May 28, 2005
ATLANTIC SUN TOURNAMENT- FINAL DAY
HATS OFF TO THE HEACOX AND THE HATTERS...
Ryan Heacox...Remember that name?
He's the right-handed pitcher who threw so well against us during the regular season, earning a win and a save over two days.
Today he took the mound in the championship game of the A-SUN Tournament and continued his mastery of our hitters. As I shook his hand at the end, I asked him to please tell me he's a senior. After six shutout innings, the big guy had done it again.
Pete Dunn and his staff did a great job, and their players responded with four great days of baseball. They deserve the trophy and the automatic NCAA bid that comes with it.
Also in line for recognition on a job well done is everyone involved with the administration of the tournament. Richard Skeel and his staff do an outstanding job in trying to anticipate, and meet the needs of all participating teams. Special thanks to Glenn Brickley and his medical staff for their efforts on behalf of two of our players. They treated them as aggressively, and carefully, as if they were their own.
Stetson beat us 8-0 in a game that was close until the sixth. But when you scratch out a mere four hits, it's tough to win. A pitching staff that had been in question throughout the season came up big at the end.
But things weren't all bad for the Blue Wave on a day that may be the last time that nickname and logo will be used. The first game against UCF was special.
Late in a tournament, everyone is looking for an extra pitcher; having lost starter Brandon Kloess, we were no different. Who would get the call against UCF in the first game, charged with the challenge of keeping our season alive?
At 1:30 am this today, just before Coach Fossas started snoring, the decision was made.
Chris Salberg would get the call.
The hard part was that we would be asking Chris to throw on two days rest.But we had pulled him after six innings and 65 pitches on Wednesday, with Saturday in mind. He also is one of those pitchers with an arm that is capable of being ready on short rest.
In baseball terms he has a "rubber arm".
The problem for me is that I'm aware that it's not really rubber. There are tendons, ligaments, and muscles surrounding those bones. In this day and age, there is a great deal of attention paid to maintaining the health of a pitcher's arm. In fact you can go to "Boyd's World", a web site where pitch counts and short rest appearances are chartered weekly.
My philosophy on this has evolved over the course of many years.
I was a pitcher who never said no to his coach. I often pitched in relief the day after a complete game. In my junior year, I was 6-2 with 5 saves, many of which were three or more innings.
But that was in a time long ago and a galaxy far, far away.
You have to really know yor pitcher and the type of arm he's got. There are many pitchers that should never be considered for something like this. They just don't have the physical capability.
How do you know? Good question. I think it's just a matter of observation. You see how the kid is after his starts, what sort of life is in his arm over the course of time between starts; you can just tell.
My rule of thumb on this is "Don't ask if you know he shouldn't be out there." I say that because usually the guy you want out there is a competitor-and competitors always say yes. I did when my arm ached. I just figured it was the best shot we had to win.
My memory isn't the greatest, but I think prior to Chris today, I have only done this twice in 18 years of college coaching.
The first was the opening and championship games of the 1987 NCAA Division III World Series. Brian Devins was a rubber-armed freshman lefty for Montclair State. He went five innings in both games, and our bullpen won in extra innings each time. Brian's Dad refused to change his underwear or socks during the series for luck. Needless to say, he had few people sitting near him at the end.
In 1994, FAU was in its first year of Division I competition. We were an independent that year and had a big righty named Marty Reinhart. As the season wound down, Marty's last two starts were wins aginst FIU at home and Florida on the road. We were closing out the season with a doubleheader at UCF. I asked Marty if he wanted to pitch one of the seven inning games on two days rest. He was all for it and pitched a great game to close out his college career on a roll.
Today, Chris Salberg became the third pitcher I asked to go on short rest.
In the pen, he told Coach Fossas that it was just like being back in Illinois in summer ball. He then went out and threw a gem to get us into the championship game, and possibly the NCAA tournament.
We had jumped in front thanks to a three-run bomb by Jonathan Shapland in the top of the first.
Throughout the week, the wind had been blowing across from left to right. Today it shifted in the opposite direction. But Jon crushed one into the teeth of the wind and there was no holding it.
In the UCF half, a fly ball lost in the sun led to two runs, and it looked like one of those back and forth games. But Chris buckled down and threw one of his best games. The best, if you factor in all that the game meant to our season. He had a great changeup today, to go along with a fastball that looked like he had more than adequate rest.
Alex Fonseca drove in another run in the third, and we had some breathing room at 4-2. The score stayed that way until UCF scratched out another run in the sixth, to draw within one.
Salberg had more than done his job. It was time to go to the pen. Actually, it was time to got to center field and get Mike McBryde in the game.
Mike gave up a leadoff single, but our third doubleplay of the day turned the inning around for us. Our defense was back, as Fonseca and Hutton were getting it done.
Shap came up big again in the ninth, as his double scored Mascia and put runners at second and third. A double play on a failed squeeze ended the inning, but we now led 5-3. Three outs by McBryde and we live to play for a championship.
I spent much of the ninth with trainer Andrea Harrison, plotting the course of action for treating Alex Fonseca for dehydration. Fons was cramping and would need a treatment strategy for between games.
We decided to put him in the training room, ice him down, and force fluids. I begged Richard Skeel to give us as much time between games as possible. Despite knowing that it may help us get a good player back in the lineup against his team, Richard agreed to an hour.
Fons had ice bags strapped on his ankles and shins, and stuffed in his drawers, as Andrea and Glenn Brickley hovered over him. I checked back twenty minutes later, and could tell by Fonzie's face that the news was bad. As Glenn explained the situation, noticed Alex's stomach muscles cramping. That's not good. His foot was already contorted by a cramp, and I knew he was headed to the hospital.
Alex has been down this road before. Last year he was hospitalized for five days prior to the conference tournament, and was unable to play. Glenn explained that his body's thermostat is just set higher than most others. That, and his lack of body fat, contribute to the problem.
He's fine now, as we roll home on Johnny's bus.
Daniel Cook played well in Alex's place- not an easy spot for a freshman backup player. Cookie delivered a hit and a stolen base and made all the plays in the field.
We weren't at full strength for this tournament, but that's life. We played well except for last night's defensive debacle, and our kids should be proud.
After the game I told them they did a great job in turning around a season that had started slowly. We were young and inconsistent, losing conference weekends, and causing people to question our heart and talent.
But the way we finished the last part of the season caught the attention of many in college basball. I just hope that the NCAA Committee has noticed. Our RPI is solid, we finished strong, and played to the championship game. 36-22...is that good enough?
What's good enough for me is the conversation I had with a fan during the second day of the tournament.
Ryan Sterling is a hard nosed, good little second baseman for Georgia State. His Mom was sitting a few seats from me as they played Troy. Mrs. Sterling introduced herself, and I told her that our coaching staff admired the way her son played the game.
She told me that we should be proud of the way our team plays.Mrs. Sterling said we looked like a real team, each playing for the other, and playing hard. She said no one should ever question our heart.
After they were eliminated, Mrs. Sterling sent me a gift- a little heart pin.
I showed it to our guys and kept it in my pocket throughout the rest of the tournament.
Maybe it helped. KC