June 9, 2009
Florida Atlantic University's baseball team won 30 games in 2009, posted its 11th-straight winning season and knocked its rival out of the postseason tournament. These accomplishments typically define successful college baseball seasons, but for FAU Baseball Head Coach John McCormack, it still was not the year he would have liked to see.
"We have to play at a higher level and we will," said McCormack, who took over as coach of the 2009 team after18 years as an assistant coach. "We're not happy with our record and finish. We expect more."
Striving for an NCAA Regional Tournament berth and a chance for his team to play on the national stage in June was not a far-fetched concept for McCormack, especially at FAU where the university's baseball team is recognized as one of the nation's best young programs. But that doesn't mean the Owls didn't make progress in 2009.
"We did make a lot progress," said McCormack. "We played very well down the stretch and in the conference tournament. A number of young guys played well, showing us they will be ready to go for upcoming year, which gives us a very good nucleus going forward."
FAU finished the season with a mark of 30-26, racing out to a 13-3 record which included a victory over the nationally-ranked University of Florida Gators in Gainesville - one of five FAU wins over NCAA Tournament teams.
"This team was very good in pressure situations. We were never scared or playing not-to-lose."
The Owls' best stretch of the year may have come in crunch time, claiming a pair of must-win Sun Belt Conference series to close out the regular season. The first came on the road at Arkansas State University, followed by taking 2-of-3 from rival FIU in front of its home crowd at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton.
"We had a slow start in conference, and toward the end of the year we really had to turn it on," said freshman catcher Mike Albaladejo, who would go on to earn all-league honors at the postseason tournament in Troy, Alabama. "This team was very good in pressure situations. We were never scared or playing not-to-lose."
Albaladejo went 7-for-12 in FAU's three postseason tournament games in Troy, helping the Owls rout FIU 16-6 and advance into the tournament quarterfinals before losing to eventual league champions Middle Tennessee State University.
Sophomore pitchers Mike Gipson and Glen Troyanowski also impressed in the closing weeks. Gipson was 2-0, saved a game and had 17 K's in his last four appearances of 2009. Troyanowski was virtually unhittable against FIU on May 15, a game which would assure the Owls of its postseason berth.
Both Gipson and Troyanowski have accepted invitations to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League this summer.
"It was good to see Mike [Gipson] and Glen [Troyanowski] throw so well down the stretch," said McCormack. "I think they both turned the corner and solidified roles for next year's team. Playing in the Cape this summer will no doubt add to their experience and development."
The pair highlights a talented group of pitchers expected to return in 2010. Freshmen left-handers Ahmed Garcia and Brent Adheen both earned spots in the weekend rotation and 6-foot-5-inch reliever Hugh Adams saved three games and won three others out of the bullpen.
"We believe in these young guys," says FAU pitching coach Jason Jackson. "Every one has pitched in big games and key spots already. We're looking for more consistency and confidence from them next year but there's certainly a lot to be excited about."
The Owls must find a way to make up for the loss of an accomplished group of 10 seniors, including seven offensive starters who provided nearly 75 percent of the team's RBI. Record-setting second baseman William Block finished his four-year career at FAU owning virtually every batting record in school history. No player started more games (222) had more hits (290), runs (221), RBI (191), total bases (498), at-bats (875) or assists (529). Block hit .337 as a senior in 2009, leading the team in extra-base hits (29), RBI (52) and runs (48).
Six other senior starters will be sorely missed. Leadoff hitter David Wilson batted .340 and scored 47 runs; first baseman Travis Ozga drove in 38 runs in 52 games; catcher Nick Criaris slugged .542; DH Tom Hatcher, along with Block, led the club in homers (9); outfielder Jeremy Griffiths finished the year on a 10-game hitting streak; and switch-hitting third baseman Troy Bubley hit .421 during FAU's 13-3 start.
Not only was the offense paced by FAU's final-year players, but senior Adam Morrison lead the pitching staff in games started (12) while senior relievers Alex Pepe and Chris Schmitt tied for the team lead in appearances (29).
"It certainly will be different without that senior class," says McCormack. "They played a big part in last year's team but it is exciting to have a new group. I look forward to fall practice and seeing a young hungry group looking to make there own mark on the program."
Ten incoming players, including three of the top junior college players in Florida, have committed to attend FAU in the fall and play for the Owls in spring 2010. The 2010 season will mark the 30th year of FAU baseball, and the Owls will be in search of its 12th-straight winning season.
"Our goals as a program do not change from year to year," says McCormack. "Our players are going to achieve at a high level in the classroom and on the field. We're going to need to take care of our Sun Belt weekend series. We expect to be playing in a regional and battling for one of the eight spots in Omaha."