In Part 2, Alex talks about the ups and downs of his sophomore season and his experience playing in an NCAA Regional and Super Regional.
April of my sophomore year was an eye-opening month. We played some good baseball, but also played some bad baseball. It seemed like when the offense would score a bunch of runs, the pitching staff couldn’t hold the lead, and when the pitching staff was dicing opposing line-ups, the offense couldn’t score any runs. It didn’t make a lot of sense, why we couldn’t play a complete nine innings as a cohesive unit. We found ourselves in quite a few one or two-run ball games that would come down to the last pitch or swing of the game against teams we were much better than. Frustration began to set in as we approached the end of the month.
We left for Boston College feeling good about our chances to return to College Park with a series win. Apparently, we were a little too full of ourselves and expected to toss our gloves out on the field and the series would be ours. We played three games and lost each one in a more heartbreaking fashion than the game before. We returned to College Park swept and embarrassed. The lingering effects of that game would carry on to our midweek game against James Madison University, where we lost in another ugly defeat. The day after the JMU loss the hitters and pitchers held separate meetings. After those meetings, something for our team clicked. We slowly began to remember the commitment we made to each other and the harsh feeling of regret knowing we could’ve done more.
We had nine games remaining in the regular season and would go on a 9-0 run to end the regular season. We were playing our best baseball going into the ACC Tournament. Our bracket was tough, consisting of Virginia, Florida State, and UNC. That bracket was better than any NCAA Regional Bracket, maybe ever. We had our work cut out for us but with the momentum we had carried into the postseason, we weren’t backing down from anyone. We beat UVA and FSU in the first two games of the bracket, which automatically put us in the championship game versus Georgia Tech. We played a close game that was decided in the final inning of the game, and we ended up losing the ACC Championship game. That game stung. It was frustrating to lose to a team we knew we were better than. We thought about what we could have done differently. Ultimately, we had to shift our focus to the NCAA selection day, hoping we put together enough quality wins over the season to earn an at-large bid into the tournament.
I remember sitting with my teammates and coaches and hearing our name selected to the Columbia Regional hosted by the University of South Carolina. We erupted in delight as if we had just won the College World Series. We knew in the previous fall we were capable of being one of the remaining sixty-four teams playing in the month of June, but we didn’t make it easy on ourselves. Grateful for the opportunity to put our practice uniform on, we had an electric week of practice. Up until that point, I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a better week of preparation, as an individual or as a team. South Carolina had gone twenty-five consecutive years of hosting and winning their regional, so history wasn’t on our side. A fun fact about our 2014 team was that we didn’t care about their record, we were coming for them. After beating Old Dominion in a walk-off hit by pitch, we advanced to the second round and beat South Carolina in a nail-biter. I thought that South Carolina had the best fans in college baseball. They knew when to cheer, when to be quiet, what to say, what not to say, and were educated on the game. We were sitting in the driver’s seat for game three, where South Carolina would need to beat us twice. We blew out the Gamecocks in game three, ten to one. That evening we celebrated as a team and smelled the roses before setting our sights on another week of great preparation and the next opponent, the University of Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Just like that, there were sixteen teams still practicing in the month of June, and we were one of them. We were two wins away from making it to the College World Series and we could smell the fields in Omaha. We had to go through a juggernaut in the University of Virginia. They had just as much talent and experience as we did, and we had just beat them two weeks prior in the ACC Tournament, so our confidence was high. In the first game, we handled business and won five to four. The excitement was building, and we couldn’t wait to get back to the field the next day to punch our ticket to Omaha. We lost game two, seven to three, and felt like the wind had been taken out of our sails. We showed up to the field a little tight for game three. We had prepared all year for this game, the deciding factor of who would continue to play, and who would go home. We got punched in the mouth early in game three and were never able to get off the mat, ultimately losing eleven to two. As the Wahoo’s dog piled and ran around the field, high fiving the fans, and the fans going wild, we stood and watched. Helpless and defeated we watched this celebration that should’ve been ours.
Despite the season not ending how we wanted it to, we knew that we had entered a new threshold of capability, work ethic, and competitiveness. The feelings we had a year ago of not doing enough were replaced with the understanding that some games you just lose. There isn’t a rhyme or reason, sometimes you just get beat. We didn’t play lethargic or sloppy, we just lost to a team that would go on and win the College World Series a few weeks later in UVA. This season was much harder for me to say goodbye to our seniors. I had two years with these guys and learned so much from them; how to be a good teammate, leader, competitor, and man. I felt good that we sent them off with a regional win and incredible run to finish their collegiate careers. The foundation for the program was becoming stronger each year and we knew the 2015 season would be ours, as long as we stayed the course.