Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



April 8, 2005

HALFWAY HOME.

That's not a reference to suspended steroid users; it's the mid-point of our conference schedule with Belmont University coming to town. As we enter the fifth weekend of A-Sun play, a look at the standings is appropriate.

UCF and Troy are tied for 1st place with 9-3 records, Mike Hurst's Georgia State boys are in 3rd at 10-5, and Mercer is in sole possession of 4th with an 8-7 record. Stetson and FAU are tied at 6-6, with the Hatters in 5th by virtue of their series win over us two weeks ago. JU, Lipscomb, GWU, Belmont, and Campbell trail the six leaders. The top six get to the conference tournament in Deland.

Belmont has a respectable 16-13 record, but like us has been less than stellar in A-Sun play. Last season we had three great games, capped off by a game ending triple play and a mad dash to the Nashville Airport. Coach Jarvis always brings an aggressive style of play to town to challenge any team's defense.

Each series will be a key one from this point forward. We need to get back on a winning track, and make a move up in the standings. The schedule shows little relief after this and next week, as we then play the four teams above us. All you mathematicians out there should be able to figure we need a sweep or two in the next two weeks. Sweep? We haven't won a series in the last three tries. Be that as it may, a sweep is our goal.

Setting that high a standard is ambitious for a young team that has shown such inconsistency. But as I told our kids in practice yesterday, we have shown signs of getting better each week. There is no reason for us to quit on ourselves and assume we can't do what we've set out to do.

What are the signs to look for in our team?

Well, our starting pitching needs to be more consistent. We have good arms, but need each guy to give us five strong innings. We then need to finesse the 6th and ride Storey and McBryde through the remainder of the game. That duo has been tough so far.

We need to play better defense. At times we've been outstanding, but if your starters sometimes have to get five outs instead of three, they'll rarely have the lead we want for the bullpen to protect.

Our clutch hitting will have to continue the improvement it's shown. We are gradually getting better at the plate. Tim Mascia seems to have found his stroke, and Tyler Stevens and Bobby DiLoberto have given us a boost. Mike McKenna has been a real pleasant freshman surprise. Mac's leading the team in hitting and carries an OPS of .900.

Most importantly, we need to believe in ourselves. That seems simple enough, but for a young team, it's a little tougher. Instead of waiting for the other shoe to drop, our kids need to keep an aggressive mindset and approach the entire game positively.

Last night I attended a Sports Auction sponsored by our Athletic Department. A number of people approached me and seemed as though they wanted to console me over our performance this season. I guess we've spoiled people the past five years, but I don't feel that this is a lost season. Everyone else seemed to have that outlook.

It has been different. I don't see our names in the national polls, and a look at our record would indicate that an at large selection to the NCAA tournament is not likely. However there is a lot of season to play, and the schedule, though difficult, presents as much opportunity as it does challenge.

The baseball season, like life, is often a long, strange trip .We need to get up each morning and face that day's challenge, prepared to make our mark in the world. Right now it's the world of baseball.

Like the song says:

Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop,

I'll be on that hill with everything I got,

Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost,

I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost.

The cost of working out, practicing, studying, and each game, trying to get better, the dream of winning and attaining the team goal of a championship, that's what's on the line the rest of the way.

We were 6-6 last year at this time, and won the conference tournament. KC

SUNDAY MORNING APRIL10.

So much for a sweep- we split a doubleheader yesterday, keeping us at .500 in the conference. Our Friday night game was rained out necessitating another twin bill.

The first game looked promising as Chris Salberg looked sharp early. Chris was carving up the Bruin hitters until the fifth. Suddenly our 3-0 lead became a 5-3 deficit as Belmont connected for two home runs and took a lead they never relinquished.

In the second game, the Bruins rapped out nine hits and four runs through the first four innings to take a 4-1 lead. We came back to regain the lead in the bottom frame, as Mascia doubled and was driven in by Brian Lipman. After a Tyler Stevens single and a fielder's choice by Justin Martin, Mike McBryde drilled a hanging slider over the left field fence for a 5-4 lead.

We went to Mickey Storey in the fifth. I was determined to stop the Belmont offense and give us more time to score. They tied the game on a throwing error, but we came back again in the sixth on McBryde's second homer of the day. Mickey continued to mow down the Bruins and we exploded for six more runs in the 7th to put the game away.

So today we're still faced with the same uncertainty that the series originally presented. Will Mike Crotta go out and give us the starting performance we so desperately need? Will our defense return after our five error performance in yesterday's win?

We'll know in a few hours.

SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY.

The tragedy of losing is nothing compared to the real tragedies of life, but to those that compete in the arena, for a time, it's close. Everything we stressed as important on Friday came up short for us today.

We hoped to hold Belmont down early; instead they jumped out in the first by two. Our guys came back to knot it in the bottom and then take a one run lead on Brian Lipman's home run in the second. That lead was short lived as the Bruins put up a two spot in the third.

Then the fifth was a dagger in the heart as Brandon Kloess appeared to have pitched out of a jam, only to get burned by a three run shot by Kane Simmons. Meanwhile Justin Jordan settled in and did a good job of keeping us off base. In the ninth, we scored two and got the tying run to the plate, but again came up short.

Now we'll let the dust settle and see where we stand.

Next weekend we're in Music City against Lipscomb. This week will be one to regroup, retool, and refocus. It's obvious where we seem to be short and those areas will be addressed. There's still time to right the ship.

But there are tough seas ahead. KC

 

 

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