March 13, 2005
The Presidents of the Atlantic Sun Conference finally legitimatized our baseball conference. Until this year, we were mandated to play a single game and a seven inning doubleheader, as the format of a conference series. Since 1999, the baseball coaches fought to create a series of three nine inning games. The proposal had the support of the Athletic Directors on two different occasions, only to see the Presidents veto the change.
But this past Spring the change was made. All games would be nine innings. The series could be played over three days, but if a school insisted on a two day format, the doubleheader would take precedence. But they would be two nine inning games. This makes for a long day, but as Jay Bergman once said, "More games are won or lost in the eighth and ninth than any other time of a game."
The advantage in a nine inning game is that your bullpen isn't much of a factor. Teams can run out two good starters and have a great chance of winning a series. A nine inning game puts more emphasis on a team's pitching depth and on its bullpen. Most coaches would agree that the shorter game helps the weaker team.
I always hated seven inning games. It seems as though the pressure to score is on you right from the start. The shorter game seems to really change the natural pace of a baseball game. My brain is constantly trying to figure out what equivalent inning we're in when we're behind in a seven inning game.
Thank goodness the change is in effect this season. it seems that this team lives for the eighth and ninth innings. Friday night against Gardner-Webb was no different.
We were facing GWU pitcher Zach Ward, the pre-season Pitcher of the Year in the A-Sun Conference. Zach has a 90+ fastball and a sharp, late breaking curveball. Runs were going to be scarce. We had Mike Crotta on the mound. Mike's no slouch; he has evolved into our number one pitcher, and is capable of keeping us in any game.
Gaedner-Webb struck first with a two-run line drive homer that just cleared the fence in left. Our normal right field wind has been absent lately, thanks to a slow moving weather system from the southwest. That ball would normally be an easy out, as eveything hit to left gets held up by the wind.
Thanks to the continued hot hitting of freshman Mike McKenna, we got on the board in the fourth, and in the fifth the speed of Mike McBryde saw him reach first on an infield hit, move to second on an attempted pickoff, and score on Alex Fonseca's single.
The game was tied.
In the sixth the Bulldogs struck again. Blake Lalli fisted a bloop single just over Hutton's head at second, and Ward again had a one-run lead. That score held up until the eighth. Yes, the eighth that would not have even been part of the game last year.
It was an inning that Coach Tony Fossas called, "the ugliest I have ever seen", and Tony's seen a few innings.
Jonathan Shapland reached on a hard hit groundball ruled an error. Chris Akins then pinch ran and proceeded to do many things wrong, but managed to score the tying run. On a failed hit and run, Chris slid safely into second, where he nearly got picked off on the next play.
Then Bizzaro World began.
Robbie Widlansky hit a high flyball to left. Remember the wind?. The player inserted in left for defense didn't and overran the ball. Akins went back to tag instead of being halfway, and could only advance to third. Bases loaded nobody out .
The next pitch got past the catcher and everyone was screaming go, go! Akins hesitated just long enough to make it a bang-bang play at home. SAFE! Game tied. Cook was at third and Mascia at the plate is a good bunter.
I had forgotten that prior to the game, I was telling GWU coach Rusty Stroupe the story of the Boston College game, about how I expected them to squeeze because I would be squeezing in that situation. Well, Rusty remembered. As Cook broke for the plate and Mascia squared, Ward threw a perfect pitchout. Cook slammed on the brakes, blew a tire, and fell down. But luckily for us, the Bulldogs' third baseman was crashing on the play and he also fell. The shortstop had broken to second when he saw Mascia square to bunt, so there was no one at third. Cook got to his feet first and slid safely back into third.
Remember, I said it was ugly.
Mascia sruck out. But Alex Silversmith came up clutch and slapped a single to left. Cook managed to keep his feet and made it home with the go ahead run. After the game, Coach Fossas, who has a knack for mangling names, said that "Silversprinkles" saved the day.
We still needed three outs.
Mike Crotta was tough, as he pitched a career-high eight innings, and battled all the way.
That gave us a sweep of the doubleheader, as we had exploded for five runs in the first inning of the opener, and never looked back. Mike McKenna again was the big gun as he went 3-3 with four RBI's. Mike is getting more playing time beacause of a back injury to first baseman Jordan Hafer. Coach Roig keeps asking Jordan if he's ever heard of Wally Pipp.
Chris Salberg will be spending his meal money at the barbershop. Last week against UNLV, their rowdy fans were getting on Chris because of his curly hair that jutted out from under his cap. It's not relly very long, but it is unruly. I told Fossas that we needn't provide fuel to the opponents to use against Chris, so I wanted his hair cut real short. I showed him my son Luke's buzz cut as an example. (Luke decided to buzz a stripe through the middle of his head last week)
Chris's cut isn't as drastic, but he looks good. His stuff looked just as good on the mound as he carved up the Bulldogs through seven, striking out seven while surrendering two hits.
He has another barber appointment Thursday.
MANN OH MANN...
Sunday, Will Mann took the hill to try and give us a sweep. Will had been pitching in the number one spot, but the rain game in Vegas and the emergence of Crotta found him in the third game yesterday. If it bothered him there were no signs. Will threw a gem, surrendering only one run in the sixth, a run that by rights shouldn't have happened. He wound up pitching eight strong innings, scattering six hits while striking out four.
We led 4-1 and again signalled for Mickey Storey. Mick showed his human side as he surrendered a high drive to right by Blake Lalli to make it a one-run game. Just what I needed- more hair loss.
A groundout to short and two K's later, Mickey had his fifth save and we had our first sweep in conference play- thanks to the Presidents.
Mike McBryde had a good day as we needed to manufacture some runs. He stole four bases, scored three runs, and had two hits. Speed kills. Mike continually put pressure on the defense and that led to our runs. Now if that fracture will heal, we might start getting our money's worth out of Mike.