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.
May 12, 2004
Sweep Home Alabama
OK - it’s Sweet Home Alabama…but the word sweep works just fine for me.
We had gone through seven conference series without a sweep until the three big
wins in a crucial series at Troy State this past weekend. It has been a very
frustrating conference season thus far. It seems that we have managed to lose a
game whenever we felt we were in good shape. Maybe that’s the key. Just maybe we
need to feel as if our backs are to the wall in order to come up with a big
weekend. Whatever the reason, we responded big time in Alabama this weekend.
The Atlantic Sun Conference has turned into a dogfight for second through sixth
place. UCF is running away with first place, just as we did a year ago. Stetson
is second at 18-9, with us chasing them at 15-9. They would hold the tiebreaker,
thanks to that extra-inning debacle in Deland. Troy was right behind us with 10
losses entering the weekend, so the pressure was on us. Add to that the hangover
from the series sweep at Winthrop, and the Blue Wave was at ebb tide as we
arrived in Troy.
I didn’t sense that we were tight or worried about scoring runs, but I felt that
way. A coach sometimes has to work hard not to show his true feelings. I was
working so hard to mask my doubts, I missed the tension among the players.
Friday night, we jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, only to see the Trojans grab a
4-2 advantage in the fifth. The way we have been scoring runs lately, we faced a
worse deficit than George W.
In the top of the sixth, we loaded the bases with one out on three singles. Alex
Fonseca worked an 0-2 count full, fouled off a pitch and then ripped a double to
right driving in Brannon and Horst – tie game. Mascia led off third and Fons off
second as Rob Orton stepped in the box. Bam! Single past third scoring Gerber
and Fons, 6-4 good guys. Four runs on six hits, who’d have thunk it?
All the pent up frustration of the past weekend spilled out of our dugout. To
the Troy fans, it must have seemed like we won the World Series. I realized then
that I wasn’t the only one worried that we had forgotten the art of the big
inning. There were 25 guys on that same page.
Randy Beam smelled the win, and things looked good for us. Then in the eighth,
Troy loaded the bases with two outs. As much as I wanted to stick with the
veteran, it was time to go get Beam.
Our new closer is Alan Knight. He hasn’t ever been in this situation before.
Bases juiced, the game, the weekend, and maybe the postseason on the line. The
Knight Rider was up to the challenge as he blew Strike 3 past the Troy hitter.
We blew a squeeze sign in the top of the ninth and missed a chance to make it a
three-run lead. That just made things more interesting.
Alan Knight is used to pitching the eighth with a lead. He used to be the set-up
man. But now, he is the man for the ninth to seal the win.
The Troy leadoff hitter - Godwin - singled and went to second on a passed ball.
After a groundout, Casey O’Quinn drilled a single to center to make it a 6-5
lead. The next batter fouled out. Now all we had to do was retire the biggest
left-handed hitter in five states.
Wade Miller is a great hitter who holds the Troy record for career home runs.
The wind was blowing hard out to right field as Alan Knight stared in for the
sign from Orton. I really didn’t want to watch this. Our former hitting coach
Jim Lyttle used to cover his face with his hat and look through the air holes.
It’s not as scary that way. I tried it. Miller hit a chopper to Fonseca at
short. Game over. I put on my hat and headed for the hotel.
The worry for us in the series was the role of Troy closer Nat Moore. He was 7-0
and second in the nation with a 0.73 ERA. We knew Troy hoped to start him one
game. I figured Bobby Pierce planned to relieve him in Game 1 and start him in
Game 2. That’s what I would do.
So the key to the first game was to score early and often, then hope for the
Naturally, we fell behind 3-0 in the first inning. But last night’s hero, Alex
Fonseca, delivered a three-run bomb, and we were tied. Troy managed to go back
on top in the third, and we again trailed.
Derek Hutton drew a leadoff walk in the fifth and appeared to be dead at second
on a failed hit and run, when he used a tricky fade away pop-up slide to evade
the second baseman’s tag. After a groundout moved Hutton to third, Coach Pearce
went to the mound and summoned Moore. Against a drawn-in infield, Jeff
Fiorentino hit a tough ground ball to the right of the first baseman who threw
too late to the plate as Hutton slid in safely with the tying run.
While Moore was coming in from the pen, I told Rob Horst that he wasn’t going to
face him. Everything we heard about Moore said how tough he was on right handed
hitters. Lefties seemed to have some success, although at 7-0 and 0.73, it
wasn’t much. I had freshman Jordan Hafer ready to pinch hit. As Hutton scored, I
pointed at Horst and he put his head down and walked back to the bench.
No…"You’re going to hit him" I told Rob.
He smiled and headed toward home plate. Hey…I’m entitled to change my mind,
Rob Horst has been great all year at second chances. He did it for us again. The
dugout really exploded as Rob put us ahead on a two-run bomb. I told Hafer he
could sit down: We had gotten Horst mad, our job was done. That’s our story, and
we’re sticking to it.
Each team scored again, and Knight was back on the hill with a two-run lead.
After a walk, an error and a wild pitch, Alan got his second save in 17 hours as
we held on to win 7-5. The good news was that Moore threw 41 pitches and
couldn’t start Game 3.
We grabbed a 6-1 lead in the second inning of the nightcap and never looked
Chris Saxton pitched a solid five innings; Horst hit two more homers and had
four RBI. Jeff Fiorentino hit his twelfth round tripper, Fonseca was 2 for 4.
Oh yeah - Jordan Hafer finally got to pinch hit. He launched a two-run missile
over the center field fence.
FAU 11 - TSU 1, time to head for the Outback!
Winless at Winthrop, but Victorious in Friendship (5/3/04)
To Bunt or Not to Bunt - That is the Question (4/27/04)
The Promised Land (4/21/04)
A Little Rusty (4/17/04)
Knock, Knock, Knockin' on Heaven's Door (4/15/04)
OB Gets CG for FAU vs. UCF (4/13/04)
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)
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)