JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The offense is clicking at the right time for Jacksonville University baseball. Another offensive explosion backed by another strong outing on the mound, and JU (37-17, 14-6) wrapped the regular season with a 15-1 win over Kennesaw State (25-28, 11-10) Saturday at John Sessions Stadium.
"These guys have been putting in great effort, understanding what they need to do to have success, and they're hungry for that success," said Head Coach Chris Hayes. "The results are starting to show, but ultimately, the most important thing is getting a good pitch to hit and hit it hard."
The Dolphins have won six in a row, sweeping conference foes in back-to-back weekends.
Honoring 12 seniors before the game, it was one of the vets that got the scoring going for JU. Zack Smith came up with the bases loaded and one out in the second, and hit a grounder to third that scored Evan Fernandez. The Owls third baseman threw the ball into center trying to start a double play, and Cory Garrastazu scored on the error.
Tyler Santana (10-1) became Jacksonville's first double digit winner since 2006, but it was not smooth sailing to start. Kennesaw State put two men on in each of the first three innings, but Santana worked around it to leave four men in scoring position, as well as getting an out at the plate on a wild pitch in the second.
"He executed really quality pitches in big spots," said Hayes. "Kennesaw State came out very aggressive and Tyler found a way to make big plays in big spots."
The Dolphins did not waste any opportunities at the plate, adding to the 2-0 lead in every inning until the seventh. JU tacked on three in the third, when Garrastazu slugged his second home run in as many weekends to right, a three-run shot. Two more came in to score in the fourth, when Angel Camacho singled in Ruben Someillan and Scott Dubrule snuck home on a passed ball to make it 7-0.
JU blew it open with four in the fifth. Smith reached on an error before Someillan singled and Chris Lehane, Dubrule, and Camacho all singled in runs. Sam Armstrong hit a sacrifice fly to wrap the scoring in the frame. Another four spot in the sixth gave JU its final run total for the afternoon. Garrastazu singled, his third hit of the day, and pinch hitters Franco Guardascione and John Cassala walked to load the bases. Lehane was hit by a pitch to drive in a second run of the day, before Dubrule, Camacho and Armstrong all tacked on additional runs batted in. For Camacho, it was his third of the afternoon, giving him 51 on the season, the first Dolphin since Connor Marabell in 2015 to drive in at least 50.
"It's a blessing to finish it like we did," said Armstrong, the senior third baseman who played in his 201st career game today. "It shows how good this team is to finish a series the way we did.
"We aren't pressing as much, we went through a stretch where each person felt like they had to contribute every time instead of passing it down the line."
Santana sat down 11 in a row at one point, before slipping out of the sixth unscathed again. Three consecutive two-out singles loaded the bases, before Santana induced a pop out to short. In six innings, he allowed seven hits, but no runs, while striking out two and walking two. He stranded six men in scoring position on the afternoon.
"I'm very excited and thankful for what the seniors have given this program," said Hayes. "They have established the foundation for the future."
The 37 regular season wins are the most for the Dolphins since the 2006 team won 43. JU advances to the ASUN Baseball Championship as the two-seed, which starts next Wednesday at North Florida's Harmon Stadium. Jacksonville faces the five-seed on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
"We faced quality competition the entire year," said Hayes. "We are going to continue to face quality teams, and we are going to keep preparing for the next day, the next pitch."