Kevin Cooney is in his 17th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic University and 21st overall. Each week, he’ll share some of the highs and lows of running a college baseball program - one that continues to grow as a national power. Cooney, who starred as a pitcher before taking Montclair State to a Division III national title, has guided the Blue Wave to a 226-89 record and four NCAA Regionals the past five years. His 1999 squad won 34 straight games, tying the NCAA mark set by Texas in 1977.



March 9, 2004

Baseball is Boring? What are They Smoking?


The Florida Turnpike Series


After winning the first two games of the four-game set with Florida International, we headed down the Turnpike to Miami for Game 3 on Saturday night.


We managed to win 13-5, but the score tells you nothing about the game.


Matt O’Brien was on the mound, and we felt good about our chances. But in the second inning, FIU unloaded on Matt with back-to-back jacks, and we were down two and looking shaky. O’Brien hadn’t shown any feel for his breaking ball, and high heat won’t get it done if the hitter can sit on it.


But like a heavyweight fighter who gets knocked down early, Matt hung tough, found his curve and split-finger, and started carving up the Golden Panthers. In the sixth, FIU fought back to load the bases with one out. O’Brien reached back and delivered a 93 mph knockout punch, getting a big strikeout . Then on a two-and-two count, Matt showed his fielding prowess as he snagged a line drive headed up the middle to end the threat.


Meanwhile, we had some other guys staggering.


Derek Hutton looked bad in striking out twice, but he came off the ropes with a three-run blast over the scoreboard that may have landed on the Palmetto Expressway. That gave us a 3-2 lead.


The next dazed fighter to bounce back was Anthony Albano.


Two strikeouts against the FIU lefty had Anthony looking terrible. One more time, he stepped in the box with men on and us nursing a one-run lead.


But Albano delivered a stinging left hook and drove in our fourth run to give us some breathing room as we entered the late rounds of the fight.


Mark Culp replaced Matt O’Brien and continued the drama as the Panthers loaded the bases with two outs and Culp struggling to find his curve ball. On a 2-2 count, Mark pumped a fastball across the inside corner, and the threat was over.


In the eighth, we loaded the bases and Jeff Fiorentino walked to the plate with a righty on the mound and two southpaws warming in the pen. Ich, a left-handed hitter, is seeing lefties in his sleep. He walked to the batters’ box with one eye on the FIU dugout. But the Panthers stuck with their best reliever, and Jeff launched a grand slam to right and turned a close fight into a knockout win!


Sunday in Boca…


The rare 4 p.m. start gave both teams a chance to get some sleep and start fresh in the final game. It was nice to be able to go to mass with my family again. Each Sunday, we’ve played an early game, and I’ve missed being with them.


Little did anyone know that by 8 p.m., we’d have played one of the most dramatic games ever!


Each team scored a run in the first, and then the pitchers took control. Mike Crotta continued to give us quality starts on Sundays. The big freshman is a battler. The FIU kid was equal to the task, and it began to look as if no one would score again.


We went to our closer, Chris Saxton, in the seventh. Hughes and Culp were scratched, and we felt Saxy would be good for the duration. A bad call at first base began the ninth, and the Panthers pounced on their opportunity, scoring three big runs.


We were in the ninth, facing Mark Worrell and his 94 mph heater. He’s a tough guy to hit, but he has a penchant for walking guys and getting his fastball up.


With two outs, we had runners on first and second, and I needed a pinch-hitter.


Senior Robby Orton has a sore arm, which has limited his playing time this season. A MRI has failed to pinpoint the problem, so we play Rob when it feels well enough. I hate seeing a senior sitting on the bench when he’s been a starter and valuable player since his freshman year. Rob’s strongest asset is not his hitting, but he is a good fastball hitter. He is an especially good high-fastball hitter.


So we got a matchup I felt favored us. Worrell threw a slider first pitch for Ball 1. Then he made his mistake. A fastball up and a scud launched over the left-field fence - tie game. Orton got us off the respirator!


Alan Knight took the mound for us.


Each player submits music for our PA guy, Kevin Kelleher, to play when they enter the game. Jason Costello pulled a switch on Knight, and gave Kevin the theme from Knight Rider instead!


Alan pitched well, but in the 12th, FIU hooked a bomb around the right-field foul pole and, we were back in intensive care.


How many times do you hear people complain that baseball is boring? What are they smoking?


With Fiorentino on third, freshman Jordan Hafer was inserted to pinch hit and keep us alive. It’s a tough spot for anyone, but Jordan has rarely ever pinch hit. Facing some serious heat, Jordan laid off some borderline pitches and drew a walk off Worrell.


That brought up Anthony Albano. Two innings earlier, Anthony laced a drive to right-center that Diaz robbed with a game-saving, diving catch. Now, with the tying and winning runs on base, Anthony was our two-out last hope.


Whack!! With two strikes, Albano whistled a line drive toward the left-field corner. Chalk flew in the air as the ball hit the foul line. (If it’s a FAIR ball, shouldn’t it be a FAIR line?) As the ball rattled around the corner, I prayed that it wouldn’t roll under our Sanford and Son gate for a ground-rule double. Big old Jordan Hafer came rumbling toward third as Coach Roig waved him home.


We kid Jordan because he perspires a lot - a real lot. Maybe all that sweat cuts down the wind resistance. Anyway, Hafer arrived at the plate a split second before the ball, and the celebration was started.


Beating a team three times in a week is always tough to do.


Beating a team four times in five days is nearly impossible. Nearly.




Previous Entries

Hanging with LaRussa was in the Cards (3/6/04)

Winds of Change (3/1/04)

Washington's Birthday (2/23/04)

Dugout Talks and Scouting Reports (2/21/04)

Not a Happy Valentine's Day (2/16/04)

Opening Weekend (2/9/04)

Almost FAMUs (2/2/04)

FAU Living in Land of Hope and Dreams (1/28/04)


(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)