is in his 19th season as head coach at Florida Atlantic University, where
he has compiled a record of 650-403-4. Overall, he has a record of 790-453-9 - a
.631 winning percentage - in 22 years. FAU has reached the NCAA regionals seven
times under Cooney, including each of the past four seasons. This is the third year
Cooney has offered his
thoughts on baseball - and other things - for CollegeBaseballInsider.com.
April 27, 2006
Our weekend series
at Belmont University offered us a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge
was to win a series against the last-place Bruins and avoid falling into the
cellar ourselves; the opportunity was to jump up in the standings in our quest
to qualify for the Atlantic Sun Tournament.
Our last trip to
Nashvegas and Belmont was a rain-soaked weekend that ended happily with half our
team on a plane to get home for exams, while 12 of us stayed behind and won the
final game of the series helped by a ninth-inning triple play. As we landed in
Nashville, it looked as though the forecast held more of the same.
We were quickly
rained out Friday, as early-morning storms washed out any chance of playing that
afternoon. Most of the team headed for a mall and the movies. A full day off on
the road is not exactly what I’d hoped for. This series was too big, and I
didn’t need all the free time to think about its ramifications.
My usual road trip
guilt kicked in especially hard as I idled away the day. MB has friends in
Nashville, and it would have been nice to bring her along, but I hadn’t made any
of the necessary arrangements. Finding someone to care for two rugrats, a dog
and five cats complicated the thought, but the guilt hung over me like the
beautifully, and Mickey Storey was on the mound, and on top of his game. He held
the Bruins scoreless for three while we took an early 2-0 lead thanks to Travis
Ozga’s home run. We eventually scored six times and held on as Mike Crotta
finished the eighth and got his save in the ninth.
It was all Belmont
in the second game, as it came out swinging and running the bases to the tune of
a 5-0 lead after two innings. Josh Moffit struck out 11 for Belmont in a
complete-game 10-2 win.
My hopes for a
series sweep were gone, and the sinking feeling in my stomach Saturday night was
a reflection of our sinking conference standing. But this seems to be a year
where everyone beats up on each other in conference play, and this weekend was
presented us with a chance to move into sixth if we could pull out a win in the
rubber game. Actually, we would be in fourth place as far as qualifying goes.
Kennesaw and North Florida are ineligible for post season play, so sixth place
becomes fourth. I’ll take that.
cloudy, but FAU was hot.
Brandon Cooney was
sharp as each inning passed without a Belmont hit, while our guys got on the
board in the fifth. Alex Silversmith walked, and Ozga delivered a perfect
hit-and-run single to right, sending Alex to third. Danny Cook drove in the
first run with a bunt single, and Block moved both runners over with a bunt of
Mario Duarte is a
freshman who plays great defense in center field. His job this season was
supposed to be replacing McBryde in center when Mike would come in to close out
games. The best laid plans of mice and men were torn apart, along with McBryde’s
hamstring. The loss of so many good offensive players this year has prevented us
from playing a defensive guy in the outfield. At the airport, Mario and I had a
long talk about his current and future situation in the program. I told him he
would be playing against left-handers, and to be ready.
brought Mario to the plate with runners at second and third. Our “defensive
specialist” drove the first pitch over his counterpart’s head in center for a
two-run double, and a 3-0 lead.
We added two more
runs in the sixth.
Danny Cook laced a
leadoff double to right. I told Will Block to move Cook over by driving him
in…it didn’t really make sense, but I knew what I meant - so did Block, who
drove a triple into the right-center gap. Jordan Hafer took advantage of a
dropped foul ball and knocked in Block with our second double of the inning.
A 5-0 lead in the
sixth, with a no-hitter in progress, things were looking as bright as the sun,
which had broken through the clouds. In the seventh, the Bruins finally got to
Brandon with a leadoff double and a run-scoring single. Things still looked
good, but everything was about to change.
Belmont closed to
within three on a solo blast by Wilson Tucker. Two walks and a single later, the
lead was down to two as we entered the bottom of the ninth.
It was hot and
getting hotter. The pressure was squarely on us to finish off the momentum that
was building. After Mike Crotta got the first out, Matt Reynolds tied it at five
apiece with a clutch home run, and it was time for extra innings - four extra
innings to be precise.
