A perplexing spring-break jinx was about to swallow up the Towson University baseball team again this season. But then junior pinch hitter Erick Poole stepped to the plate at Burdick Field on April 2 and hit one of the most dramatic home runs in school history.
The Tigers were down 4-3 and one strike away from losing their ninth straight game when Poole drove a 3-2 pitch from Northeastern's Jason Gillespie 370 feet over the left-field fence, tying the game in the seventh inning. (College doubleheaders are seven innings.)
Towson went on to win that second game of an America East doubleheader, 5-4, in the ninth inning, and the spring-break whammy was on its way out.
"Most of the other years I've been around here, we'd come back from spring break and lose a lot," said Towson's ace senior pitcher Pete Buck, who went to Severna Park High. "We just didn't regain our form after spring break and never had a record above .500. But we're more of a unit this year. There are no cliques on the team."
The rejuvenated Tigers reeled off 11 wins in their next 14 games and bolted to a final regular-season record of 31-17. The 31 wins tied a school single-season mark.
The Tigers captured the America East regular-season title with a 20-7 record and the top seed in the double-elimination conference tournament, which starts today at Frawley Stadium in Wilmington, Del. The Tigers take on fourth seed Maine (27-26, 14-14) at 4: 30 p.m.
Towson is 8-4 against the other three tournament teams and has high hopes of gaining the school's third trip to the 64-team NCAA tournament. The America East winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA field.
Second seed Delaware (31-22, 19-9) meets third seed Northeastern (28-19, 18-10) tonight at 8 in the other opening-round game.
"When we walked off the field that day after coming back to beat Northeastern, we were feeling great," said Towson coach Mike Gottlieb, who is in his 12th season and was named the America East Coach of the Year this season. "And you know Northeastern had to be feeling terrible. They were picked in the preseason to win the league and they had beaten us 4-0 in the first game of the doubleheader. Since that win, our players never believe they are out of a game."
Buck, one of 23 Marylanders on the Towson team, said, "I guess we're the Cardiac Kids. We've never given up. That game against Northeastern was the turning point. We don't have the best pitching in the league, but we have pitching depth and heart."
The Tigers have the best defense in the league -- a .967 fielding percentage -- which has kept them among the top 15 fielding teams in the country all season.
Jason Rummel, a senior second baseman from Walkersville, is the team's most gifted fielder and has drawn comparisons to former Oriole Roberto Alomar while being scouted by the San Diego Padres, Chicago White Sox and New York Yankees. Rummel was selected to the America East first team yesterday, along with junior outfielder Nick Agoglia and senior catcher Dusty Reynolds. Freshman shortstop Scott Bacon was named to the second team.
"I often tell people, Jason is Robby Alomar on the college level," Gottlieb said. "He has tremendous instincts, some power, is a smart player, reacts well and knows where everybody is on the bases at all times. He'll cut down the runners rounding third just like Alomar has done so often. I told people when I recruited him that he would do things that no one has seen around here before."
Rummel also leads the team in home runs with nine, is third in hitting with a .342 average, and is considered the team's best all-around player.
But the hottest hitter on the team is Agoglia, who had a 13-for-15 performance at the plate with three home runs, eight RBIs and eight runs scored in a four-game sweep of Drexel last weekend.
Agoglia (.422 batting average) has vaulted past Ryan Avila (.410) to lead Towson in hitting and is second in the America East.
Towson is 2-4 in two previous NCAA tournament appearances (1988 and 1991), winning one losers' bracket game each year against Virginia Commonwealth and Princeton.
If Towson should make the NCAA tournament this year, junior outfielder Mike Dubansky (McDonogh) said the Tigers will have one major obstacle to overcome to advance farther than they did the first two times.
"It's the type of pitching we'll be facing," he said. "We'll see a lot of guys throwing in the 90s, and we just don't see that in our league."
Pub Date: 5/20/99