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 28, 2004

Blue Wave Crashes on Two to Reach A-Sun Final


Atlantic Sun Tournament…Day 3

Last night, our senior onslaught continued. Rusty Brown had another hot night against Stetson, driving in two runs with two doubles and scoring twice, but the big story in a 15-1 win was the pitching of senior Chris Saxton.

Everyone knows that the strength of Stetson's team is its hitting. So even though we jumped out to a 3-0 lead after two innings, no one felt comfortable. Stetson scored one in its half of the second, and the discussion among our coaches was whether Saxie had his stuff. But some pitchers just take some time to settle in and then they pitch well. I felt this was the case for Chris, and resisted the urge to start up the bullpen. When you're on the hill in a big game and see guys running to the pen, it is not a confidence builder.

As I had hoped, Chris came out in the third and threw up a goose egg. We exploded for six runs in the fourth, and everyone was feeling good. The inning was highlighted by Rob Orton's first stolen base of the season, doubles by Mascia, Hutton and Brown, and the dagger in the game - Robbie Widlansky's three-run homer over the centerfield fence.

Saxton had now settled in and was mowing down the Hatters. Each inning, Chris would come in and take a seat at the far end of the dugout - each inning but the eighth. This time, he came in, got a drink, and slowly walked down to my end of the dugout.

I looked to my left and there was Chris. He didn't say anything, just quietly looked at me. I gave him a wink and turned my attention to the batter. Chris knew he was going back out to finish the job. Cool as ice, Saxie got us into today's third game without using any of our bullpen.

Our reward for winning the first two games was turning around and being back on the field in less than 10 hours.

UCF-Florida Atlantic

This was the crucial game. The winner rests until tomorrow afternoon and has to be beaten twice. The loser comes back at 7 p.m., and if successful, needs to win two games on Saturday. It's a tough row to hoe for a college pitching staff.

As usual, I lost the coin flip for home team, and we were in the first base dugout, which had about 6 inches of shade.

Yesterday was our administrative assistant Dusty Gardner's birthday. Rusty Brown is his best friend. Dusty told Rusty (I'm not making up these names) all he wanted for his birthday was a home run over the scoreboard in left. In the second inning, Rusty delivered. After he circled the bases. He told Dusty, " I didn't watch it, but I think you got your present."

Tim Mascia again delivered in the third, doubling in Fiorentino and sending Hutton to third and again setting the stage for Rusty Brown. The big guy responded with a double down the line, driving in both runners and giving us a 4-0 lead.

But Matt O'Brien was having a bad day on the mound. He just didn't have his good stuff, and the Knights responded with four runs in their half of the third. The game was tied, and it was time to make a decision. I went with my heart and its senior philosophy of the first two days. Matt went out for the fourth.

UCF led off with a bunt single. After a throwing error, the runner was on second. Drew Butera laced a single to center and our lead, and my decision, looked bad.

Mike McBryde can run like the wind, throw 92 mph on the mound, and has a great curve ball. He plays centerfield for us and seems to throw every ball directly into the ground when he's trying to nail a runner. This time, Mike uncorked a beauty and nailed the UCF runner at the plate. As the runner was getting up, I was on the way to the mound signaling for Craig Hughes.

Craig hasn't pitched much lately because of tendonitis. But he is back and healthy. He's like a free agent pick up for the playoffs.

Last night, pitching coach George Roig and I were discussing our plans for the bullpen. George felt we needed to use Hughes in any situation where we needed two or three solid innings to cement a win. I agreed and offered that if we didn't use him in relief, we'd start him Saturday. George's situation came earlier than we planned.

Craig shut UCF down over the course of the next 5.2 innings, yielding just two hits and striking out three. But they were five pressure packed innings.

We had chances to take the lead in the sixth and seventh, but two of our big hitters struck out. The UCF pitcher had settled in and was making some big pitches for his teammates. But both our guys got their chance to redeem themselves later.

We entered the eighth inning as the sun heated up the A-Sun Tournament big game.

Evan Brannon reached on a throwing error by the shortstop. Rob Orton laid down a great bunt and was safe when the first baseman dropped the pitcher's hurried throw. McBryde was up to bunt over the runners when UCF threw away a pickoff throw and we suddenly had runners at second and third. I called McBryde back and sent Anthony Albano up to pinch hit.

Coach Bergman elected to load the bases by intentionally walking Albano and gave Jeff Fiorentino his second chance. Jeff swung and launched a high fly to right, and our dugout exploded. But the wind was blowing hard across from right to left. Too high, what do you mean too high? The wind kept the ball in the park, but Brannon tagged and scored from third. We had the lead.

After a strikeout, Mascia drove in his second run of the game, and the lead was two. Now it was Rusty Brown's turn for redemption. Bang! Rusty singled in his fourth run of the day, and it was now 7-4 as we entered the bottom of the ninth.

I don't usually move from my spot in the ninth, but after the first out, I was so thirsty I couldn't talk. The Gatorade is at the other end of the dugout. I walked down there as Craig walked the first hitter. No one was there except our trainer, Elaine. She was standing on the bench trying to see over the heads of our guys up on the top step.

I tried to savor that drink as I walked back, peeking through players to see the first two outs thanks to a nice double play - Hutton to Brannon to Brown. As I reached my chair, my superstitious side interrupted my confident side, so I quickly sat down. A groundball to Rusty at first, a flip to Hughes, and our hot day at the office was done.

So tomorrow we play for the tournament championship for the first time as the undefeated team. We need to win one game against the survivor of the rest of today's games.

I know that no matter whom we face, I'll be worried. The fear of failure is as much a fact of sports as the thrill of victory. That's just the way I'm wired. It was never that way when I was pitching. But there I felt in control.

The good thing is that none of our players has my outlook. I really can sense a feeling of confidence and desire in our guys. That's good, cause they're in control.




Previous Entries

Seniors Rule the Day (5/27/04)

A Lefty Lift (5/26/04)

Missing the Fons (5/26/04)

Who'll Stop the Rain? (5/23/04)

The 'Badlands' of Miami (5/19/04)

A Bad Part of a Good Job (5/14/04)

Sweep Home Alabama (5/12/04)

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)

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)