May 27, 2004
Atlantic Sun Tournament - Day 2
Senior Day...Every team has a day at the end of the season that honors the departing seniors. The coach comes out and gives some sort of gift while the announcer says nice things about the players closing out their careers. Sometimes it must be a challenge for those who write the script to come up with something impressive to say about a player who has seen limited playing time during his career.
We were on the road for Senior Day at Mercer and Troy this year. Our guys were impressed by the framed uniform presented to each Mercer senior. We give our guys a baseball. I told them it was an NCAA violation to give a player his uniform. I'm not sure they believed me.
Yesterday turned out to be a big day for some of our seniors.
When we get to the postseason, I think the tendency is to lean heavily on your seniors. They are the guys whose careers could end this weekend. If anyone should be ready to play hard, it's a senior facing the realization that his life as an amateur baseball player is racing towards its end as quickly as Mike McBryde runs the bases.
Randy Beam did not make either first or second team All Conference. He had lost to Gardner-Webb earlier this season, and has not had the dominant season that made him an All American last year.
As he took the mound yesterday, in the blaring DeLand sun, he knew that if he did his job, we had the chance to stay in the winners' bracket. Everyone was aware that UCF had defeated Campbell in the first game, and had Matt Fox or Kyle Bono waiting to face the loser of our game. Those two guys are like the choice of a bullet or a bomb.
Randy pitched a gutty game. Two runs were scored on successive suicide squeeze bunts. He really got dinked in a late inning for another run. We managed to answer the Bulldogs each time and led 7 - 4 heading into the ninth.
Randy's pitch count was good, so I checked with catcher Rob Orton about Beam's stuff. Rob said Randy was good, but he had just reminded him to follow through more to prevent leaving pitches up in the zone. It's nice having a senior behind the dish.
I went to Randy and asked him how he felt. "I'm good." "Great?" "I'm great." "Can you beat these guys?" I could beat Clemens." " Could you beat me?" "Even you." I think he was more tired of the questions, but I knew he was the right guy for the job.
Two groundouts and a fly ball later, Beam was a winner.
Rob Horst has had a tough month. Losing your Mom and flying back to Nebraska and home again would take its toll on anyone. He has been pretty quiet at the plate over the last few series. I told him how L.J. Biernbaum had hit a similar slump in 2002, but bounced back to have one of the greatest regional performances imaginable in our championship at Alabama.
Rob told me not to worry. He was ready to play. After the Bulldogs scratched out two and closed to within a run, Rob stepped up and hit a bomb, making the score 4 - 2. He later had a sac fly and in the seventh drew a walk and raced safely into third on Widlansky's hit and run single. It was a hot day and Rob's not getting any younger, so I sent Joe Yeager to run for Horst at third. That run then scored on a perfect safety squeeze by senior Evan Brannon. Our lead was now four runs. They needed a grand slam to tie.
Evan Brannon has fought a sore back all season. At one point he lost his job at third base, but bounced back and played great until the last couple of weekends. We inserted Widlansky at third and he had a big series at Mercer. Evan handled it great. He was ready to jump back in at short when Fonseca melted last weekend.
Yesterday he started at shortstop and had a double and the clutch bunt RBI which extended our lead. GWU got a run back in the eighth, so Evan's bunt loomed even larger. But his biggest contribution may have been the play he made up the middle with a runner at second, and a run already across in the eighth.
Evan went behind the bag and got to a ball that I felt he had little chance of reaching. In the space of an inning he had knocked in a run with his bat and saved one with his glove. It's nice to have a senior shortstop.
Rob Orton has missed most of his senior year because of elbow surgery. He had some clutch pinch hits including a home run with two outs in the ninth against FIU. It's been good to have Rob back in the lineup the last few weekends. He can really handle a pitching staff, blocks well, and can throw.
Robbie was on base three out of five times yesterday, and drove in a big run for us late in the game. But he really controlled the game and made some key blocks with runners on base.
Last year's MVP, Rusty Brown has also had a tough year. A fractured ankle kept him out for the first half, and affected his play upon returning. Rusty has come on strong the last few weeks, and has moved back into the cleanup spot in our lineup. (He reminded me at Mercer that he is hitting .380 in his career when batting fourth. Hey...I listen to these guys sometimes.)
Always a big game player, Rusty had two hits and an RBI yesterday in a real big game. He is another guy who knows what it takes to win championships and I'm glad he's back.
So every senior in yesterday's game had a big hand in our 7 - 4 win.
Tonight we play Stetson in the 7:00 pm game. Mercifully, the sun will go down and we will play in relatively cooler conditions.
I hope our seniors stay hot. KC
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