Kevin Cooney is in his 18th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic
University of the Atlantic Sun Conference and 22nd overall. A former pitching
star at Montclair State, Cooney has led FAU to an average of 46 wins per season
the past six years. He as guided the Blue Wave to a 273-106 record and five NCAA
Regionals in the past six years. This is the second year he has offered his thoughts on
baseball - and other things - for CollegeBaseballInsider.com.
March 28, 2005
A Good Friday
When I saw this year’s schedule had us playing Easter weekend, I called
Stetson coach Pete Dunn.
He and I had been two of the strongest proponents of the A-Sun move to a
three-game series for conference play. We argued against the emotional and
physical toll taken by doubleheaders, and the frustration with playing
seven-inning games in college baseball.
The resultant compromise allowed teams to play three nine-inning games over
three days or two. If one school insisted on two days, the doubleheader would be
comprised of nine-inning games.
So I found it ironic as I offered Pete the option of playing the doubleheader
to avoid playing on Easter Sunday. Stetson had been a religious affiliated
school, and I assumed its policy would preclude playing on Easter. Pete accepted
the offer to play over two days, but not because of school policy.
Pete lost his Mom in the off-season. She had lived in nearby Delray Beach
where Pete was raised. Mrs. Dunn was a teacher who influenced many a Delray
youngster. Pete’s father had passed on years ago, leaving him the head of the
family. This year, more than ever, Pete wanted to be home.
Family seems to matter a great deal more as we get older.
One of the great regrets in my life is the lack of commitment I made to my
own parents as a young adult. We all leave the nest and start our lives,
independent of our parents, and cocksure that we know everything there is to
know about life. Our new lives are filled with dreams and drive to create our
own legacy. Once you have children, your perspective changes. In my case it has
made me thank God each day for my parents, and the life they tried to give me. I
also ask their forgiveness each day, for not being the son they deserved.
So here we are, playing a doubleheader on Good Friday. From a religious
standpoint, that’s probably worse than playing on Easter.
The day was long and hot, filled with all the good and bad of college
baseball. We won the first, 9-7, and Stetson beat us in the nightcap, 6-5.
This weekend is a battle of two conference powers facing some early season
Can Stetson’s pitching measure up to the great offense it brings to each
game? Is FAU’s offense as bad as the statistics lead us to believe? Both teams
are always in the running for a conference championship and a regional
appearance. Is this year different?
I don’t know what questions got answered yesterday. Their relief pitching,
notably Ryan Heacox was great, and our offense was solid. The third game could
be a barnburner.
We jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning of the opener. McBryde
singled, and Tim Mascia did the same. Fonseca drove in both and scored on a
throwing error. But Stetson battled back a little at a time and led 5-3 in the
fifth. Robbie Widlansky’s two-out, two-RBI single, preceded by two key Stetson
errors, gave us a 6-5 lead.
Chris Johnson drove in a run in the sixth to tie it, and the Hatters took a
7-6 lead in the 7th on Shane Jordan’s bunt single. We needed to keep
Tim Mascia has had a rough year so far, but he led off the bottom of the 7th
with a game-tying home run to right. In the dugout, I asked him if he was
smiling running the bases.
“All the way around, I couldn’t stop.”
Freshman Mike McKenna has been a bright light in the darkness of our
offensive struggles. We had the bases juiced and a 3-1 count on Mike. He never
looked at me for the hit or take sign. I said to Fossas “this freshman’s pretty
comfortable…not even looking 3-1.” Whack! The lead was 9-7 as McKenna cruised
into second with a game-winning double. “What do you want him to look for?” said
Storey got a double play to end the game and collect his seventh save.
Stetson scored two in the first and another in the third to take a 3-0 lead.
Salberg was struggling a little, but we came back to score two in the bottom of
the third. Actually we scored three, but the umpire ruled that Fonseca was out
for missing third base en route to home plate.
