Catholic University baseball coach Bob Talbot remembers a spring afternoon in 1970 when his team was scheduled to play Johns Hopkins and had only eight players.
"One hour before the game, I managed to round up a basketball player and give him a uniform," Talbot said. "I knew right then the administration either had to give us some help (scholarships) or drop the sport."
Catholic U, got its scholarships and its baseball fortunes have prospered. Last weekend, the Cardinal nine completed its finest three days of baseball by winning the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Division I district II playoffs. The victory earned Catholic a berth in the Northeastern regionals. It plays Seton Hill in the first round at Palmer Field in Middletown, Conn., Thursday.
"When you think back with what we have to offer and the problems the team had to overcome, just being among the final six teams in the East is quite accomplishment," said Talbot, who also is the university's director of admissions. "We were only 14-6 and just managed to squeak in the playoffs, anyway. I guess you can say I was a bit apprehensive about our chances."
Catholic, which plays its home games on a minifield (240 feet down the right field line) that is difficult to find on the smallish, rather secluded campus in Northeast Washington, was not about to blow its long-awaited opportunity.
it edged perennial power and top-seeded St. John's (26-8), 6-5 in the first game of the double-elimination tournament at Princeton.
"We knew we could win it then," said four-star-starter and shortstop Mike Yeager. "We had nothing to lose.We were fourth-seeded in a four team tournament."
CU flirted with disaster the next two days out as Talbot put it, "When things are doing right, they're going right."
The supposedly outclassed visitors beat Columbia, 3-2, in 10 innings.It took a head-first dive into first base by Bruce Cudmore in the final inning to get Reilly Shaugnessey across the plate with the winning run.
On a rematch, CU held a one-run lead over St. John's in the final inning on the last day and the redmen had a man on first with one out. The next St. John's batter poked a long double into the alley but a perfect relay from Cudmore to Shaugnessey to catcher Tim McCormick nailed the St. John's runner at the plate. With two out and a runner on third, the St. John's batter hit a chopper in front of the plate. McCormick chased the ball down and threw low to first base, but Eric Becraft dug it out of the dirt to preserve a 4-3 victory.
CU finished only 9-11 in the fall baseball season.
"We had a lot of freshmen and we tried something different in the winter months," said Talbot. "We put in some weight training did a lot of conditioning."
The team also went to Florida, as they have for the past few years, and played several practice games with the Philadelphia Phillie rookies.
"We didn't win any. They had 70 pitchers and changed every two innings," said Talbot. "I knew we wouldn't see any better pitching during the year."
Talbot dismissed his team three weeks ago following its last game but had little trouble rounding up his men after receiving the bid May 16. Seven of the starting eight players (excluding pitchers) are products of local high schools.
Outfielder val Van Deventer (St,John's) is the leading hitter, batting .414 with four home runs and 25 runs batted in. McCormick (Carroll) is just behind at .390, followed by Becraft (Sherwood) at .347.
There were no banners, ticker-tape parades or screaming Catholic fans to welcome the team when it returned home Monday. The reason: the school has been closed since April 29.
However, several of the stdents still on campus were very much aware of the team's success.
"A lot of things that happen here go unnoticed in the community," said Kevin Seraile, who went to Carroll.
His friends Matt Dauchess and Mark Antoniccio agreed.
"Even when we win this week, things will still be the same," said Antoniccio. "The community won't know and the campus will still be deserted. No one knows what's happening."
If Catholic prevails this weekend, the campus will surely be deserted but the triumphs will not go unnoticed.