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.



April 13, 2004

OB Gets CG for FAU vs. UCF




Matt O’Brien is a senior pitcher who had never been sent out by me to pitch the ninth inning of any game he had started at FAU. Last night was not supposed to be any different. But thanks to a clutch two-strike, two-out, two-run single by Rob Horst, OB was in my face pleading his case. The go-ahead run hadn’t even crossed the plate when Matt was yelling at me: "Let me finish this!"

I had already alerted the bullpen that closer Chris Saxton would be in if we took the lead. On the relay from the outfield, Jeff Fiorentino was tagged out to abruptly end the inning. I pushed OB away from me, and he sprinted to the mound. Reaching for the bullpen phone, I saw Saxton come through the gate and start jogging toward the mound. I didn’t think we could use two pitchers at once, so we frantically waved Saxton off the field.

Saxton is a good closer, and this was the spot to use him. Everything in my mind told me this was the wrong decision, but my heart and gut said not to worry. As OB went 3-0 to the first batter, my mind started drowning out my heart. After a full count and three foul balls, the UCF batter grounded to Hutton for the first out. OB seemed to really smell the win, and he got the next two guys quickly to end an amazing game.

Anyone who saw the first two innings had to be impressed with Matt O’Brien. The second inning was a disaster with an infield error, a wild pitch, a wild pickoff throw, three UCF hits and six runs - all sandwiched around a 37-minute rain delay.

It looked as though OB would not be around much longer. But he settled down and held the Knights in check the rest of the way while our guys started chipping away at the lead. It didn’t look promising against Kyle Bono and his 1.00 ERA and undefeated record. But our guys kept grinding.

We finally got a big hit from Rob Horst, as he lined a two-run shot over the right-field fence to make it 6-4 in the fifth. Things were looking better. We turned two big double plays, one on a bunt fielded beautifully by Robbie Widlansky, aided by a great scoop at first base by Evan Brannon.

In the seventh, we cut the lead to one and set the stage for a dramatic eighth inning comeback.

We sent Mike McBryde up to pinch-hit. With two strikes, he bounced a ball up the middle. Mike can fly, and he easily beat the throw, which got past the first baseman, putting McBryde at second base.

Freshman catcher Justin Martin stepped in and laid down a perfect bunt to advance McBryde. Martin was safe at first on a throwing error. A short passed ball to Derek Hutton looked like it would tie the game. But McBryde hesitated before breaking for the plate. He who hesitates is out. Martin moved to second, and Hutton struck out. Mascia and Fiorentino each walked.

Old Man Horst stood in and put our entire team on his back. The first two pitches were sliders for strikes, then a slider for a ball. I was just praying the pitcher would try to come inside and maybe hit Rob by mistake. He came in alright, but Horst ripped a single to left, and we had the lead. You know the rest.

Saturday: Rising from the Dead

As the rest of the world prepared for Easter Sunday and the end of Passover, we had to face UCF pitcher Matt Fox. This kid is having the best season of any pitcher in the Atlantic Sun and most other conferences in the country. We hoped that Randy Beam would be a good matchup for us, and we could win a close game. But Randy had an off day, and UCF jumped on him early. To make matters worse, our defense again failed us.

We dug a hole too deep to escape against a pitcher the caliber of Fox. We scored a few late runs to finish the first game with an 8-3 loss.

The first game of any doubleheader is tough to lose. This was worse because of what happened last weekend at Stetson and the ease with which UCF scored on us in the opener. You never know how your team is going to react in trying to change a losing mindset to a winning one in a half hour’s time.

I was trying to write out a lineup that would work some magic, but I kept being distracted by the Easter Egg Hunt unfolding in our outfield. There were little kids running everywhere. Coach McCormack was frantically calling to his sons Conor and Shaen in an effort to have them get over to the first-base side of the field. The mob of rug rats had enveloped right field and center, and Mac knew there were eggs to be found in left. One of our guys told Mac he was cheating. The wise father replied that "It’s better to cheat than to suffer the whining later."

My kids were banned from the hunt by their Mother because of their behavior during the first game. Luke was playing catch with one of our guys in front of the dugout and seemed nonplussed by his punishment. He was covered head to foot in mud, so I had some insight into his transgression.

Mike Crotta came out strong on the mound and set the right tone to bring us back to life. We scored two in the bottom half as Evan Brannon and Jeff Fiorentino singled. Rob Horst reached on a run-scoring error, and Tim Mascia knocked in Fiorentino. Our defense again reared its ugly head, and we quickly gave back those runs. There looked like no way out of the tomb for us.

Tied at two in the fifth of this seven-inning game, we rose up and loaded the bases with three straight hits. Freshman catcher Justin Martin delivered a clutch three-run double, and we were back on top for good. In the sixth, we added two more for good measure.

So, Easter weekend ended with a big series win against an outstanding team. I know that I felt much better this Sunday than last. We have our work cut out for us in our conference, but this weekend was a major step forward. FAU is currently in sixth place with some tough games left to play. We have Bethune-Cookman Tuesday night at home and then Lipscomb in Boca this weekend.

There are some things to work out this week.

We need to get Randy Beam back on track, get Chris Saxton through the dead arm he’s experiencing, continue to rehab Craig Hughes’ tendonitis and work on Rusty Brown’s timing at the plate. If we can resolve those players’ issues and start playing more consistent defense, our chances look good.




Previous Entries

The Present and the Past (4/8/04)

Held Up Without a Gun (4/5/04)

Live by the Sword, Die by the Sword (3/27/04)

Bye Bye Buckeyes...Hello Dolphins (3/26/04)

A Festive Week Ends in a Wreck (3/22/04)

Spring Break No Day at the Beach (3/16/04)

Baseball is Boring? What are They Smoking? (3/9/04)

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)