The Hatters kept coming, but in the sixth, we took a 5-4 lead as Tyler
Stevens hit a bases-loaded sac fly, followed by Mike McBryde’s two-run single.
The dangerous John DeStefano was up in the seventh with a runner at second
base. I didn’t want to pitch to him, but I wasn’t about to intentionally walk
the go ahead run. Bad decision. On a 1-2 count we thought Kloess threw strike
three, but we didn’t get the call.
Our plan was to throw a two-seamer away and hope he walks or rolls over on
one. But these are kids, not pros, and the next fastball was in the red zone and
then in our bullpen. DeStefano’s homer gave Stetson a one-run lead it held onto
despite one of the greatest performances I’ve seen by Mike McBryde.
In the eighth, Mike trotted in from centerfield with one out and runners at
first and second.
He struck out the next two hitters on a combination of 90-mph heaters and a
nasty curveball. Mike’s playing with a fractured thumb and has thrown only one
bullpen in the past month.
Chris Johnson led off the Stetson ninth with a double and advanced to third
on a wild pitch. We brought the infield in as DeStefano came to the plate with
six hits and five RBI on the day. Mike was feeling the heat and the humidity of
a long day, playing two games in the field, running the bases, and now staring
down the biggest RBI guy of the day. Three batters had a chance to score
Johnson. McBryde struck out all three. Silversmith blocked some nasty curveballs
and had two assists to get us to the ninth trailing by only one.
McBryde’s work wasn’t over. After the first out, Mike hit a groundball to
short, Bocock made a nice play, but McFly beat the throw. He looked a little out
of breath, but I gave him the green light to steal anyway - safe at second base.
Alex Silversmith was up and swinging a hot bat. He ripped a ball towards second
that looked like a game-tying single, but Brandon Paritz made the play of the
night diving to his right, and threw out Silver by a step. McBryde was at third
catching his breath as Fonseca flied out to right, ending a long day.
Holy Saturday dawned hot and humid. Neither team took batting practice:
Everyone was a little drained from last night.
We jumped in front as Widlansky continued his hot hitting. Woody had a
bases-loaded single in the first, followed by Jonathan Shapland’s hit to give us
a 4-0 lead. But nothing is easy against the Stetson lineup.
Will Mann had an umpire with a tight strike zone - not a help when you plan
to pitch carefully to good hitters. The first five innings seemed to take
forever. Will kept battling, but Stetson tied it in the fifth.
The winning run scored in the Hatters’ eighth, as speedster Shane Jordan was
called safe at first on a disputed call that would have ended the inning.
There’s no instant replay in baseball, but I would’ve thrown a flag to challenge
The rest was Ryan Heacox. He held us to no runs by getting some huge outs in
the eighth and ninth. The kid picked up a save and a win in the last two games,
throwing 7.2 innings in three games over a 25-hour period.
So what did the two teams learn from the weekend?
You’ll have to ask Coach Dunn for his take, but I feel better about our club,
despite losing such a hard-fought series. There were some real encouraging
things to consider as we take tomorrow off and consider something far more
St. Patrick's Day on Wheels (3/18/05)
Beware the Ides of March (3/16/05)
Conference Sweep (3/13/05)
Madness and Soaring Eagles (3/11/05)
Viva Las Vegas (3/8/05)
The Rocket, and a Black and Blue Big Ten Weekend (3/1/05)
So You Wanted to Coach (2/21/05)
Mickey was the Story (2/15/05)
The Rocket's Red Glare (2/11/05)
It's a Dog's Life (2/3/05)
'You've Got to Learn to Live with What You Can't Rise Above' (1/31/05)
25 Years of FAU Baseball (1/16/05)
So this is Christmas (12/24/04)
The Graduate (12/8/04)
Thanksgiving in Palm Beach County (11/25/04)
An Empty Seat (11/10/04)
Fall is in the Air (10/21/04)
Hurricane Carmen (9/24/04)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)