|2012 SwampDogs Season In Review|
|Wednesday, 15 August 2012 15:29|
The story of the 2012 Fayetteville SwampDogs can be traced back to one crucial attribute that rang true with each member of the organization. The season meant more than on-field success, or exciting promotions, it was about what a team can do for a community, and what a community can do for a team. The 2012 season was about overcoming adversity as a united and cohesive unit.
Shortly before the campaign began, a tragic accident rattled the franchise. An explosion in the concession stand injured Head Coach/Dir. Of Baseball Operations Darrell Handelsman and Dir. Of Military Affairs Mark Wilderman, along with two interns. The interns were treated and returned to work, but the road to recovery would be a long and painful one for both Handelsman and Wilderman.
With the foundation of the organization shaken substantially, front office staff members were left to look to team owner Lew Handelsman and Assistant General Manager Jeremy Aagard for both guidance and answers. It was their leadership and confidence in the troubled time that allowed the season to continue.
In Handelsman’s absence, the SwampDogs needed a coach to step in and fill the void left by the CPL’s Coach of the Decade. The choice was assistant coach David Tufo, a young assistant from Menlo College in California, entering his second year with the Dogs. Fayetteville began the season 0-3, as expectations appeared to be lowered considerably by many fans and supporters after the preseason incident. Some felt that the traumatic events may be too severe to overcome, and that the 2012 season would be one of rebuilding. “Some” did not include the Fayetteville SwampDogs.
Under the guiding hand of Tufo, the Dogs finished 18-10 in the first half of the season, narrowly missing a first-half divisional title in the half’s final week. Tufo was named an Associate Head Coach in the 2012 All-Star Game, and six SwampDogs were selected to represent the team as well. Three pitchers and three positional players made the trip to Wilson, NC for the annual contest at Fleming Stadium. Starters Layne Somsen (South Dakota State) and Dan Smith (Monmouth) were joined by closer Tyler Brunnemann (Hardin-Simmons) as three of the top hurlers in the league. Sal Giardina (Lynn), Mike Tauchman (Bradley) and Reed Harper (Austin Peay) suited up in their SwampDogs’ threads as well.
Harper, Tauchman and Somsen were all given a starting nod in the game, as Fayetteville was one of the most represented teams in the game.
Both Harper and Tauchman finished in the top five hitters league-wide, and Tauchman swiped 35 bases on the season, ten more than the next closest contender. Their presence in the middle of the lineup was crucial to the Dogs’ offensive output each night, as the team’s leading RBI man Sal Giardina often drove them in to produce runs.
Smith, Brunnemann and Somsen were all key contributors to the CPL’s best pitching staff, as the unit led the league with a 3.00 ERA and sported a league-low 129 walks in nearly 460 innings.
The team had overcome a seemingly insurmountable burden of adversity, and was poised to make a run at the playoffs in the second half of the season.
Coach Handelsman returned to the team during the second half, as the Dogs made the transition as seamless as possible as they continued to win games. From July 6th to July 18th, the Dogs rattled of eight consecutive victories, their longest win streak of the season. That stretch, along with consistent performances from their key contributors, yielded a poised and prepared Dogs lineup heading intoto the 2012 Petitt Cup Playoffs.
The first-round opponent for the second-seeded SwampDogs was the Peninsula Pilots, seeded seventh in the eight team postseason tournament. Fayetteville won the first game of the series in Hampton, VA, and secured a victory in Game 2 at home. The first-round sweep meant a matchup with the Forest City Owls in the semifinal round, as the Dogs made the long trip to Forest City for the first game of the series. Fayetteville had won the only regular season between the two clubs, but dropped the first game to fall behind 0-1 in the semifinal round. The Dogs were faced with a daunting task of winning two consecutive games to advance to the championship round, as Forest City made the trip to “The Swamp.”
The second game proved to be one of the most exciting games of the season, as Fayetteville defeated the Owls 2-1 in 12 innings. Brilliant defense, including diving catches and perfect throws, kept the Dogs in the game. In the bottom of the 12th, the All-Star Tauchman led off with a single to reach base, and worked his base-running magic once again. The CPL’s leading base stealer swiped second and then third base to get into scoring position, and scored on a passed ball to break the tie and win the game.
In the deciding Game 3, the Dogs faced a 6-6 tie in the eighth inning, with Forest City rallying back from a five-run deficit. Jacob Golliday (Francis Marion), led off in the bottom of the eighth looking to help take the lead. He proceeded to do so with one swing of the bat, as he ripped his first home run of the season to break the tie. Fayetteville went on to score five runs in the inning, and won the game 11-6, securing a spot in the 2012 Petitt Cup Championship.
The opponent in the championship round would be the Columbia Blowfish, who the dogs defeated four out of six times during the regular season.
Neither the Dogs nor the Fish had ever won a CPL title, as the league would welcome a new champion at the conclusion of the series. Fayetteville traveled to Columbia in Game 1, taking on the Blowfish at Capital City Stadium. Jimmie Davis (UNC-Pembroke) got the starting nod, making his first appearance of the postseason. He worked six innings on the hill, allowing just two hits and one run as Fayetteville came away victorious in the first game of the series with a 4-2 win.
Unfortunately for the Dogs, the final hurdle was too high to overcome, as Columbia won the final two games of the series at “The Swamp” to secure their first-ever Petitt Cup.
As many fans and media members agreed, the 2012 season wasn’t about a Petitt Cup, or finishing as the top seed. It was about the relationships formed by teammates, by front office personnel, and fans. Fayetteville averaged over 2,200 fans at each home game, leading the way for most in the league, as SwampDogs Nation proved once again that they are the best fans in the Coastal Plain League.
With four fireworks extravaganzas, exciting on-field promotions and a deep playoff run, the 2012 Fayetteville SwampDogs season was certainly one to remember, full of moments and people that will not soon be forgotten.
The Fayetteville SwampDogs are a proud member of the Coastal Plain League, the nation’s hottest summer collegiate baseball league. Celebrating its 16th season in 2012, the CPL features 14 teams playing in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia. The CPL gives college players the chance to refine their skills with the use of wooden bats. Players are housed with local host families for the summer and past experiences have been very positive for both players and hosts. Furthermore, the CPL has had over 1,000 alumni drafted and 54 alums – including 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander – make their Major League debut thus far. For more information on the Coastal Plain League, please visit the league website at www.coastalplain.com, and be sure to friend us on Facebook (at www.facebook.com/coastalplainleague) and follow us via Twitter (as cpleague).