Another Crown For The Wildcats

By Chuck Curti
Updated: May 19, 2008

NORFOLK, Va. — The gleaming trophies representative of the MEAC baseball championship and all-tournament teams sat spread out on a table behind the backstop at Marty L. Miller Field.

The mother of Bethune-Cookman pitcher Hiram Burgos, Ivette Irizarry, stood over the table and snapped a picture of the display.

But she won’t have to send copies of the picture to her son’s teammates. They can just walk to the trophy case on campus and see the real thing for themselves.

Eight different players drove in runs, and pitcher Eric Thomas struck out 10 in seven innings of six-hit ball as Bethune-Cookman rolled past a tired Norfolk State squad, 13-2, to earn the 2008 MEAC championship and a berth in the NCAA Regionals.

The title was Bethune-Cookman’s third straight and 11th in the last 13 years.

“This is the goal. This is the expectation,” said head coach Mervyl Melendez, still damp from the traditional post-victory shower from the water cooler.

In Saturday’s winners’ bracket final, B-C was baffled by North Carolina A&T’s Marquise Frink and his nasty slider. Frink struck out 14, but several hit batters and a Jose Lozada homer helped the Wildcats to escape.

In Sunday’s championship game, it was Thomas’ slider that had Norfolk State off balance.

“The performance by Eric Thomas was amazing,” said Melendez. “Any time you can command a slider, you’re going to be a good pitcher.”

“I still have another gear,” said Thomas, “but this was a pretty good outing.”

Still, even after playing five games over the tournament’s first three days, Norfolk State trailed only 2-0 heading into the fifth inning. That’s when the Spartans finally began to show their wear and tear and Bethune-Cookman began to assert its dominance.

Justin Hoyte led off with a walk and advanced to second on a passed ball. Lozada, who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, followed with an RBI single. After Osvaldo Torres hit into a fielder’s choice, Neal Jones and Emmanuel Castro hit consecutive RBI singles to boost the margin to 5-0.

Bethune-Cookman added two more runs in the sixth. One scored when NSU second baseman Anselmo Cantu corralled a Lozada grounder at the edge of the infield dirt but couldn’t recover to make a throw, allowing Jose Ortiz to come home. Lozada then scored on a Neal Jones double.

Suddenly, the rout was on.

“We put a couple of base hits together,” said Lozada, who was 5 for 10 with seven runs scored and five RBIs in the tournament. “We started being aggressive.”

Bethune-Cookman hung six runs on the beleaguered Spartans pitching staff in the seventh. The Wildcats drew six walks in the inning, three with the bases loaded, while Hoyte and Torres added RBI singles.

Now, the Wildcats turn their attention to the NCAA Regionals, where they hope to reach even loftier goals.

“I’m going to be blunt about what we want to do,” said Melendez. “We want to win a regional. We want to go to a super regional. We don’t want to win one game or two games.

“We’ll go as far as the pitching and defense can take us. We have to hit the ball, too, but I think we have the pitching to beat anyone in the country.”