After learning that Temple baseball would come to end due to athletic cuts, the Owls faced a season of depletion and uncertainty. Hours before the Owls’ final game as a program, there were mixed emotions for seniors who saw their careers coming to an end, along with the underclassmen who put on their Temple uniforms for the last time.
An unexpected speech, however, got the Owls motivated.
Pitching coach Brian Pugh, who players said is not the type to give speeches, brought the team together after batting practice and discussed the importance of making history.
“[Coach Pugh] really set the tone,” sophomore third baseman Frank D’Agostino said. “His speech really hit home and made guys realize what we were playing for. He lit a fire underneath of us.”
Pugh’s speech put everything in perspective, said senior pitcher Matthew Hockenberry.
“He really calmed us down,” Hockenberry said. “We all knew this was a huge game – guys were all over the place emotionally, but he set the tone that we still had one game to prove ourselves.”
Pugh concluded his speech by saying with a win, the team’s win streak column would forever say “W1” instead of the potential “L4” if they were to lose.
The Owls capped off the 87-year history of Temple baseball by beating UCONN 9-4 and obtaining a final W1.
Following a first inning of base running mistakes, the Owls sent senior Ryan Kuehn to the mound for one final outing. After giving up two runs in a tough first inning, Kuehn settled in and pitched five innings, only giving up three hits and one earned run.
Kuehn was given plenty of help from the Owls’ bats early in the game. In the second inning, the Owls scored two runs to tie up the game after sophomore Frank D’Agostino doubled and later scored on an RBI double by junior infielder Reyn Sugai. Sugai was later driven in by sophomore outfielder Jimmy Kerrigan.
“Everybody was trying to have fun,” Kerrigan said. “We knew we had to do the best we could to go out with a bang and that was a great opportunity.”
In the third inning, D’Agostino hit a solo homerun, his first of the season, giving the Owls the 3-2 lead, which was protected by a steady Kuehn.
The surge occurred in the top of the fourth inning, once again led by the bat of D’Agostino, who hit his second homerun of the game and drove in three runs. Scoring three more runs off of six hits in the inning, the Owls pulled themselves ahead to a seven run lead.
“Everybody was clicking on all cylinders,” D’Agostino said. “For me, I feel like I’ve been swinging the bat well but I haven’t had much to show for it, I got some good pitches to hit today and got some good swings on them.”
Coach Ryan Wheeler said it was good to see D’Agostino’s patience at the plate pay off.
“Frank was huge today, he was a young man that we’ve recruited because he’s capable of this,” Wheeler said. “We’ve waited two years to see what he could do, he has been swinging the bat well but had nothing to show for it. It was all worth it today, he had two big homeruns and I was so happy for him.”
After one inning each from senior pitcher Preston Hill and junior reliever Phil Gianakos, the Owls brought in junior Zach Batchelor to finish out their final game. Striking out one batter in each inning, he closed out the game, with a final score of 9-4.
After the game, Coach Wheeler said the realization that the program had come to an end set in.
“Usually we’re just losing our seniors, where obviously we’ve had time to process it, but it was like every player was a senior this year,” Wheeler said. “I was doing pretty good dealing with it until the end, when a broadcaster asked me about it. Just thinking about it gets me pretty emotional, not being able to see the younger kids develop and grow gives me a bunch of emotions. It’s going to be tough watching them go.”
Despite the sadness of the program ending, Hockenberry said he was proud of his teammates for showing the character of the Owls in their final moments.
“[We] let the country know that we never stopped battling,” Hockenberry said. “We went through so much adversity and so much disrespect from the administration and we just brushed it off of our shoulders. We just shook it off and rubbed it back in the doubters’ faces.”
The Owls capped off their 87-year history with a W1, instead of an L4.
“[This game] summed up Temple baseball for us,” Hockenberry said. “We never stopped fighting and we showed that today.”
EJ Smith can be reached at email@example.com and @ejsmitty17.