LOUDONVILLE — Tony Rossi’s coaching career, all 53-plus seasons and 2,128 games of it, is the definition of “forever” for Siena baseball.
It took Joe Sheridan all of two games to find an alternate one.
In the wake of the legendary 79-year-old Rossi’s surprise retirement announcement on March 6, the 25-year-old Sheridan worked his first game as interim head coach on Tuesday, a 15-6 loss at Fordham, and his second one on Wednesday, at Army.
The Black Knights weren’t in jeopardy of missing 6:30 a.m. Reveille on Thursday, but it’s fun to think about.
That’s because Wednesday’s game lasted 16 innings, tying a Siena program record; featured multiple plays worthy of ESPN SportsCenter’s daily Top 10 (one of them did, in fact, pass muster); and ended when Saints junior pitcher Sebastian Bentz, who showed Sheridan “the best you’ve pitched since you’ve been on Siena College’s campus,” fired a dud.
Because, of course.
During a phone interview around lunchtime on Thursday, Sheridan could be excused for getting a little mixed up recalling all the various game-saving and potentially game-turning plays that were packed into that grueling marathon.
“It’s all a blur, you’re not kidding,” he said.
But what is clear — crystal — to him is that the experience of the Army game can be a useful reference point moving forward as the Saints, who slogged through an obstacle course of non-conference games that produced just two wins in five weeks, head into their MAAC schedule with three games at Fairfield Friday through Sunday.
“[It’s valuable] just to be able to play eight innings, 10 innings of one-run baseball, where it feels like every pitch matters and it feels like there’s a lot on the line every pitch, which you don’t always get, to take that into conference, where we do have a lot on the line and the pressure feels like it’s raised,” he said.
Siena right fielder Vincenzo Castronovo got himself at No. 4 on SportsCenter with a long, long run into foul territory for a feet-first sliding catch that roostertailed dirt behind him as he finished the play on the mound in the bullpen.
This happened with Siena leading 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh inning.
So the game was young.
The Saints were one out away from winning in the bottom of the ninth, but Army’s Ross Friedri hit an RBI single to tie it.
Army repeatedly threatened to win it in extra innings, only to be thwarted by Siena’s defense. Castronovo preserved the 3-3 tie by throwing a runner out at the plate for the third out in the bottom of the 10th.
“I told him his arm was going to be hanging today [Thursday],” Sheridan said. “He had a good zip on it, got behind the baseball, worked behind it, did everything fundamentally right.
“They took a chance to end the game, try and test his arm a little bit, and [catcher] Lou Percival did a good job catching it and blocking home plate, so it’s one of those textbook things where everything goes perfect to plan.”
Castronovo led off the top of the 11th and a hit a home run for a 4-3 Siena lead.
Because, of course.
In the bottom of the 11th, for the second time in three innings, Friedri hit a two-out RBI single to save the day for Army.
Because … you know the drill.
It almost ended there, but Siena left fielder Gavin Thorburn snared the third out with a lunging, over-the-shoulder catch. He made another game-saver in the 15th.
A highlight video put together by Siena assistant athletic director/communications Mike Demos served as a refresher for Sheridan.
“It’s one of those things where you’re so caught up in the moment and you move on to the next thing,” Sheridan said. “I didn’t realize all the catches we had made until Mike had put out the highlight tape after the game. I was like, ‘Wow, we were doing some crazy stuff out there.’”
Sheridan had used closer Noah Rodriguez in the third and fourth innings to get him some work. For four innings through the 15th, Bentz had been in a groove on the mound for Siena, but he gave up a leadoff single in the bottom of the 16th and a one-out single, then intentionally walked the bases loaded to set up forced at all four bases or an inning-ending double play while also getting a lefty-lefty matchup against Army’s Justin Lehma.
None of those scenarios materialized, as a sinker got away from Bentz and hit Lehma in the arm to end the game, 5-4 in favor of the Black Knights.
The game started at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 7:50.
“I think they were ready to go home, because they turned off the lights at the field about five minutes after the game,” Sheridan said. “Everybody was pretty ready to get out of there.”
“The message to him [Bentz] was, ‘Hey, man, that’s the best you’ve pitched since you’ve been on Siena College’s campus.’
“I think he maybe just ran out of gas a little bit. But he was really cruising for four innings. We wanted to leave him out there, have him pitch in those big spots and work through some stuff. The message was, ‘Hey, man, don’t get down on yourself. Be proud of those four and a third innings you threw before that, and we’ll learn from that last pitch.’”
Sheridan said his mission now is to maintain the program the way Rossi did.
Part of that is to treat the non-conference schedule like spring training, especially since the Saints have been practicing indoors while waiting for their home field to shake off winter.
“On the learning side, there were plays out there to be made where we could’ve ended the game, and we just didn’t make them,” Sheridan said. “We just have to figure out how to get that 27th out, and then we’ll be a good baseball team coming down the stretch.
“I don’t look back and think I made a mistake, but we’re definitely learning how to manage a bench in a 16-inning game, and your catcher’s getting tired, and your pitchers, how do we manage that and keep guys fresh for the weekend.
“So it’s all a learning experience and talking with our assistant coach and feeling stuff out and trying to schedule stuff for Friday, Saturday and Sunday while you’re in the 13th inning on Wednesday.”
Sheridan saw a tweet pointing out that Siena went from having the oldest coach in college baseball to having the youngest.
“It was abrupt,” he said, of Rossi’s announcement just over two weeks ago. “You don’t ever plan for it, and I didn’t plan for it, but he prepared me for it, the stuff where you look back and go, ‘Oh, I didn’t realize how much he was preparing me for it without preparing me for it.’ So I think I’m prepared for it, just wasn’t expecting it.
“I’m not trying to fill his shoes, just trying be in my own shoes and honor what he’s done and fulfill his legacy and kind of carry on what he’s done. He really is Siena baseball. That’s our message to the team. We lost a big piece of our culture, a big piece of our identity, so we’re trying to rebound from that.
”Now we go into a big one against Fairfield and see what we’re made of.”
Contact Mike MacAdam at [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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