Mike Crotta hung
tough as both teams battled to push across a run. Will Block did a nice job of
holding his position on a steal, and successfully fielding a grounder with a
runner at third to end the 11th. We had addressed that particular facet of
infield play just before game time. Belmont runs a lot to take you out of your
game, but Will remembered and we played on.
Silversmith led off
the 13th with a single. I had told Travis Ozga between innings that he wouldn’t
be bunting if Sil reached base. We had bunted at least seven times this weekend,
and Travis is a long ball threat. I told him to look for a fastball and try to
A passed ball moved
Silversmith to second. Coach Fossas, who had agreed with not bunting, now felt
the bunt was in order. If we got the runner to third, we could squeeze with
Arata, a good bunter playing with a sore shoulder. It made sense, but I didn’t
want to get into a guessing match with Coach Jarvis about which pitch we’d be
squeezing on. I liked our chances of Ozga driving the winning run from second.
Travis jumped on a
high fastball and sent a deep fly to right center. For a moment I thought he got
it all, but the sac fly moved Silversmith to third with one out.
brought the infield in, and I prepared to outguess the pitchout - the only way
to defend a suicide squeeze. The first pitch was a strike. I hadn’t wanted to go
on that pitch; it’s too easy for him to pitch out. But with an 0-1 count,
Belmont was in the driver’s seat.
I gambled, waited
on another pitch-and lost.
The squeeze was out
of the plan, now we needed Arata to put the ball in play. After a ball and two
foul balls, Nick bounced a grounder to second. Silversmith broke for home but
was going to be out by ten feet. He wisely pulled up as our entire dugout
shouted “rundown!” As the Belmont infielders chased Silversmith for the second
out, Arata slid safely into scoring position at second.
Will Block, Arata’s
teammate on two state championship teams at Nova High School, stepped in, fought
off a couple of tough 1-2 pitches and chopped a high hopper just over the head
of the Belmont third baseman, as his Nova buddy raced home with the go-ahead
Belmont refused to
The first two
runners reached base off Crotta, who was now in his fifth inning of relief. I
went to the mound and reminded Mike that they didn’t bunt in this same situation
two years ago when they tried a double steal which resulted in the triple play
on a line drive to third.
They didn’t bunt -
instead a flyball to center field and a mental error by FAU resulted in the
tying run advancing to second when we threw to the wrong base.
A long, hot day, a
blown save, maybe our playoff hopes…all of these were staring 6-7 Mike Crotta in
Mike Reynolds had
already homered, and is a line drive hitter. I didn’t want to face him with
runners at second and third, so we walked Reynolds to set up the double play. A
leather-lunged fan yelled “You just walked a guy to face a .350 hitter!”
I was praying for a
double play because I didn’t want to face Wilson Tucker with the game on the
line. He’s Belmont’s best player and most dangerous hitter. Ben Petsch lofted a
pop up to short for the second out. There would be no DP - Crotta would have to
Mike threw a
changeup first pitch and Tucker missed with a vicious cut.
There’s no place to
hide in these situations. It’s just the guy on the mound looking in for a sign,
and a hitter taking his practice swings and getting set to hit- no retreat, no
surrender. Crotta wound up and delivered a fastball that Tucker bounced to
short. Arata gobbled it up and the game was over.
We “showered” in
the sink at the field and changed in the parking lot…there was a plane to catch
and not much time.
As we left the
great state of Tennessee, I started thinking about next weekend and
Jacksonville, thankful that we are moving in the right direction, and proud of
our guys who all refused to surrender.
And after all this Time We're Just Like all the Rest (4/19/06)
Trying to Rise Above (4/12/06)
Turnpike Tussle (4/6/06)
Crimson and Camels (4/4/06)
Everyone Wants to be the Man at the Top (3/28/06)
A Great Day for the Irish (3/22/06)
Renewing a Friendly Rivalry (3/17/06)
A Few Good Men (3/14/06)
Songs about Texas (3/7/06)
Regression, Depression, Confession (2/27/06)
Cardinals, Owls and Captain Albano (2/20/06)
The Salukis and No. 98 (2/13/06)
The Adkins Diet and a Sunday Split (2/7/06)
Here we go again (2/2/06)
Holy Innocents (12/28/05)
When You're Alone (10/11/05)
Another Beginning, a New Beginning, Never Forgetting (9/12/05)
Deja vu all over again (9/1/05)
(photo courtesy of FAU Media Relations Office)