Somebody had to do it, but Jacksonville coach Terry Alexander wishes it could have been someone other than him.
Alexander’s Dolphins, the No. 5 seed in the Atlantic Sun Baseball Championship from Ken Dugan Field at Stephen L. Marsh Stadium on the campus of Lipscomb University, scored two runs in the ninth to take a 9-8 win over the UNF Ospreys Friday night.
The game marked the last for Ospreys’ coach Dusty Rhodes who decided to retire at the end of the season. It was the first A-Sun appearance for the Ospreys who had completed four years of re-classification to NCAA Division I.
“I’ve known Dusty for a long time,” Alexander said of his rival in both the conference and the City of Jacksonville. “He is friend of mine, but he is also a tremendous coach. He is a mentor of mine.
“I have always admired him. I have always enjoyed coaching against him. We have played a lot of games like this over the years. I just want to say what a great career he had. If I could do anything close to that it would be great.”
Alexander admitted he felt bad for Rhodes but was happy for his team which plays Saturday night at 6.
After waiting for almost two-and-a-half hours for the game to begin the Dolphins led 7-3 after three innings. Rain returned in the fourth inning and the game was delayed for two hours and six minutes.
“We got off to a good start,” Alexander said. “A couple of miscues by UNF led to big innings for us.”
When play resumed in the fourth the Dolphins hit into a double play on the first pitch and Jamaal Hawkins struck out swinging to end the inning. The Ospreys built momentum from that play and scored two runs in the sixth and three in the seventh for an 8-7 lead.
“Everything we threw at them they hit,” Alexander said. “We couldn’t get them out. Not only the balls they hit on the barrel, but even the ones they hit on the end of the bat were getting through.”
The Dolphins were unable to score in the fourth through eighth innings, but Alexander was confident someone would step up for his team.
“We had a pretty good lead and thought we had momentum, but we sat through that rain delay,” Alexander said. “With one pitch we hit into that double play.
“Their dugout erupted and we couldn’t get them stopped. They kept swinging the bats. This was a Dusty Rhodes’ baseball team so you knew there wasn’t going to be any quit in them.”
The Dolphins didn’t quit either. Alexander got his wish as more than one player stepped up in the end. Chuck Opachich opened the inning with a single through the left side and scored on a triple to right center by Hawkins to tie the game. Jimmy Howick singled to second to bring in Hawkins with the game-winning run.
“It was a close game,” Alexander said. “We kept on thinking something good was going to happen. We just had to keep thinking that until the ninth.”
Reliever Clay Kollenbaum pitched three scoreless innings, allowing one hit and striking out four of the 10 batters he faced to pick up his first win in four decisions this season.
“I’m happy that Hawkins came up with the big hit off a guy who was throwing very well,” Alexander said. “He has been playing very well.
“We only needed one for the tie. We were playing for the tie, and trying to get the momentum back. If it hadn’t been for the big lead we had early we certainly wouldn’t have won this game.”