MONTGOMERY, Ala. — At the five-hour, four-minute mark, Kelvin Feliciano — a fresh-faced freshman utility player turned pitcher — was attempting to finish off the most notable feat in Florida Memorial University athletic history.
Bottom of the 19th. Two outs. A one-run game. In the batter’s box stood Lavoisier Fisher, the gifted Albany State centerfielder who pressed to extend the longest Black College World Series game ever played.
Feliciano, the Miami native, fired a slider on a two-strike count that dipped under a looping swing by Fisher for strike three that cemented a Florida Memorial 5-4 victory Saturday night and a joyous celebration on the field at Riverwalk Stadium.
In a tournament that had everything, a four-day sprint that brought the intensity and stakes of true championship baseball in May, it was only fitting that the only teams left in the Black College World Series that had yet to lose a game among the eight-team field battled deep into the night.
“They were committed to winning,” an exhausted but happy FMU head coach Tino Burgos said of his Lions after the 19-inning affair. “And they were committed to finding a way even with a little adversity.”
Florida Memorial as a baseball program has certainly experienced its share of pitfalls. Before Burgos arrived, there were five Lions head coaches previously. FMU endured a stretch during the 2015 and 2016 seasons, going a combined 15-79. It seemed Florida Memorial baseball would be a permanent fixture as bottom-feeders in the Sun Conference, arguably the toughest NAIA league in the country.
Florida Memorial head coach Tino Burgos described the Lions as being “committed to winning” its first-ever major national championship as a program. pic.twitter.com/svKzFng22j
— HBCU Sports (@HBCUSports) May 14, 2023
And even ahead of the 2023 Black College World Series, the Lions were an alternate entrant in the field after Talladega College declined an invitation to participate.
They were not supposed to be here.
The Lions quickly fell behind early in the Black College World Series championship game after a first-inning RBI single by Jonathan Logsdon off starter Kyle Morrison that scored Zane Ross.
Florida Memorial would respond in the top of the third. Reinaldo Prieto led off with a ringing double off Albany State starter Tyler Bullock. He would later score on a groundout by Lions shortstop Ulises Rodriguez to tie the ledger at 1-all.
After the Golden Rams took a 2-1 advantage in the fourth, Florida Memorial scored twice in the fifth to take a 3-2 lead.
In the sixth inning, After Ross reached on a throwing error by Lions’ third baseman Luis Ruiz, he would score the tying run on a single by Hill Corley.
And that would be the final run to be scored by either team over the next 10 innings in what turned out to be a battle of the bullpens. Jamal Johnson for FMU, and Calvin Baker and John Luegering, in relief, combined not to surrender a run over 72 total batters faced.
It was not until FMU catcher Levis Aguila cranked a solo home run in the top of the 17th inning off William Beasley — as fireworks from a nearby show unrelated to the tournament went off in the distance — was the 3-3 tie finally broken.
In a game that had gone well beyond four hours, Fisher, who hadn’t recorded a hit in five previous at-bats for Albany State, dropped a floating single into centerfield with two outs that scored pinch runner Wade Rodeffer to knot the game at 4-4.
“You have to grind through and find out who wants it more,” said Max Charnin, named Black College World Series Most Outstanding Pitcher, who didn’t pitch in the game but watched along with everyone else the war of attrition.
Then in the 19th, Lions right fielder Gabriel Marinez, who had numerous defensive gems in the contest, lofted a sacrifice fly to left field to put the Lions ahead again 5-4 before Feliciano closed it out.
Black College World Series MVP Jalen Young said Florida Memorial “wanted it.” pic.twitter.com/5CBuljuRjK
— HBCU Sports (@HBCUSports) May 14, 2023
“It was a mental game,” said Black College World Series Most Outstanding Player Jalen Young about what was required to pull out the victory. “Our guys just wanted it. Everybody on this team played a part.”
It took 15 players over 5 hours and 5 minutes Saturday night and its third trip to the Black College World Series to bring home the first major national championship of any kind for Florida Memorial.
“We’re in the record books,” said Burgos. “I told the guys this is forever. To do it as an HBCU at an HBCU event means everything to me.”