May 31, 2012
By Kevin Gleason
WEST POINT -- There was a knock on the door and in came Army senior co-captain J.T. Watkins escorting sophomore reliever Gunnar Carroll. There he was, a kid named Gunnar, fresh off three scoreless innings in Army's biggest game of the season, a kid who grew up 35 minutes from the University of Virginia and chose Army over the Cavaliers in part because of the man standing before him.
"Coach," Carroll began inside Joe Sottolano's room underneath Doubleday Field, "I just want to thank you for sticking with me today. It means a lot to me, it really does."
Sottolano, probably having his best year of 13 seasons as head coach, stayed with Carroll in the eighth inning of Army's 8-4 win over Holy Cross that clinched the Patriot League tournament title and a berth in the NCAA tourney beginning Friday. Carroll had gone 2-and-0 on Alex Maldonado leading off the eighth and watched a mass of teammates head to the right-field bullpen. Carroll walked Maldonado and dug himself a little hole with another walk to open the ninth.
Sometimes a coach eschews matchup trends or signs of weariness from his pitcher. Sometimes a coach goes with his own gut because he knows his players' guts. They call it belief. Carroll stayed on the mound.
Now Sottolano was feeling a rare moment of being caught off guard. Unsure quite what to say, clearly touched, his face softened and they embraced. When Carroll left, escorted out by Watkins because the Academy, and the Black Knights, are about protocol, Sottolano looked at a visitor and allowed an appreciative nod.
"It means a lot that he would stick with me and he trusted me with a game of that gravity,'' Carroll said a week later, minutes after Army's name went up on the TV screen beside top-seeded Virginia, the school he almost attended and his opponent in the Charlottesville regional opener. "I've picked up so many things from him. I've learned a lot about organization, being accountable for your actions. I've learned a lot about professionalism. He's not going to BS you."
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