frames on the mound, giving up just one hit and registering three strikeouts.
In a no-decision, Maldonado tossed five full frames, allowing two runs on three hits, walking one and fanning four.
The loss went to FGCU reliever Sebastian Gruszecki (0-1) as he went two innings for starter Nikolas Bitner who received a no-decision. Gruszecki allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, a walk and a strikeout. Bitner threw the first five innings with two runs allowed (one earned), two walks and picking up three strikeouts.
“It’s really a lockdown bullpen when they’re on,” expressed Hernandez. “We have some senior leadership in the back end of that staff, and just the belief they have is enormous. We know they’re going to have their opportunities this year, and tonight they performed well. But again, they can be really special when everyone is clicking as a unit.”
The BCU offense was sparked by Heron with a 2-for-4 effort at the dish, adding a run scored, while teammate Rodriguez was 2-for-5 with a run of his own. Fernando provided two RBIs on a 1-for-3 showing at the plate. And it was Spivey scoring once and driving in two with a 1-for-4 night against his former side.
Bethune-Cookman faces off against Florida Gulf Coast for the second game of the three-game series Saturday at 2 p.m. The Wildcats will send out freshman right-hander Carlos Lequerica (0-0, 0.00 ERA) to the mound, with the Miami native set to start his first collegiate contest on the bump. Meanwhile, FGCU counters with ace right-hander Brenden Heiss, who posted an 8-1 record in 2018 with an ERA of 2.24 on the campaign.