Defending the Title

Mark Gibson

If FAU’s baseball team can take away one thing from the first half of its season, it’s to avoid making the simple mistakes that have plagued them to this point.

The Owls stand on a winning 16-8 (5-1 Sun Belt Conference) record, but it hasn’t been as easy as it appears. Coming into the season as reigning Sun Belt champions, FAU managed to start the year by sweeping Hofstra University in the opening series, beating University of Miami, and going on to have a five-game winning streak.

But just when the Owls were sitting on a comfortable 10-3 record, Virginia Tech and Stony Brook University came to Boca Raton to give the Owls a big reality check. “We were arrogant and we didn’t compete,” said head coach John McCormack. “We just think that because we are FAU that these teams will eventually fall over, and they’re not [going to].”

FAU fell into a three-game skid in which mistakes and poor at-bats led to almost embarrassing losses. But one shining pillar of hope that helped bring the Owls out of a bad downward spiral was second baseman Raymond Church.

Carrying over from his 2010 postseason, Church went on a 24-game hitting streak that tied the FAU school record set by Kevin Connacher in 1994.

As he got closer to the record each game, even when the Owls were losing, the entire team would cheer from the dugout as if they had a World Series title on the line. “The streak was always in the back of my mind,” said Church. “I’m happy about it, but I would rather go 0-4 in a game and have the team win than lose and keep the streak.”

Not all of the Owls’ losses can be blamed on just the team’s performance alone. McCormack has made numerous trips from the dugout to the umpires to argue calls that were blatantly bad. In one game in particular, against Seaton Hall where FAU lost 8-4 in extra innings, senior Andy Mee came from his position in right field to close the game for FAU as they were leading 4-3. On a ground ball hit back to Mee by Seton Hall, Mee threw to second base for a force out. Shortstop Nick DelGuidice caught the ball on the bag and made the motion for first for the double play but stopped as Seton Hall center fielder Zach Granite was called safe by the third base umpire.

The double play would have won the game for FAU, but instead, a runner scored to tie the game. The call made by the umpire was undeniably wrong, and unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time it’s happened this season. “I thought it was a terrible call by the umpire that changed the complexion of the inning,” said McCormack. “Even [Seton Hall third baseman Zach] Granite admitted it to [third baseman Sean] Bukovich later at third.”

But aside from the officials, senior players like Mee, and first baseman Dan Scheffler, who were speculated to have a big impact on the season, have remained quiet. Mee has picked up his at-bat percentage as the season has rolled on and he now leads the team with four home runs, but his pitching has proven to be poor as his ERA sits at 10.50 with a 0-1 record. As for Scheffler, he’s only had a few shinning moments with 13 RBIs and two home runs.

His atrocious 30 strikeouts overshadow those positives, though. Scheffler leads the team in strikeouts, and the next highest player is Church at only 18. But a surprise impact player at the plate has been junior outfielder Alex Hudak, who leads the team with a .417 batting average on 30 hits, 15 RBIs and one home run.

On the mound for FAU, it’s no secret that junior Paul Davis is the team’s best pitcher. Sitting on a 4-0 record with a 1.64 ERA, he has struck out 25 batters and only allowed three walks. In the Owls’ second game against Florida International University, Davis pitched a full nine innings in which he only allowed seven hits, two runs and one walk and struck out seven batters.

“I wasn’t going to let coach take me out of the game,” Davis told FAUOwlAccess.com in the postgame interview. “My adrenaline gets going and I just start throwing pitches and it is just chaos.”

With FAU starting to get into its first batch of Sun Belt Conference games, it’s too early to tell whether it will be able to finish atop the conference once again. However, the Owls have proven that they can learn from their mistakes as they have avoided getting swept, achieved come-from-behind victories, and have an overall mentality of protecting their Sun Belt championship title. “Our first game of the season we wanted to win 800 to nothing in the first inning and strike out 75 guys,” said McCormack.

“There was so much excitement coming off of last season. All the seniors on this team want to accomplish so much.”