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Richard Long complete game, defense, lift JU to post

Dec 04, 2023Dec 04, 2023

Richard Long and Dominick Madonna delivered the goods on the mound for their respective teams on Friday at Jacksonville University's Sessions Stadium.

But for the second night in a row, the bottom of the order was the difference for the Dolphins.

Tommy Joseph tripled home a run in the bottom of the fourth inning and scored on a single by Hogan McIntosh, and Long faced one batter over the minimum in the last six innings of a complete-game gem as JU edged the University of North Florida 2-1 in game two of the River City Rumble to clinch a spot in next week's ASUN Tournament.

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The Dolphins (32-22, 16-13) can finish as high as fifth place, depending on the outcome of Saturday's game against the Ospreys (28-26, 13-15) but are assured of one being one of the eight teams that begin play in the ASUN Tournament at Melching Field in DeLand on May 26.

Lipscomb, Florida Gulf Coast, Stetson and Jacksonville State had already clinched the top-four Pool A spots entering the weekend and Liberty (16-13), Eastern Kentucky (15-14) and Austin Peay (14-15) likely will join the Dolphins in Pool B.

However, the Ospreys have a slim chance. If they beat JU on Saturday and finish in a three-way or four-way tie at 14-16 with some combination of Austin Peay (14-15), Central Arkansas (13-16) and Kennesaw (13-16), enough tie-breakers based on head-to-head competition and the NCAA RPI would send UNF to DeLand.

CAU (which plays Eastern Kentucky at home) and Kennesaw (at Florida Gulf Coast) would have to win and Austin Peay (at North Alabama) would have to lose.

But the Dolphins are done with scenarios and will play in the ASUN tournament for the ninth time in a row.

"We get to play next week and they’ve earned it," said JU coach Chris Hayes, whose team has gone 6-2 in conference games since getting swept at Kennesaw in late April. "We fought to get to this point, to control our destiny and the guys took advantage of that. They did a great job of finishing tonight."

Long and Madonna were masterful in a game that ended five minutes shy of two hours. Long (5-3) allowed only five hits and one walk, and struck out five, while Madonna (8-3) scattered eight hits, walked only two and struck out four.

It was the first complete game for a JU pitcher since Tyler Santana on March 19, 2021, in a 2-1 victory over UCF. It was Madonna's second complete game of the season. He went the distance in an April 22 game against Liberty, winning 8-3. That was the first complete game by a UNF right-hander since Nick Marchese in 2019

Long was backed by four double plays -- the most since a 2018 NCAA tournament game against Florida Atlantic in Gainesville -- including one on the final swing of the game.

Jakob Runnels reached on an error by JU second baseman Justin Nadeau to lead off the top of the ninth. Long struck out Alex Lodise on a 3-2 pitch and pinch-hitter Peyton Sybrandt cracked a wicked line drive down the first-base line (it was measured at 101 mph on JU's Yakkertech system) that Colin Wetterau caught inches off the ground, then scrambled to slam his glove on the bag and double up pinch-runner Ian Brown.

"His teammates played hard behind him," Hayes said of Long, whose previous longest outing was 6.2 innings this season against Austin Peay. "The defense was spectacular."

The Dolphins turned an inning-ending double play in the first after UNF loaded the bases with one out on hits by Aidan Sweatt and Runnels, and a walk to Lodise. UNF's only run came in the third when Long hit Austin Brinling, Sweatt doubled and Runnels hit a sacrifice fly to Elias Flowers in center, with Lodise then ending the inning on a long fly to Flowers.

"I think after the first inning, and when we held them to one in the third, it gave me a boost of confidence," Long said. "I trusted everything I had after that to get through it."

JU took the lead on three consecutive two-out hits in the bottom of the fourth. Josh Steidl singled to left-center and raced around the bases when Joseph pulled a triple into the right-field corner. McIntosh delivered what proved to be the game-winning RBI when he singled to left.

The bottom three players in the JU order, Joseph, McIntosh and Wetterau, went 8 for 17 in the first two games versus the Ospreys, scoring seven of JU's nine runs and driving in four.

Hayes said Long will be a huge boost in the post-season if he can maintain his current form. Long has won his last three starts, striking out 14 and allowing 15 hits and five walks in 20 innings, with a 3.60 ERA.

"Big-time players show up in big-time spots," Hayes said. "Throughout some ups and downs this year, Richie has been consistent in his work. He showed up every day ready to go."

But Madonna, the ASUN leader in victories, gave no less.

"I was ready to go the whole game," he said. "We came out, competed and put ourselves in a position to win. Just didn't get the job done."

UNF coach Tim Parenton said Madonna has displayed a rare mental toughness all season. The senior from Lady Lake hasn't overwhelmed batters (51 strikeouts in 83.2 innings) -- all he's done is get them out.

"Just battled his tail off," Parenton said. "That's why he's a good college pitcher."

JU's only threat after the fourth came in the seventh when Joseph walked, McIntosh chopped an infield single to short and Wetterau bunted them over. Madonna then fanned Chase Malloy and got Flowers to ground out to Gabriel Esquivel at first.

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