THURSDAY, MAY 11, 2006
INSIGHT: How do they do it?
By Joel Lamp
Special to JUDolphins.com
May 10, 2006
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -
Falling behind early - no problem.
Falling behind late - no problem.
Falling behind in the middle - piece of cake.
For the Jacksonville baseball team, 2006 has been the year of the comeback.
And we're not just talking about their penchant for winning games late. We're also talking about how the Dolphins are just four wins away from their first regular season Atlantic Sun title since joining the league.
We're talking about the Dolphins rebounding from back-to-back losing seasons to being on the verge of advancing to the NCAA Regionals.
Coming back, that's a way of life for the Dolphins right now.
This past week, the Dolphins showed why they sit atop the A-Sun standing with a three-game sweep at Kennesaw State. The final game of the sweep was typical of the season. Jump up early, fall behind late and then, just when you think they are dead, they rip their opponent's heart out.
Trailing 7-6 entering the ninth on Sunday at Kennesaw, JU put up four runs to turn the deficit into a lead they would not relinquish.
"There is something special about a team that never thinks they are out of it," said JU head coach Terry Alexander, who has seen a few hairs turn gray from this year's team. "Once we get a runner on, these guys aren't thinking of just getting one run, they're thinking of putting up a couple of runs."
Some of those comebacks have been anything but usual.
There's the Gardner-Webb series. Trailing by one entering the bottom of the ninth, the Dolphins tied the game and had the winning run on second base in pinch runner Logan James.
With the left handed batting Thomas LePage at the plate, a wild pitch just got away from the catch and up the first base line. James got a late start and the catcher attempted to throw down to third to gun James.
But his throw instead hit LePage in the back of the helmet.
That's right - the back of the head. LePage hadn't moved and his head was definitely in the game.
The throw ricocheted off his helmet to the backstop, allowing James to race home with the winning run - where he sprains his ankle while celebrating.
And don't forget the three-game sweep against UNF. Trailing in the first game in the eighth, JU got a gift when the Osprey's left fielder non-chalantly tried to catch a fly ball. His error set the merry-go-round in motion as the Dolphins rallied to take the first game.
Then in game three, trailing 1-0, the Dolphins rocked the UNF bullpen for two runs, taking the lead for the first time in the game in the eighth. Six outs later, JU was celebrating a well-earned three-game sweep.
But comebacks aren't the only strength of the Dolphins. Just pure toughness is their trademark.
There was the 12-inning win over Stetson, led by seven no-hit innings of relief from Aaron Parvey. Trailing 3-2, the Dolphins tied the game in the eighth and went on to win in the 12th.
In the second game of the series, Gordie Gronkowski gunned down a greedy Stetson base runner at the plate to give the Dolphins the series win.
And don't forget the always deadly walk. Actually, it was a walk off walk that got the whole rallying thing started in the first place.
Against Big 10 power Ohio State early in the season, the Dolphins trailed by two entering the ninth facing the Buckeyes closer (who is ranked among the top 10 in the country). The Dolphins patience paid off in the inning as they milked four walks and just two hits in the rally.
But none of the walks was more important that the one to Don Vickers.
With game tied, two outs and the bases loaded, Vickers had fallen behind in the count early but had battled back to even it at 2-2. A fastball missed low and away, running the count full.
The crowd chanting. His teammates standing on the top step of the dugout while a crowd of Ohio State fans were clamoring for a strike.
The result? A 3-2 curveball that Vickers takes inside for ball four, sending the home team into a frenzy with an improbable upset win over the Buckeyes.
And what did that do for the young team's confidence?
It sent it soaring, all the way to 35 wins, the A-Sun lead with six games to go and a team that fears nothing.
Not too bad for a team that was picked to finish sixth in the league, huh?
Joel Lamp is the editor of JUDolphins.com and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org