Diamond Diary by Kevin Cooney



May 27, 2005

ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT DAY THREE
THE STOREY REMAINS THE SAME...

Way back in February, we discovered that Mickey Storey just might be something special. He entered our game against Cincinnati on opening night and dominated over the last four innings, until we could score in the 13th.

Since that time, Mickey has been a model of consistency. He served as a setup guy for Mike McBryde, alternated as a closer, and then became our closer when McByde fractured his thumb. When Mac returned to the mound, we put Storey in the number one spot in our rotation. The result was a kid who hasn't had a bad outing, on his way to a 9-1 record with 7 saves.

My way of looking at life revolves around the law of averages. So naturally, I was scared that last night would be the bad game that was due. It's not normal for a freshman to be so consistent and so dominant, and Storey was going against a great hitting team.

But, the skinny kid from Deerfield doesn't think like an old man. These games are fun for him. The challenge of facing Stetson in the atmosphere of a big home crowd, and the pressure of game two doesn't faze a young man whose life has been a little tougher than most.

Mickey was up to the challenge-and more.

Two hours and sixteen minutes, 116 pitches, four hits, seven strikeouts, and zero runs later, Mickey's telling reporters that the close games are fun to pitch, and he felt untouchable in the eighth and ninth. Sweet youth.

The real victim in the story was Stetson starter Nathan Nery.

The big lefty was matching Storey pitch for pitch. But in the 6th, Jordan Hafer ripped a ball past second baseman Chris Johnson that the official scorer, Ray Charles, ruled an error, giving us a leadoff baserunner.

Mike McByde pushed a bunt to fist base, and the Stetson fielder made the mistake of initially glancing at second before throwing to first. McBryde was timed Wednesday at 3.6 to first by some scouts, so any hesitation can cost you.

We now had runners at first and second.

Lefty Tim Mascia got the bunt sign and bounced one to the third base side of the mound.

In this defense, the third baseman's job is to read the bunt, and charge if it's hard or stay at the bag if the pitcher can field it. The Stetson kid charged, but the pitcher fielded the ball and turned and threw to third. Justin Hafer slid safely past the attempted tag by the retreating third baseman.

We had the bases loaded-no one out.

Here was our chance to break the game open. Alex Fonseca stepped in- his last bat, he crushed a ball that the wind kept in the park. We needed Fons to drive another.

Nery was up to the challenge, geting Fonseca on a high chopper to third, but Hafer was able to score and we had a lead. One run with Storey might be enough.

After an intentional walk and a strikeout, catcher Justin Martin was our hope to increase the lead.

Back in mid-March, I had a little talk with Marty.

He hadn't been playing as well as he should. I told him the other two catchers were moving past him and he needed to turn things up a notch. Some guys respond to that sort of challenge- some fold their tent.

Justin was brought up the right way.

As our conference season got in high gear at that same time, so did Justin Martin. As we played through April, I started referencing our conference stats, rather than our overall numbers. We were playing very few non conference games, so those numbers were more indicative of who was playing well.

Justin was one of our leading hitters in conference play. In the month of May, he's batting .444. I'd say he took our conversation to heart.

Nery went after Marty with the sacks juiced, and looked to be in control. With two strikes, however, Justin drilled a single to right and McBryde and Mascia raced home to give us a 3-0 lead.

I told Mickey we needed his best inning right here. Don't let any momentum switch back to the Hatters' dugout. Mick gave us his best then, and repeated it by striking out the side in the eighth.

The ninth would bring the top of the order and the speedy Shane Jordan. We'd been able to keep him off base all night, which is one key to beating Stetson. A groundball to Storey and we needed two more outs.

Nothing hard is ever easy.

After the second out, Brian Bocock singled to bring up Chris Johnson, the league's leading hitter and Freshman of the Year.

I was thinking more about Braedyn Pruitt, the next hitter. If Johnson reached base, the left handed swinging Pruitt would represent the tying run with the wind blowing hard toward the rightfield foul pole.

Pruitt had already hit one deep ball off Mickey earlier, and I really didn't like the matchup. We had already warmed up McBryde, so I might be faced with a decision I would rather avoid.

The walk to the mound to take the ball from Storey would be a tough one to make, but it would be the right thing to do.

Johnson worked the count to 3-1 and took a big hack at a fastball, fouling it back for strike two. Decision time for Coach Fossas- do you risk walking Johnson by trying to beat him with a curveball, or go right at him with a fastball?

When you've got an "Uncle Charlie" like Storey's, that decision is a little easier. Mick broke off a nasty yakker for strike three. We're still in the winners' bracket.

A great game came down to little things. Snap decisions on two bunts, and a clutch basehit made the difference.

Now we have to wait all day and play the winnr of the Stetson - Gardner-Webb 11 am game. UCF and Troy play at 3 pm, with the winner advancing to the championship game. Yesterday saw shutouts in all three games- not the usual scenario in a conference tournament.

We need to win tonight to give ourselves the best chance at an NCAA at-large bd. Our goal is to win the tournament and automatically qualify, but we need to be positioned as well as possible in the event we don't.

Our RPI is 37 in one opinion, and 36 in another. There are two websites run by the smartest math guys around, who try to mirror the NCAA geeks that compute the official RPI. Being in the 30's gives us a shot.

But we only have 35 wins. We have played three fewer schduled games than most teams, so there are a lot of schools with more wins. The NCAA looks hard at a team's last ten games as a consideration for selection. We are 8-2 in that stretch. Should we win tonight, that mark changes to 9-1.

Once again, we're going to Will Mann to pitch a crucial post-season game. Last year it was the tournament championship final, and an elimination game against NC State in the NCAA regional. Each time the big guy from Palm Beach Lakes High answered the challenge.

Tonight, Will needs to be the man. KC

 

 

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