May 30, 2004
Atlantic Sun Tournament Day 4
Day four has come and gone,and I am home with my two kids bugging me to play ball with them. Since 1995, the day after the end of our conference tiournament hasn't been the happiest. But all that changed yesterday in a record shattering performance by the 2004 Atlantic Sun Tournament Champions of Florida Atlantic.
By defeating Troy State by a score of 21-2, Florida Atlantic broke a 22-year old record for most runs in a championship game, set a record for the largest margin of victory in a championship game, and our 27 hits established a new mark for hits in any tournament game.
I guess we made it worth the wait.
In 1996 we laid the foundation for our program by playing to the final day. Before that game,I told our seniors that I didn't care if we won. They had brought our program so far in only its third year in Division I, that I was proud enough of what they had accomplished. Later, I saw that my Louisville Slugger contract had a $2500 bonus for winning the conference championship. Had I realized that, I would have given a different speech.
In 2002 we lost an extra inning championship game. It was on that day that I finally got over the fear of seeing my son pitching for us with the game on the line. I remember getting a drink while he warmed up in the ninth and thinking that he might be the losing pitcher in the championship game. As I walked back to my chair I knew Jim was the right guy to use and maybe would be the winner. He was neither that day, but we went on to win a regional at Alabama, and continued building on what those 1996 seniors had started.
Thanks to yesterday, Rusty Brown, Matt O'Brien, and Robbie Orton will leave Florida Atlantic with three rings. These three guys have been an integral part of winning an NCAA Regional, a regular season Atlantic Sun championship, and now an Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
Yesterday was special.
Troy picked up in the first, where they had left off the night before, putting runners on and threatening to score. They had rallied for seven runs in the eighth to beat UCF after eliminating Stetson. Now they had loaded the bases against our starter Will Mann.
The big righthander from Palm Beach Lakes HS had started four games for us this season. He hadn't pitched past the fifth in any start and had been used sparingly the past month. But last Friday he came in and shut the door against Mercer after they had turned a laugher into a tight game. His performance that night gave me the confidence he could give us some solid innings against the Trojans.
But Will is a sinkerball pitcher and the infield in DeLand is harder and faster than the track at nearby Daytona Speedway. I didn't like that part of the matchup.
Stepping up to the plate was big Wade Miller. I have seen him crush a few balls in the four years and ten games we have played against him and his Alabama friends. Will got two stikes, wasted a pitch, and then delivered a fastball that Wade hit like a rocket. Luckily he hit it right at Will's glove. I don't know what was louder- the crack of the bat or the whack of the ball in Will's glove. Pitching and defense wins championships they say.
We scored four runs in the first and I really had to go to the bathroom. We are now card carrying hydration fanatics. But a 53-year old man needs a few extra trips to the head as a result.
The dugout bathroom was occupied, so the inning was nearly started when I got in there. I heard our dugout cheering and knew Will had gotten the first out. I decided we didn't need to change our luck. Luckily it was a quick inning and I finally got back outside. Coach Mac suggested I stay in there the rest of the game.
We scored another in the second on a Rob Horst single and Will again set them down.
The third started our assault on Troy. Much to the dismay of our trainer Elaine, we didn't have Brad Pitt, but we had a few other guys. Orton, McBryde, and Fiorentino singled. Hutton doubled and Mascia singled. Then Rusty Brown further solidified his rep as a big game guy with a three-run bomb over the scoreboard, and the lead was 11-0.
Will Mann stayed solid and in the fourth we were back at it. Evan Brannon reached on an error, Orton singled, McBryde singled and Firentino and Hutton did the same. Guess who was up after Mascia made the first out? Rusty Brown wiggled his bat awaiting a good pitch, and then bang!
I usually watch the ball go out, but this time I watched Rusty. As he rounded first I looked up and saw his Mom. She was standing up with her hands on her face. She reminded me of Glenn Close watchin Roy Hobbs in the Natural. As Rusty rounded second I could see her crying. There is crying in baseball after all.
We scored four more times in the fifth and then just started counting outs. The tournament photographer later complained that we didn't give him a celebration to shoot. The outcome was not in doubt, but I also think our guys felt so confident this week, that they expected to win
Needless to say Rusty Brown was MVP. He was joined by Chris Saxton, Derek Hutton, Tim Mascia, ans Evan Brannon on the All Tournament Team. How Mike McBryde was left off, I don't know. He hit .500 and threw out two UCF runners at home to keep us in that game.
Before I go, a word about Evan Brannon. "Soup" has had a great year, but its been a struggle. He has had four epidurals to control a painful back. He never complains when he doesn't start, and with the loss of Alex Fonseca, Evan proved to be the savior for us this week. He played flawlessly at shortstop, executed a perfect squeeze bunt against Gardner Webb, chopped a head high fastball through the infield on a hit and run in the first inning yesterday. He made the difficult play look routine, and made every routine play that came his way. I can't overstate his value to this championship. His story will be one that is told to future players for years to come.
So what is left to say?
I wnat to thank our players for their great effort. After a season of ups and downs they won twelve of their last fourteen games and brought home an elusive championship. Coach Roig worked hard in preparing his pitchers and planning strategy, Micky Celli was there with Mac for our hitters.
But the guy that really wanted this championship the most was Coach John McCormack.
As one of the best recruiters alive, Mac is the point guy in selling this program to young men. This championship was haunting him. Our failure to win it was used against us and he was the guy trying to spin the story our way.
As that baseball fan in Baltimore, Edgar Alan Poe said..."Nevermore". KC