Florida Atlantic freshman Tyler Frank stood at first base in the top of the eighth inning as teammate Brett Lashley stepped up to the plate.
The Owls trailed Stetson 4-3 in the first elimination game of the Coral Gables Regional, with Austin Langham on second and Frank serving as the potential go-ahead run.
When Lashley ripped the first pitch Stetson pitcher Walker Sheller offered him down the left-field line, Langham scored easily from second.
Frank knew he had to hustle. The freshman darted around third base and slid underneath the tag at home from Stetson catcher Austin Hale.
As the home plate umpire called Frank safe and the Owls regained the lead for good, the FAU freshman jumped and let out a yell of excitement while Hale stood behind home plate in disbelief.
“Scoring that run — and the bigger part taking the lead — I had to be safe,” Frank said.
One inning later, Frank belted his first career home run over the left-field fence at Mark Light Field to cap Florida Atlantic’s 8-4 win over the Hatters on Saturday and allow the Owls to play for at least one more day.
“At this point, it’s not about scouting reports. It’s about who wants it more,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “It’s about want and will. … Persistence overcomes resistance.”
The Owls certainly were persistent against Stetson.
After recording just three hits in a 5-1 loss to Long Beach State on Friday that put them in the win-or-go-home situation, the Owls (39-18) strung together 13 hits and drew five walks against Stetson. All nine starters recording at least one hit, five drove in runs and three had multiple hits.
The Owls took a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth on a Gunnar Lambert double and Stephen Kerr single.
The Hatters (29-31) jumped on FAU starter Marc Stewart and reliever Nick Swan for four runs in the fourth and fifth innings but managed just three hits in the final four innings as FAU’s Devon Carr and Cameron Ragsdale shut the door. The Owls cut their deficit to one on a CJ Chatham sacrifice fly in the seventh before running away by scoring five runs in the final two innings.
“We had been making some stuff happen offensively. It was just a matter of when we were going to get the big hit,” said Carr, who improved to 5-1 on the year after tossing three innings of one-hit ball. “I just tried to keep [the score] right where it was.”
With the loss, Stetson is eliminated from the NCAA tournament in its first appearance since 2011. The Hatters won four games in a row in the Atlantic Sun tournament to earn an automatic bid into the tournament and kept pace with Miami for eight innings on Friday before falling 4-2.
“We were limping going into the conference tournament,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. “We just started playing well and it got us here. … We didn’t play well enough to win those two games, but we really played well and competed.”
FAU will now continue to play its way through the loser’s bracket, just like it did last year in the Gainesville regional before falling to Florida.
“We’ll have our work cut out for us,” McCormack said, “but I think these guys have their sea legs under them now, and we’re ready to continue on with the rest of the tournament.”