Ethan Gonzalez not only gifted himself a memorable birthday present, he made sure to share it with his teammates.

Gonzalez crushed a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning to cap an offensive showcase for the No. 8 Blinn College baseball team and send the Buccaneers past Florence-Darlington Technical College 17-7 in five innings Tuesday at the JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.

Blinn (44-16) hit five homers on the night to advance to the quarterfinal round of the winners bracket. None were bigger than Gonzalez’s, the first of the season for the freshman catcher which kept the Bucs undefeated in the tournament and sets up a quarterfinal bout against second-ranked Georgia Highlands College at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.

Ethan Gonzalez 2023-24
(Pictured: Blinn’s Ethan Gonzalez heads toward home plate after hitting a home run against Florence-Darlington Tech on May 28, 2024)

“That moment is definitely the best feeling I’ve ever had,” said Gonzalez, who turned 19 on Tuesday. “When I hit that ball; there is no feeling like that. The adrenaline, my teammates going crazy … I’m never going to forget this moment.”

Freshman Caden Ferraro hit two majestic home runs beyond the confines of Sam Suplizio Field, and sophomore Cade Climie and Connor McGinnis also joined the longball party to help Blinn stave off a pesky Stingers ballclub.

The Bucs raced out to a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning thanks to Climie’s two-run shot – his third homer of the World Series. Sophomores Tony Vernars and Tanner Reaves each added a two-run single to round out the big frame.

Bucs starting pitcher Brendan Sweeney gave up a couple of earned runs in the second, but Blinn’s offense got right back to work in the home half of the inning. 

Ferraro sent a solo shot to left field and McGinnis made it back-to-back jacks with a solo blast of his own to make it 8-2.

Florence-Darlington refused to go away, however, as the Stingers answered with five runs in the top of the third to pull within one.

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(Pictured: Blinn’s Caden Ferraro celebrates with his team after hitting a home run against Florence-Darlington Tech on May 28, 2024)

“It was an old-fashioned dogfight where both teams didn’t want to lose, and everybody was getting in there and getting dirty,” Bucs head coach Dusty Hart said. “I can’t say enough about Florence-Darlington; what an effort to be down 6-0 in the first inning and come back. It was pretty clear pretty quickly that they weren’t going anywhere, but we just kept fighting – that’s the main thing.”

Blinn scored in every inning, and answered the Stingers’ big frame with two runs of its own in the third. Ferraro sent a two-run homer into the parking lot beyond the right-field wall to make it a 10-7 ballgame.

“Everything was going right at the plate,” Ferraro said. “My first game here, going 0 for 3 and watching everyone else get their hits in, I just had to be willing to keep the same approach and realize that I’ve been doing this all season. Then, once you get that first hit and get hot, it’s easier to stay hot.”

In the top of the fourth, Sweeney settled in to hold Florence-Darlington scoreless, and the Bucs rewarded him with three more tallies in the bottom half.

Sophomore Marshall Lipsey scored on a wild pitch, Reaves plated a run on a sacrifice fly, and Climie singled to center field to make it 13-7.

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(Pictured: Blinn’s Brendan Sweeney delivers a pitch against Florence-Darlington Tech on May 28, 2024)

Sweeney gave up a leadoff single in the top of the fifth, but the Bucs turned a double play before Lipsey ended the inning with a diving catch in left field.

Sophomore Brandon Bishop then got the Bucs going again in their half with a bunt single that led to a run-scoring error, an RBI groundout from sophomore Coy DeFury, and Gonzalez’s homer.

Blinn piled up 19 hits, including three apiece for Climie, Ferraro, McGinnis, Bishop, and Vernars. Ferraro, Climie, and Reaves had three RBIs apiece.

Sweeney earned the win after allowing four earned runs on six hits. He walked three and struck out three.

Blinn has competed in intercollegiate athletics since 1903 and captured 47 NJCAA national championships since 1987.

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