State Colleges

Despite a tough loss in title game, St. Thomas University baseball has a bright future

St. Thomas University pitcher Chris Coipel.
St. Thomas University pitcher Chris Coipel.

For the second time in five years, the St. Thomas University baseball team finished one win short in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Bobcats, coached for the past 11 years by Jorge Perez, have reached the World Series three times in school history: 2015, when they finished second; 2018, when they finished ninth; and this past weekend, another second-place showing.

“The players were very disappointed,” said Perez, who led his team to a 49-15 record this season. “But I know how hard it is to get to the championship game. As the years pass, I think they will realize that what they did was amazing.”

This was a veteran Bobcats team. Of the 10 starters for St. Thomas in the title game, including the designated hitter, six of them were seniors: first baseman Chris Garabedian; second baseman Jackie Urbaez; shortstop Erick Delgado; right fielder Sergio Lopez; DH Jack Diaz; and pitcher Ian Exposito.

Garabedian made first-team all-conference, hitting .352 with eight homers and 59 RBI. He also made the All-World Series team, hitting three homers in six games.

Delgado, who is from Goleman High, also made first-team all-conference, hitting .358 and stealing 21 bases without getting caught.

Lopez, from South Dade High, made second-team NAIA All-American after hitting .306 while leading the Bobcats in homers (17) and RBI (77).

Meanwhile, Urbaez was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 29th round on Wednesday.

“It’s well deserved,” Perez said of Urbaez’s draft status. “He is so versatile and such a good player that I think he will last a long time in professional baseball.”

The two other seniors on the roster were also key contributors: pitchers Orlando Rodriguez (11-2, 2.63 ERA) and Alex Sarmiento (1-0, 4.08 ERA in 16 appearances).

Rodriguez, a Cuban-born right-hander who played at Coral Gables High; and Expositio, a lefty from Miami Palmetto by way of Florida Gulf Coast, carried the Bobcats much of this season.

Exposito (12-3, 3.16 ERA) was the Sun Conference Pitcher of the Year and broke the school record for strikeouts. Rodriguez made first team all-conference.

In the NAIA World Series, Rodriguez went 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA, beating Southeastern with a complete-game, 13-strikeout performance.

Exposito won his first game but was unable to knock off Tennessee Wesleyan in the winner-take-all final.

“Ian wasn’t as sharp as he normally is,” Perez said. “He was pitching on only six days rest. Their guy was pitching on a full six days rest.”

Sixth-seeded St. Thomas went 4-2 in Idaho but lost both of its games against top-ranked Tennessee Wesleyan (56-10). The Bobcats lost their first game against Tennessee Wesleyan 3-2 and were defeated 6-2 in the final.

Looking ahead to next year, the Bobcats figure to return four starters: catcher Daniel Mondejar, who made the All-World Series team by hitting .417 with six RBI in six games; third baseman Alejandro Rivero, who hit 15 homers and drove in 65 runs this season; center fielder Daniel Lowry, who hit .253; and left fielder Joey Thompson, a freshman who homered in the title game. Thompson hit .331 this season, earning Freshman of the Year honors in the Sun Conference.

Closer Jason Grana, who is from Southwest High, is also set to return after recording 10 saves and making first-team all-conference. He went 5-2 with a 2.63 ERA.