When Laz Gutierrez is introduced as a third-year coach, he is taken aback.
Technically, this is Gutierrez’s first year as Nova Southeastern University’s baseball coach. But in reality, this is his first full season.
In 2020, he was hired 30 days before the start of the season, and that year ended prematurely due to COVID.
Then, in 2021, NSU was limited to just 25 games, again due to the pandemic.
Finally, the Sharks are back – all the way back.
NSU won the NCAA Division II national title in 2016 under coach Greg Brown and with a 44-16 record.
This year, the Sharks are 34-15 and in position to make a long run toward the June 4-11 D2 World Series in Cary, N.C.
NSU’s potential road to North Carolina begins on Thursday in Tampa in a four-team, double-elimination regional.
First off, fifth-seeded NSU will play fourth-seeded Valdosta State (30-14). Valdosta State lost 13-3 at NSU in its fourth game of the season, way back on Feb. 11.
If the unranked Sharks beat Valdosta State, they will likely play host Tampa, which is ranked No. 2 in the nation.
Tampa (38-9) has won eight national championships, most recently in 2019.
NSU started this season 17-0 and ranked No. 1 in the nation … until the Sharks played host to the Tampa Spartans. Tampa swept all three games, 9-3, 7-5 and 9-6.
The Sharks recovered to go 17-12 the rest of the way, including a 2-1 record on the final weekend, taking a series from host and nine-time national champion Florida Southern.
Perhaps NSU’s biggest win of the year was 9-8 over Florida Southern as the Sharks came back from a six-run deficit by scoring seven runs in the eighth inning.
“I we don’t win two of three in that series,” Gutierrez said, “I don’t think we make the NCAA field.”
The Sharks have been led by ace starter Jeremy Cook, a Miami Hurricanes transfer who will pitch against Valdosta; Carlos Rey; and closer Michael Dillon.
Cook is 7-0 with a 3.46 ERA in 14 starts. Rey is 5-0 with a 1.01 ERA in 15 appearances, including two starts. Dillon (1-0, 1.57 ERA) ranks among the nation’s top five closers with 14 saves.
Offensively, the Sharks are powered by Duncan Pastore, who leads the team in hitting (.360), doubles (13), runs (47), RBIs (55) and on-base percentage (.453). Due to an offseason arm injury, he has been used more on the right side (first base, second base) as a way to minimize his throwing stress.
Third baseman Daniel Irisarri is hitting .346 with a .973 OPS and 18 steals in 18 attempts.
Left fielder Adan Fernandez, a former FIU standout, is hitting .310 and leads the Sharks in homers (10) and slugging (.554).
Irisarri and Fernandez made first-team All-Sunshine State Conference. Pastore, Cook and Dillon made second team.
“I have no idea how Carlos Rey didn’t make either team,” Gutierrez said. “He was dominant.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The fifth-seeded Barry women’s golf team lost in the NCAA Division II national semifinals, falling 4-1 to eighth-seeded Findlay. Barry’s Alice Gotbring was named the Division II National Player of the Year. She had the best strokes average in the country (72.54), and she won five tournaments, finishing second three times.
▪ In women’s tennis, top-ranked Barry (25-0) and NSU (24-3) have advanced to the national quarterfinals.
▪ Barry is still competing for potential men’s national titles in golf and tennis.
▪ NSU’s softball team (38-14) ended its season with its highest win total since 2010. After starting the season 6-7, NSU rolled all the way. to the NCAA South Regional, where the Sharks won their opener before losing two straight to end their year. NSU had the Sunshine State Conference’s Coach of the Year (Julie LeMaire), Player of the Year (Tia Williams) and Freshman of the Year (Ashley Connor). Williams hit .389, and Connor went 17-3 with a 1.29 ERA.
▪ Miami Dade College’s baseball team lost 4-3 in the state final this past weekend, finishing its season with a 39-19-1 record and a Southern Conference championship.
▪ The St. Thomas University baseball team (39-17) will advance to the 10-team NAIA World Series if it can win the regional it is hosting this week. The NAIA World Series is set for May 27 to June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho.