Laz Gutierrez knows baseball heartbreak.
Gutierrez, now the Nova Southeastern University baseball coach, was a Hurricanes freshman pitcher in 1996 when Miami lost the College World Series 9-8 to LSU in agonizing fashion.
Miami led 8-7 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth when Warren Morris hit a walk-off homer off of Robbie Morrison. It was Morris’ first homer of the season.
Gutierrez told his NSU players about Morris this past weekend, when the Sharks started the NCAA Division II South Region playoffs with a 2-0 record before losing two straight one-run games to the No. 1 team in the nation, Tampa.
“It was a similar feeling for me,” Gutierrez said. “But it was harder for me as a player because I didn’t have the coping skills I have now.”
This was a rollercoaster year for the Sharks, who were unranked to start the season. They then started the year 17-0 and rose to the No. 1 ranking in the nation … before losing three straight to Tampa and falling out of the Top 25.
At the South Region playoffs in Tampa, NSU (36-17) beat Valdosta State 11-3 in the opener as leadoff batter Tyler Epstein went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs. Former Hurricanes pitcher Jeremy Cook (8-0) struck out seven batters in 8 1/3 innings.
NSU then beat Tampa 9-3 as starter Carlos Rey (6-0) struck out seven. Daniel Irisarri went 3-for-5 with three runs scored, two RBIs, one homer and one steal. Ex-FIU outfielder Adan Fernandez went 2-for-5 with two runs scored, one homer and one double.
The Sharks then needed to beat Tampa one more time to advance to the Super Regionals. Instead, Tampa won a pair of one-run games, 8-7 and 3-2.
In the 8-7 loss, NSU scored five runs in the top of the ninth inning – all with two outs – and had the bases loaded when Tampa’s fourth pitcher of the frame got a swinging strike three on Fernandez to end the game.
“It was a 3-2 breaking ball way out of the zone,” Gutierrez said.
Had Fernandez not swung, NSU would’ve tied the score.
Instead, in the title game, former Hurricanes outfielder Jordan Lala started a two-out, none-on rally in the top of the 12th inning with a single. He then scored from first on Drew Ehrhard’s double.
Then, with two outs in the bottom of the 12th, NSU put two runners on before Irisarri lined out to right, ending the game.
However, NSU nearly won the game in the bottom of the ninth as ex-Hurricane Adam Frank hit a deep fly to left for an apparent walk-off sacrifice fly, scoring Stephen Schissler without a throw.
“We were all hugging and celebrating,” Gutierrez said.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, Schissler left third base too early and was called out.
“It was the correct call,” Gutierrez said. “My concern was with (Schissler) because he’s a great kid, and we all make mistakes.”
THIS AND THAT
St. Thomas University’s baseball team (41-19), seeded first in the region and ranked eighth in the nation, came within one win of returning to the NAIA World Series for the third time.
STU coach Jorge Perez, who led the Bobcats to the World Series in 2015 and 2019, fell to third-seeded Webber, 17-6, in last week’s regional final.
The top-seeded Bobcats played Webber eight times this season – four of those games were decided by one run – and the teams split the series, 4-4.
STU won its opening game of the regional and then lost 5-4 in 11 innings to Webber. STU led 4-1 in the seventh inning before losing on a walk-off sacrifice fly.
Had the Bobcats won that game, they would’ve been in the proverbial driver’s seat in the double-elimination tournament. Instead, the Bobcats battled back, beating McPherson, 5-4, and Webber, 8-2. That set up the title game against Webber.
“Our injuries throughout the year caught up to us in the last game,” Perez said. “We ran out of juice, pitching guys who were tired.”
For the entirety of the playoffs, STU was missing its star center fielder Ezequiel Valdez, who tore two ligaments in his ankle while rounding third base.
“Everything changed when he went down,” Perez said. “He was our best player, a difference maker.”