The past seven NCAA Division II Championship winners are painted on the outside wall of the souvenir store at USA Baseball National Training Complex that served as host for the eighth year in a row.
The blank spot for 2016 can be filled in with Nova Southeastern. The Sharks from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., hit a pair of two-run home runs to lead an 8-6 win on a 90-degree Saturday afternoon.
Many of the school names are familiar from repeat trips to Cary, but Nova Southeastern won its first national title on its initial trip to the Division II version of a College World Series.
“It’s very humbling,” said Sharks sixth-year coach Greg Brown. “It’s not easy. Getting out of the South Regional is incredibly hard. Getting into the South Region is incredibly hard.”
In fact, a year ago, Nova Southeastern was eliminated from the South Region by Tampa, which went on to win its second DII national title in the past three years. Four of the past six national champs are South Region winners: Nova, 2016; Tampa, 2015; Tampa, 2013; and West Florida, 2011.
The double-elimination tournament that started with eight regional champions turned into a best-of-three series when both Nova Southeastern (44-16), the No. 17-ranked team in the nation, and Millersville (53-7), the Atlantic champion ranked No. 1 in the nation from a campus near Lancaster, Pa., got through the early rounds with 3-0 records. But when the Sharks won 2-1 on Friday night, Millersville was confronted with winning two games Saturday to claim the title.
Nova Southeastern was too hot to beat once, though. The Sharks were 5-0 in Cary and won 33 of their last 39 games since an 11-10 start. The sweep resulted in Millersville losing two in a row and two games to the same team for the first time all year.
“They’ve got a great club, and they deserve to be out there,” said Millersville coach Jon Shehan, referring to the Sharks’ celebration. “They do things the right way. We just couldn’t get it done the last couple days. We didn’t execute in a couple of areas, and they took advantage of it. They’re a good club, and they’re going to exploit mistakes.”
Millersville struck early for a promising start with three runs in the top of the first inning. But Nova Southeastern scored two runs in the third inning on center fielder Kevin Suarez’s 350-foot home run to left field after JanCarlos Cintron singled with two out.
The big blow was Nova third baseman’s Daniel Zardon’s two-run home run that he hit 410-feet to just to the right of straightaway center. Most home runs at pitcher-friendly Coleman Field are down the lines. It sparked a six-run inning and an 8-4 lead that stood up.
“Danny swung the bat extremely well,” said Brown of the Louisiana State transfer. “I was pretty sure we weren’t going to see a ball leave the middle of the field this entire tournament.”