May 10, 2004
SWEEP HOME ALABAMA...
Ok- it's Sweet Home Alabama...but the word sweep works just fine for me. We had gone through seven conference series without a sweep until the three big wins in a crucial series at Troy State this past weekend. It has been a very frustrating conference season thus far. It seems that we have managed to lose a game whenever we felt we were in good shape. Maybe that's the key. Just maybe we need to feel as if our backs are to the wall in order to come up with a big weekend. Whatever the reason, we responded big time in Alabama this weekend.
The Atlantic Sun Conference has turned into a dogfight for second through sixth place. UCF is running away with first place just as we did a year ago. Stetson is second at 18-9, with us chasing them for second at 15-9. They would hold the tiebreaker thanks to that extra inning debacle in Deland. Troy was right behind us with 10 losses entering the weekend, so the pressure was on us. Add to that the hangover from the series sweep at Winthrop, and the Blue Wave was at ebb tide as we arrived in Troy.
I didn't sense that we were tight or worried about scoring runs, but I felt that way. A coach sometimes has to work hard not to show his true feelings. I was working so hard to mask my doubts, I missed the tension among the players.
Friday night we jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, only to see the Trojans grab a 4-2 advantage in the fifth. The way we have been scoring runs lately, we faced a worst deficit than George W.
In the top of the sixth, we loaded the bases with one out on three singles. Alex Fonseca worked an 0-2 count full, fouled off a pitch and then ripped a double to right driving in Brannon and Horst - tie game. Mascia led off third and Fons off second as Rob Orton stepped in the box. Bam - single past third scoring Gerber and Fons, 6-4 good guys. Four runs on six hits, who'd have thunk it?
All the pent up frustration of the past weekend spilled out of our dugout. To the Troy fans, it must have seemed like we won the World Series. I realized then that I wasn't the only one worried that we had forgotten the art of the big inning. There were twenty five guys on that same page.
Randy Beam smelled the win and things looked good for us. Then in the eighth, Troy loaded the bases with two outs. As much as I wanted to stick with the veteran, it was time to go get Beam.
Our new closer is Alan Knight. He hasn't ever been in this situation before. Bases juiced, the game, the weekend, and maybe the post season on the line. The Knight Rider was up to the challenge as he blew strike three past the Troy hitter.
We blew a squeeze sign in the top of the ninth and missed a chance to make it a three run lead. That just made things more interesting.
Alan Knight is used to pitching the eighth with a lead. He used to be the set up man. But now he is the man for the ninth to seal the win.
The Troy leadoff hitter Godwin singled and went to second on a passed ball. After a groundout , Casey O'Quinn drilled a single to center to make it a 6-5 lead. The next batter fouled out. Now all we had to do was retire the biggest lefthanded hitter in five states. Wade Miller is a great hitter who holds the Troy record for career home runs. The wind was blowing hard out to rightfield as Alan Knight stared in for the sign from Orton. I really didn't want to watch this. Our former hitting coach Jim Lyttle used to cover his face with his hat and look through the airholes. It's not as scary that way. I tried it. Miller hit a chopper to Fonseca at short. Game over. I put on my hat and headed for the hotel.
The worry for us in the series was the role of Troy closer Nat Moore. He was 7-0 and second in the nation with a 0.73 ERA. We knew Troy hoped to start him one game. I figured Bobby Pierce planned to relieve him in Game 1 and start him in Game 2. That's what I would do.
So the key to the first game was to score early and often, then hope for the best.
Naturally we fell behind 3-0 in the first inning. But last night's hero Alex Fonseca, delivered a three run bomb and we were tied at three. Troy managed to go back on top in the third and we again trailed.
Derek Hutton drew a leadoff walk in the fifth and appeared to be dead at second on a failed hit and run, when he used a tricky fade away pop up slide to evade the second baseman's tag. After a groundout moved Hutton to third, Coach Pearce went to the mound and summoned Moore. Against a drawn in infield, Jeff Fiorentio hit a tough goundball to the right of the firstbaseman who threw too late to the plate as Hutton slid in safely with the tying run.
While Moore was coming in from the pen, I told Rob Horst that he wasn't going to face him. Everything we heard about Moore said how tough he was on right handed hitters. Lefties seemed to have some success, although at 7-0 and 0.73, it wasn't much. I had freshman Jordan Hafer ready to pinch hit. As Hutton scored, I pointed at Horst and he put his head down and walked back to the bench. No..."You're going to hit him" I told Rob. He smiled and headed toward home plate. Hey...I'm entitled to change my mind, right?
Rob Horst has been great all year at second chances. He did it for us again. The dugout really exploded as Rob put us ahead on a two run bomb. I told Hafer he could sit down, we had gotten Horst mad, our job was done. That's our story and we're sticking to it.
Each team scored again and Knight was back on the hill with a two run lead. After a walk, an error, and a wild pitch, Alan got his second save in 17 hours as we held on to win 7-5. The good news was that Moore threw 41 pitches and couldn't start game three.
We grabbed a 6-1 lead in the second inning of the nightcap and never looked back!
Oh yeah- Jordan Hafer finally got to pinch hit. He launched a two run missile over the center field fence.
FAU 11 - TSU 1, time to head for the Outback! KC
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