At long last, the Avista NAIA World Series got its Orlando Rodriguez-Feliz Dieguez pitching duel.
Being that they come from opposite ends of the same north Caribbean island, and often face off in Florida’s Sun Conference, it was appropriate that the Cuban-born aces from St. Thomas and Southeastern both got the ball Friday on Day 1 of the national tournament.
Dieguez had his flashes, no-hitting the Bobcats through the first five innings, while giving up just four hits in his 7 innings on the mound. But Rodriguez played the long game better, conceding two runs in the first six innings, but not allowing any after to vault St. Thomas to a 3-2 win over the defending champions.
“That’s our guy. He has been doing that for two years,” said STU catcher Daniel Mondejar, behind the dish for Rodriguez’s first-ever complete game. “He’s gonna be our first guy forever.”
Rodriguez got in trouble early, but pitched himself out of a first-inning bind, when Southeastern loaded the bases but managed just one run on a wild pitch. With Fire runners on second and third, the Bobcat righty got Abdel Guadulupe to swing and miss at a breaking ball, limiting the damage.
“I came here to give my team a chance, that’s what I’ve been doing the whole year,” Rodriguez said. “I’m just trying to make pitches and execute.”
He made far more than he missed, striking out 13 batters — a Series-high four games in — walking only one while scattering seven hits over nine innings. Rodriguez threw 147 pitches all said and done, allowing the Bobcats to protect their bullpen for game two - a 7 p.m. Monday meeting against Lewis-Clark State, Freed-Hardeman or Science and Arts. Rodriguez made just one other critical mistake after the first inning, leaving a changeup high for Southeastern’s Dan Valerio, who pulled the pitch well over the left field fence to give the Fire a 2-0 lead.
But he made amends later on, freezing Valerio with a breaking ball in the eighth inning when Southeastern had a runner in scoring position. The 11th strikeout for Rodriguez closed out the frame and the Havana, Cuba, native extinguished the Fire for good with two more strikeouts in the ninth.
“I missed up on a changeup down the middle right there,” Rodriguez said of his early encounter with Valerio. “(He) hit it out, just got to tip my hat off. Hit a good ball. So I went back and competed the second AB.”
Dieguez was the better hurler through the first six innings, though, keeping STU hitless until Erick Delgado poked a ball into shallow right field. The Southeastern senior had a shutout going into the eighth inning, but it was eventually foiled by Jackie Urbaez’s two-run homer to tie things up at 2-2.
“One pitch set the tone of the game, which tied the game,” Dieguez said. “Overall I thought I was able to compete, locate every ball and pitch through every inning.”
Rodriguez, improved to 10-2 on the season and won his second individual duel against his countryman. Both Rodriguez and Dieguez were on the mound when St. Thomas and Southeastern met in league play on April 12.
“I think we did some things early to help (Rodriguez) out, swinging at some balls in the dirt, but he’s a good arm man,” Southeastern coach Adrian Dinkel said. “We’ve seen him four or five times now in the last two years and there’s a reason he goes Friday nights for them.”
The two pitchers have become friends over the last two baseball seasons, bonding over their Cuban heritage and Sun Conference rivalry whenever they meet in Miami Gardens or Lakeland.
Or in this case, Lewiston.
“We went at it in the regular season, now we went at him again,” Rodriguez said. “It’s nice to compete, especially with a guy that I know.”