Bethune-Cookman ready to play ball

This is a repost of the story that appeared last night on The Ole Miss Spirit message board. The Wildcats and the Rebels play tonight at 7 in round one of The Oxford Regional. It's the first Regional for Bethune-Cookman to play outside the state of Florida.

Fourth-seeded Bethune-Cookman is not just happy to be in Oxford. They're here to win.

"We play good baseball," said BCC head coach Mervyl Melendez, in his seventh season at the Daytona Beach, Fla., school founded in 1904 with an enrollment of just under 3,000 students. "We believe the outcome of the game is decided on the field. You will see that we can play the game like anybody else. Not too many people know about us, but that's one of the reasons we're here; so people will learn about us."

The Wildcats will throw Richard Rodriguez, who they call R.J., against the top-seeded Ole Miss Rebels Friday at 7 p.m. The 6-foot, 175-pound senior from Hialeah, Fla., gets a thumbs up from his head coach.

"R.J. with his mental approach is one of the best I've ever coached," Melendez said. "He will go out and give you all he's got whether he's got good stuff that night or not. He'll compete and give you whatever he's got. He'll keep you in the ballgame."

Rodriguez, 8-4 on the season with a 3.66 ERA, says he hopes to be up to the challenge of the Ole Miss hitters.

"When we knew we were coming to Mississippi, we looked up the stats and tried to get a little insight on the hitters and the pitchers," Rodriguez said. "Obviously we won't know everything, but we know we'll have to bring our A game."

Rodriguez admits he's got quite an arsenal in his pitching bag.

"I've got four or five pitches," he said. "I throw a regular fast ball, a curve ball, a changeup, and a two-seamer. I just try to keep the ball low like every pitcher tries to do and throw strikes. The only way to get into trouble is to throw the ball high. I want to keep it down and get a lot of ground balls and give my team a chance to play defense."

The Wildcats aren't the greatest defensive team, however. They are fielding .957 as a team as opposed to other teams in the field, like Tulane at .978, Ole Miss at .973, and South Alabama at .969. BCC has 90 errors this season.

But they rolled through the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference season with a perfect 15-0 record and followed that up with a 3-0 run through the MEAC Tournament in Norfolk, Va., last weekend. The Wildcats have only two wins over top 50 RPI teams this season, beating Jacksonville (Fla.) 4-3 in early February and Oral Roberts 14-11 in early April.

At 30-25, Bethune-Cookman has played a tough slate, including three games at Miami (Fla.), two against Penn State, one against Ohio State, Florida once and Central Florida four times.

"Going 18-0 (in the league and the tourney) is no easy task," Rodriguez said. "Everybody would love to go undefeated in their conference."

"It's kinda funny," Melendez said. "R.J. said to me in the fall that we're going to go undefeated in conference play. As a coach you go 'Yeah, right, whatever.' You have players every year who believe that. But after every series he would come up to me and go 'Coach, that's 3-0 or 6-0 or 9-0.' So more than anybody on the team he kept me up to date on how we were doing. He's like a lot of players on our team. He just believes."

The Wildcats are batting .271 as a team and have four players who bat over .300 in the 55 games they've played. They are led offensively by .373 hitter Nabil Sagbini, a senior outfielder with a team-high 10 home runs.

Melendez says the Wildcats are used to playing in NCAA Regionals but they normally play them in Florida. In their last six NCAA appearances (1999, 2000, '01, '02, '03, '04), BCC has played in either Gainesville, Tallahassee, or Coral Gables.

Of course this year, for the first time since 1975, there are no NCAA Regionals being held in the state of Florida.

"This is new for us," Melendez said. "We usually play in the state of Florida. We wanted to play outside the state of Florida. We're happy to be here. We've never been to Mississippi. I know Ole Miss. I know the SEC. I know the tradition. I know every team in this NCAA Regional is going to be good. We know we have an uphill battle, but we're here and we'll give our best effort."

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