GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville University baseball opened up Friday's game like a team that was making its first NCAA postseason appearance in seven years, but closed it like the team that powered its way to an at-large berth and a school best #2 seed.
JU (40-19) came-from-behind to beat #3 seed Florida Atlantic 5-3 on the opening night of the Gainesville Regional, drawing a date with the #1 overall seed Florida tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
"This is what we do, continue to compete all day long," said Head Coach Chris Hayes. "Continue to stack quality at bats, and try not to give an inch and it worked out for us."
FAU struck first, taking advantage of an uncharacteristically shaky first inning. An error on Sam Armstrong started the first, then a walk and a single loaded the bases with no outs. Two consecutive fielder's choices drove in two before the Dolphins got out of the opening frame.
JU threatened in third, loading the bases before leaving them loaded. FAU added another in the top of the fourth with a solo home run to lead off the inning and make it 3-0 Owls.
The Dolphins found a power stroke of its own in the bottom of the fourth to get on the board. A single by Angel Camacho started the frame, and Armstrong hit his seventh home run of the year to bring JU within one. Two batters later, Cory Garrastazu golfed a low-inside pitch over the scoreboard in right to tie it up at three.
"I think playing at JU, it prepares you to play at any stadium," said Armstrong. "If you come to our field, it's big the ball does not fly that well.
"Coming to Florida and playing at this field [McKethan Stadium], it is a big upgrade for a hitter.
After surrendering the home run and a double to start the fourth, Chris Gau (9-3) settled down to strand the runner with two strikeouts and a groundout, before riding the wave of the game tying home runs to sit down six more in a row over the next two innings.
"They [FAU] took advantage of my mistakes early," said Gau. "Having run support is really big at this level at this stage.
"Those home runs were huge."
JU took the lead in the fifth with a two-out rally. Scott Dubrule singled with two down, before a walk to Camacho led to a throwing error by the FAU catcher when he threw to second on ball four with no one covering. Dubrule took third on the play, and came in to score when Armstrong drove in his third run of the day on a single up the middle.
The Dolphins tacked on one more in the sixth. John Cassala singled with one out and went to second when Connor Stephens was hit by a pitch. Ruben Someillan singled to right, Cassala scored and JU led 5-3.
Florida Atlantic threatened only one more time all night. The first two Owls reached in the seventh off Gau, on a single and a walk. A sacrifice bunt attempt, was defended perfectly by JU, when Camacho charged in from first, picked up the bunt on one hop and fired to second to force out the runner, and keep the tying run from advancing into scoring position. One batter later, new Dolphin pitcher Trent Palmer induced a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning without allowing a run.
Palmer pitched 2.2 of hitless relief to earn his second save of the season, and JU advanced into the winner's bracket for the first time since 1999.
With the win, JU won its 40th game in a season for the 10th time in school history, and the first time since 2006.
Jacksonville faces Florida for the third time this season, all at McKethan Stadium. The Dolphins are 1-1 this season against the Gators. Spencer Stockton goes for the Dolphins against Brady Singer for the Gators.