By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The 2014 season for the Temple baseball team was turned on its head back in December when it was revealed that 2014 would actually be the final season for the program. It was one of several sports the university was eliminating.
That news led to players leaving the program and to many months of general upheaval for the Owls and head coach Ryan Wheeler.
However, to their credit, those Owls that stayed kept battling and earned the #6-seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament which gets underway today in Clearwater, Florida.
“This was our goal, one of my goals, to get to the conference tournament, since I’ve been here,” Temple head coach Ryan Wheeler tells KYW Newsradio. “I thought we had a pretty good club coming out of the fall; then the announcement of eliminating the program, and the guys have really bought into ‘us against the world.’ Here in the last couple of weeks, as we’ve played Louisville, ranked number 5 in the country and beat them, played Houston, ranked twelfth and beat them, I’ve told the guys, ‘Hey, we’re the team nobody wants to play.’ Because we’ve got nothing to lose, and those are scary teams. We’re not just happy to be here. We want to win the darn thing and show people that Temple baseball maybe should stick around.”
Listen To Podcast With Temple Coach Ryan Wheeler:
Now unlike most conference tournaments which utilize the double elimination format, the AAC Tourney is pool play. The 14-30 Owls first game will be this afternoon against the University of Houston.
“I’m treating it like a three-game series,” Wheeler says. “Just like we’ve done all season long. We’re pretty limited with the number of players still remaining on the squad, so I don’t have too many moves to make as a manager. So we’re just treating it like a three-game series because we’re guaranteed the three games, and we’re going to go out (Wednesday) and start Matt Hockenberry, who has been in the #1 spot for us all year and done a great job, and we’ll just manage the game from there and see how it goes. Hopefully he can get us deep into the game and we don’t have to use too much pitching in game number one.”
Regardless of how this plays out, Wheeler is incredibly proud of how his team has battled through a season of incredible adversity.
“Everybody counted them out, and they just kept coming everyday and playing hard and bringing their lunch pail, so to speak,” Wheeler says. “And here we are in Clearwater. And I told them once we qualified (for the conference tournament) that we’re not just happy to come down here, we want to win the darn thing.”
Temple’s opening game with Houston is slated to get underway at 3:00pm. Winner of the AAC tourney gets an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.