Friday, May 24, 2013

A-Sun Stage Allows for Next Chapter of UNF, KSU Series

North Florida and Kennesaw State, conference rivals since 1998 when the Ospreys joined the Owls in the Peach Belt Conference, met for the 70th time Friday evening at Melching Field in the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Baseball Championship, etching another compelling chapter in a rivalry that is now tied at 35 apiece after the Ospreys' thrilling 8-7 extra inning walk-off win.

Freshman shortstop Kyle Brooks raced home with the winning run in the 12th inning on Garrick Ferguson's infield chopper to propel the Ospreys' to the bracket two championship game. Ferguson's heroics capped a memorable affair that saw four ties and three lead changes--much in the same way the series has seesawed back and forth over the years.

The contest marked the rivalry's first postseason meeting in the Division I era, but the 15th time the familiar foes faced off in tournament play. The seeds for the teams' lengthy postseason association were sown in both program's NAIA origins when North Florida defeated the Owls in consecutive seasons (1990 and 1991) in the District 25 Tournament.

After both schools transitioned to NCAA play and joined the ranks of Division II in the mid-90s, the schools landed in different conferences and the series was abandoned. In 1998, however, the Ospreys received an invitation to the Owls' home in the Peach Belt Conference restoring the rivalry, and the two schools have met at least three times annually since.

It is the crucible of the postseason, however, that forged the rivalry into one of the most heated in the southeast. From 1998-2005 the Owls and Ospreys met 12 times in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional. In four of those years the squads faced off in the regional's championship round with a bid to the Division II College World Series at stake, and on three of those occasions the 'if necessary' game determined the regional title.

Kennesaw State emerged victorious in 1999 and 2003, while the Ospreys hoisted the trophy in 2001 and 2005. The 1999 Owls team and 2005 Ospreys team both went on to finish as national runner-up.

Since joining the A-Sun in 2005 the teams have met 24 times with the Owls holding a 16-8 lead in the D1 era--powered by win streaks of five and seven games, but North Florida currently rides a three-game streak, including the most important win in a rivalry like this: the last one.

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