DELAND, Fla. - Casey Kulina tried to make it three straight complete game wins. While he fell just short of the first part of that goal, he did help lead Jacksonville (36-22, 16-5 ASUN) to another win in the ASUN Baseball Championship Friday afternoon, and the Dolphins are sitting on the doorstep of its first tournament championship since 2009.
JU jumped all over Kennesaw State (25-31, 10-11 ASUN) starter Gabe Friese for five runs in the first two innings and did not look back, prevailing 8-4 in the matchup of the final two unbeaten teams in tournament.
But Kulina's performance headlined the day. He struck out 10 over eight innings of work, during which he limited the hot Owl bats, that had combined for 26 hits and 16 runs though its first two games, to just four hits and no runs.
"We know every time Casey goes out there, he's going to give us every ounce that he can give us. His stuff was good, his location was pretty good and he competed for eight plus and deserved every opportunity to finish that game." said Head Coach Chris Hayes.
Offensively, Jacksonville was keyed by the big lumber of Sam Armstrong. The junior third baseman smacked a double and a triple and drove in four in his first two at-bats of the day, springboarding the Dolphins to a 5-0 lead after two. Evan Fernandez added a sacrifice fly to spark the offense that has 38 hits and 24 runs through three days in DeLand.
"His job is to drive the guys in," Hayes said about Armstrong. "He did a good job of hitting some mistakes, and the guys in front of him did a great job getting on base. If they don't get on base he doesn't have all those RBIs."
Jacksonville's leadoff man reached five out the first six innings, and after Chris Lehane picked up his third hit of the game and Ruben Someillan beat out an infield single in the sixth, Scott Dubrule drove them both in with a double off of new pitcher Jordan Krueger. JU's final run was scored on a throwing error when Dubrule swiped second.
Kulina went out in the ninth to try and finish what he started, but allowed three straight hits to end his day. Three Jacksonville pitchers combined to close out Kennesaw State, who scratched together four runs in the inning.
Jacksonville will play in the ASUN Championship Final tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Melching Field against the survivor of #3 Florida Gulf Coast-#5 Kennesaw State-#6 Lispcomb. JU needs to win just once against tomorrow's opponent to win the tournament championship and earn an automatic berth into an NCAA Regional. A loss would force a second game to be play 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first.
"We just keep playing, keep doing what we do and at the end of the day tomorrow we'll look up and see what we've done," Hayes said about tomorrow's opportunity.
The game can be seen on ESPN3 and heard on 1010XL and mixlr.com/judolphins.