State Colleges

Lifelong friends Mateo and Gomez lead Nova Southeastern baseball to South Regional

Alex Mateo was 6 and Brandon Gomez was 5 when they met at Immaculate Conception, a private school in Hialeah.

Their friendship continued through their high school days at Monsignor Pace, where in 2012 they helped the Spartans reach the state semifinals.

That’s when they went their separate ways. Mateo, a 6-1, 190-pound right-hander, had no scholarship offers out of high school, in part because of a broken left wrist. He walked on to Palm Beach State, got cut and then won a roster spot at Broward College.

As a sophomore, he finally earned a scholarship, signing with Point Park, an NAIA program in Pittsburgh. But after some family issues back home, he transferred to Nova Southeastern, where he went 10-1 with a 3.83 ERA last year as a junior.

Gomez, a 5-10, 210-pound outfielder/DH, hit .320 as an FIU freshman and played his sophomore year at Eastern Florida State College before deciding to transfer to NSU.

When Mateo found out Gomez was joining the Sharks, he shot his friend a text.

“I said, ‘Wow, this is going to be a great team.’ ”

So far, Mateo is right.

The Sharks (35-15), who are ranked sixth in the nation in NCAA Division II, will find out on Sunday where they will be placed in the postseason tournament. Tampa, the defending national champion, is expected to host.

NSU will likely be seeded second or third in the seven-team, double-elimination South Regional. Only the winner will advance to the eight-team World Series in Cary, North Carolina.

This will be the fourth time in six years NSU has made the regionals, which is a credit to coach Greg Brown, his staff and the players. Before Brown arrived, NSU had never made a regional.

Mateo and Gomez have emerged as leaders on this year’s team.

Mateo, a 22-year-old senior, is the team’s ace and the only pitcher in program history to beat powerhouse Tampa twice. He is 7-4 with a 3.18 ERA this year. He pitches mostly in the range of 89-91 mph, and his changeup is his best off-speed pitch.

“In my six years here,” Brown said, “he is the first true ace we’ve had.”

Gomez, a 21-year-old junior, is the cleanup hitter. He is hitting .345 with 13 doubles, three triples, 19 homers and 68 RBI with a .731 slugging percentage. He leads the Sunshine State Conference in RBI. Yet although he started all 50 games, he has only drawn 16 walks.

“Umpires in our league aren’t the greatest,” Gomez said of his low walk rate. “I try to swing early and not leave it in their hands.”

Brown said he loves Gomez’s aggressiveness.

“He hunts pitches,” Brown said. “He’s one of the top two hitters we’ve had here because he is so diverse. He can hit fastballs or off-speed, high pitches or low. He barrels balls.”

Besides being childhood friends, Mateo and Gomez are also connected through their academic pursuits — both want to go to law school and become attorneys.

But the courtroom can wait.

For now, they are focused on trying to get NSU to its first World Series.

The Sharks are clearly a dangerous team and are 24-5 in their past 29 games. They won nine of their 10 conference series — including six sweeps — and they set a school record with 74 home runs.

In addition, they took two of three games from No. 1 Tampa, all on the road, including a 4-1 win by Mateo in which he allowed no earned runs in 8 1/3 innings.

In the rubber game of that series, Gomez had a single, triple, homer and three RBI in a 7-4 win.

Gomez also went 2 for 4 in an 8-3 loss to the Miami Hurricanes this year.

“Brandon doesn’t back down from anyone,” Mateo said. “He’s an animal.”