May 8, 2006
AN EARLY POST SEASON...
Going into this weekend I told our guys that the post season was already here. Our three game conference series with Lipscomb University had to be viewed in that light if we wanted to be playing when the tournament actually rolls around. It was imperative that we win this series, but a sweep would have been great.
The first game looked good for us Friday night, as we jumped in front early and cruised to a 10-6 victory. Tim Mascia led our early offense, going 3-for-3 with a triple and two rbi's. Tyler Stevens did a good job in his first game at first base, making several nice plays and driving in a couple of runs. Mike McKenna returned to the lineup for the first time since March 14th and looked good at the plate getting robbed twice while managing one single.
Mickey Storey held the Bisons scoreless through the first five, surrendering only one unearned run through six innings. Will Mann did a great job at the end, in silencing a late Lipscomb rally, as the big senior made his first relief appearance in six weeks.
Saturday brought another doubleheader. We sure have played our share of those this year. Our conference still allows the format if one school balks at playing over three days. The Lipscomb administration chose to invoke the doubleheader rule despite the fact that the team was not leaving until Sunday anyway. Last year we spent the extra day in Nashville in order to play the series over three days.
What's good for the goose is supposed to be good for the gander- or so my Dad told me.
Brandon Cooney was on the hill and looked real sharp in the first. He pitched out of a jam in the second but looked real winded in the dugout afterwards. I don't know what happened, but his stuff dropped off and he had a rough third inning surrendering four unearned runs. Our defense really hurt us but the big guy seemed to be struggling all day.
We were down 6-2 but fought back to tie things up in the fifth.
Our momentum slammed to a halt as Ryan Mitchell homered to lead off the 6th, and it was all downhill from there. The final score was 11-6, and we faced a do-or-die situation in the nightcap.
Our bullpen had been stretched a little thin in the first game, so we really needed a good outing from Joel Schmal, who was back in the rotation for his second chance as a starter. Joel had just finished a torrid 10 days of school work to pull up his GPA , and now he hoped to have the same success on the mound.
He didn't disappoint.
Schmal threw a gem, retiring the first batter in each inning except the sixth. On a hot, humid day, the big lefty from Indiana made it look easy as he took a 6-1 lead into the ninth.
But then things got interesting as our defense suddenly showed its dark side.
Joel hung tough, but he looked like Ali during the Thrilla in Manila. I swear he was staggering as he induced what appeared to be a bases loaded, game ending, groundball to second base. Game over...almost. The throw popped out of the first baseman's glove, bringing the winning run to the plate.
I threw nine complete games my senior year (relief pitching had yet to be invented) so I really felt for Joel as I went to the mound and took the ball from him. But, at this time of the year, more than any other, personal feelings don't matter as much as the team's well being.
Chris Eberhart came in and got his first save, and Schmall got a big win.
Some clutch hitting by Hafer and Ozga, coupled with a great Arata bunt, and a triple by our defensive replacement Mario Duarte, had increased our lead to 7-1 entering the ninth. As things turned out we needed every bit of that breathing room.
The A-Sun race for the tournament might be the most interesting in college baseball. As of today, two teams (ETSU and Stetson) are tied for fourth and fifth place, and four teams (Gardner-Webb, FAU, Lipscomb, and Campbell) are tied for sixth place. However, North Florida, in second, is ineligible for the tournament because of their reclassification to Division I. That moves Mercer to second, ETSU (by virtue of the tie-breaker) to third, Stetson to fourth, Gardner-Webb (by virtue of a tie-breaker) to fifth, and FAU (by virtue of the tie-breaker) is in sixth.
My friend, Rusty Stroupe and his Gardner-Webb Bulldogs, share the same two final opponents- Stetson and East Tennessee, with us. Because they won our series, Gardner Webb would eliminate us if we finished tied for the sixth spot. Our job is to fare one game better than the Bulldogs over the final six games. We also must do at least as well as Lipscomb.
Whatever...my mind has trouble processing all this. We need to just win.
A BIG WEEKEND IN THE FAU FAMILY...
While we were busy winning our series with Lipscomb, a few other important events occurred this weekend.
On Thursday, Tommy Murphy got called up to the Big Leagues by the Angels. Tommy was the shortstop on our 54-9, 34 consecutive win team in 1999. He signed in 2000 and has been plugging away in hopes this day would come. Murph was never known as the most optimistic person, but last fall he said to Coach McCormack, "I know I can play this game." After going 2-4, driving in a run, and making ESPN's Web Gems in his first game, I'd say he was right.
Tommy was one of the most gifted athletes ever to wear an FAU uniform. He did things on the field that amazed people. Yet, he had a shy smile, and an easy way about him that made everybody like him. He's now a switch-hitting outfielder, and a proud father of two boys. He and Deborah have paid their dues and deserve all the good that arrived this weekend.
Graduation rolled around on Friday and three former players earned their sheepskins.
I tried to talk him out of both.
Derek had a great career. As a freshman, he scored the winning run against Alabama in the regional championship game. As a senior, he was our captain and taught our guys a few things about class. His parents should be proud.
Jason Doherty saw limited time as a reliever last season, but hoped to be our situational lefty this year. Unfortunately, just before the season started, Jason's Dad was hospitalized and was out of work for quite some time. Mr. Doherty is fine now and living in Tennessee, but Jason had to quit the team and go to work. He taught us a few things about sacrifice.
I hope our guys were paying attention.
The other occasion Saturday was my daughter Maggie's First Holy Communion.
Sitting in church watching Maggie and the rest of the little girls in their beautiful white dresses and veils, and the little boys in black suits and white ties, become practicing members of their religion was a moving experience. I thought back to 1958, and saw myself in a white suit with white buck shoes, hair greased back with O'Dell's Hair Trainer, making faces in every picture my parents took with our little black and white Kodak Brownie.
Why didn't I take things as seriously as Maggie? As she walked down the aisle, hands folded like Mother Terese in prayer, I did the math on the next time I'd see her in this same setting, white dress and all.
Will I live to be 75-80, so she doesn't walk down that aisle alone?
I hope so. KC