[UPDATED ARTICLE. Videos are of win that sent the team to the championship match.]
For the first time in program history, the Nova Southeastern University baseball team (44-16, 18-6 SSC) has won the NCAA Division II National Championship after defeating the Millersville University Marauders (52-7, 25-3 PSAC) by a score of 8-6.
"It's been a lot of hard work, dedication and support to get to this moment," said head coach Greg Brown. "We've focused on the vision of being here and being prepared to win a championship."
No stranger to adversity, the Sharks found themselves in a 3-0 hole after the first inning, as Millersville scattered five hits to throw the first punch.
The Sharks got on the board in the third inning when Kevin Suarez launched his third home run of the year, a two run shot over the left field wall to cut the Millersville lead to one. "Kevin's home run changed the momentum of the game," said Brown. "My favorite part of it is that he's been scuffling in the cage and his hard work paid off."
Millersville responded with a run in the top of the fourth inning against starter Jonny Ortiz to extend their lead to 4-2. The Sharks returned the favor in a big way in the bottom of the fourth, scoring six runs to take a 8-4 lead. The scoring began with a two-run home run from All-Tournament team selection Danny Zardon. Dylan Woods then gave the Sharks the lead, dropping a single in front of the Millersville right fielder to drive in Sebastian Diaz. The Sharks then took advantage of a dropped fly ball in centerfield, scoring two runs to take a 7-4 lead. The six run inning was capped Jancarlos Cintron-Torres scoring on a Brandon Gomez fielder's choice.
Steven Fleming relieved Ortiz in the sixth, tossing two scoreless innings in relief before turning the ball over the Ronald Patella. Patella allowed one run and with runners on first and second and two outs in the eighth, Brown decided to go with his closer Devin Raftery to finish the game. Raftery got the final four outs, allowing one runs in the ninth before the celebration began.
"I was fortunate enough to take over a program that was ready to win and was built by our Director of Athletics Michael Mominey and Ryan Romero," said Brown. "The support has been amazing and we continue to set the bar higher and we are now at the pinnacle point of Division II baseball."
"In this moment all I can really say is that so many memories just flashed through my mind and probably will for a long time," said Director of Athletics Michael Mominey. "The tradition of NSU baseball started not too many years ago and for the 2016 team to be National Champions, it's just very emotional yet so gratifying. This championship is shared with so many great players and teams that have come before this 2016 club, but they deserve the credit for achieving what all of those teams had set out to do. These guys are truly the pure definition of a team and I couldn't be more proud to be standing right here with them."
On behalf of Director of Athletics Michael Mominey, head coach Greg Brown and the entire Nova Southeastern University baseball program, the department would like to thank all Shark fans for their support throughout the 2016 season.
We'll take a win any way we can get one in a championship game. We didn't start out that great. (Millersville) was finding holes and they put up a three-spot early. But we answered back with Kevin (Suarez) hitting a huge home run … that changed the momentum of the game. ... And the way it was closed out, it was just survive and advance, which is what this whole tournament has felt like. I just couldn't be more proud of what these young men have accomplished. It's incredible.
(On winning the title in the program's first attempt) It's very humbling. It's not easy. Getting out of the South Regional is incredibly hard. Getting into the South Regional is incredibly hard because there's a ton of teams that are qualified to be in there. … But once you get into the tournament, it's about being hot.
Our expectation was winning a national championship, and our vision of winning a national championship was real and vivid to everybody here, even when we were 11-10. It was a critical point in our program history, if you will, because it changed the course of what this season looked like. But at 11-10, our belief was constant. We're 33-6 since, and all it was was literally a team meeting led by the leaders within our clubhouse talking about issues.
(Starting pitcher) Jonny Ortiz did a fantastic job today. He got a lot of negative contact, he got ground balls. That's what our goal was because of this field and because we like our defense. Once we had the big inning, I told him to just put up zeroes for us and we're going to win this thing.
Kevin Suarez (On his home run in the third)
I just got a good count and a good pitch to hit. I put a pretty good swing on it.
(On trailing 3-0 early) There's never any pressure. We just trust the process.
Daniel Zardon (On his home run in the fourth)
My at-bat started with a change-up I thought was rather low. That kind of set a tone for a little bit of adversity. I just got really aggressive and told myself to hit the ball as hard as I could. I got myself into a good situation and did.
Devin Raftery (On pitching for the third straight night)
When (coach) asks me, it's usually about feel. Most of the time I give him the same answer, 'I'll pitch as many as you need.' I truly believe that if he needs me for five, six (innings) three or four days in a row, I'm giving it to him. It's not for me, it's for the guys.
(On a shaky ninth) They were hitting pitches that I've been throwing all season. I've been expecting people to hit them all season but I guess it just didn't' catch up until the end. I wasn't nervous. I just kept my mentality and stuck to my plan.
NSU's baseball head coach Greg Brown has been named the American Baseball Coaches Association NCAA Division II National Coach of the Year, as released by the ABCA office Friday morning.
"I'm so proud of the coach and leader Greg has become over the past six years and I couldn't be happier that he has earned this recognition from his peers," said Director of Athletics Michael Mominey. "He has not only continued the tradition of success within the baseball program, he has instilled his own blueprint for success which has taken the program to new heights culminated by this year's championship."
After starting off the year 11-10, Brown led his ballclub to a 33-6 finish that included winning the NCAA South Region tournament and NCAA Division II National Championship for the time in program history. The Sharks went 9-1 in postseason play, defeating seven teams ranked in the top 25 in the country throughout that span.
"It is an honor to be named National Coach of the Year by the ABCA," said Brown. "My assistant coaches and players all share in this award, as it truly is a team effort. I am very grateful for the many accolades that have been awarded to us and I look forward to leading the program for years to come."
The ABCA, founded in 1945, is the primary professional organization for baseball coaches at the amateur level. Its over 8,200 members represent all 50 states and 23 countries. Since its initial meeting of 27 college baseball coaches in June 1945, the association's annual awards program has grown to include nine divisions: NCAA Division I, II and III, NAIA, NJCAA Division I, II, III, Pacific Association Division and High School.
"I would be remiss if I didn't admit that this is a little extra special given our history and relationship through baseball over the past 20 years," said Mominey. "I look forward to many more successes to come."