Dover’s Spadafino won’t forget Hens’ NCAA trip

 

Dover High grad Nick Spadafino was Delaware’s starting pitcher against Arizona in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament regional game. (NCAA photos/John Weast)

DOVER — Before he threw his first pitch in the biggest game of his life, Nick Spadafino took a moment to appreciate where he was.

A lot of hard work had gone into being the starting pitcher for Delaware in its NCAA Division I Tournament game on Saturday afternoon at Texas Tech.

“I was telling someone, this is what I’ve played my whole life dreaming about,” said the 21-year-old Dover High grad. “Playing in a game like this, against a team like that … this is what all the hard work has been for. It’s kind of pointed me toward this spot.

“It was kind of awesome taking a deep breath before I threw the first pitch. It was like, ‘Wow, I’m playing in this stadium, pitching against this team in a regional.’ It was just kind of surreal.”

More than six hours after Spadafino threw that opening pitch, the Blue Hens fell to Arizona, 6-5, in 12 innings to be eliminated from the bracket.

But that doesn’t mean the afternoon wasn’t a success for Delaware.

Both the Hens and the Wildcats earned some new fans by not only how hard they played baseball but by how hard they could play — period — during a two-hour, 18-minute rain delay.

With the contest tied 5-5 after 10 innings, the players did a little bit of everything to pass the time and entertain the crowd while they waited for the rain to stop.

They played tick-tack-toe on a baseball that was rolled between the two dugouts. They ‘bowled’ with a baseball and some Gatorade cups set up in front of each dugout.

And they held a ‘slow-man race’ with the slowest sub on each team racing to the centerfield fence.

Cellphone cameras sent it all to the internet.

“It was kind of like that Little League World Series-type atmosphere,” said Spadafino. “I think I’ll always remember how awesome that experience was.

“I played the most intense hacky-sack game of my life, having all these fans cheering for us while we’re playing. We’d never meet those guys ever in our lives if we’re not playing in this game. It was just cool to see how we can instantly connect over a little game like that.”

As for the baseball game, Spadafino did his job for the Hens.

The junior right-hander allowed only one run and four hits in 5.1 innings before being taken out. In his first season as a full-time starter, Spadafino went 7-3 with a 4.46 ERA in 16 games.

“Being competitive, I wanted to go longer than five innings,” said Spadafino. “But, at the end of the day, it’s what we did all year. … I felt pretty satisfied with how I did and how the team did.”

Despite finishing 0-2 in the program’s first appearance in the NCAAs since 2001, Spadafino would like to think the Hens proved they belonged. Delaware’s other setback was a 5-2 loss to fifth-ranked Texas Tech.

The Hens received a few standing ovations from the Red Raiders crowd during the weekend.

“Hey, west Texas, you’re my home away from home,” Delaware coach Jim Sherman said after the Arizona game. “Our kids, they’re going to remember it for a lifetime.”

“We all know that we left everything out there on the field,” said Spadafino. “If a pitch or two goes our way, we could be in a different situation. But I think everyone is pretty happy.

“I think everyone kind of realized all the hard work that we’ve done and the kind of baseball players we are. Regardless if they had ‘Arizona’ and ‘Texas Tech’ on their jersey, we still had to play a baseball game and we were pretty darn good as a team competing with those teams. I think it was a really great experience even though things might not have gone our way.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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