Trailing 8-5, the first two FAU batters in the sixth inning reached base, bringing Rivera, one of FAU’s most reliable run producers, to the plate. Rivera pulled a hard one-hopper to Rice third baseman Braden Comeaux, who stepped on third then fired to Trei Cruz, who in turn threw to first in time to nab Rivera. Triple play.
“When it happened I was kind of down, but I told myself you’re going to get another shot,” Rivera said. Luckily I did and it worked out for us.”
The night ended on a much higher note for Rivera. In the bottom of the 10th, he was on first base when Jared DeSantolo sent a line drive into the right field corner. Rivera raced around the bases, scoring the run that sent FAU into the C-USA championship game.
“I think his overall riding thing in his whole baseball game is his kind of chip on his shoulder – I’m going to try to be tougher than you type thing,” FAU coach John McCormack said of Rivera.
That toughness served Rivera – and the Owls – well in what has been at times a chaotic season.
Primarily an outfielder throughout spring camp, McCormack put Rivera at second base in the season opener because he wasn’t happy with the play of newcomers Richie Nizza and Mariano Ricciardi.
Throughout the early portion of the season Rivera toggled back and forth from the infield to the outfield, filling the role McCormack needed that day.
“I grew up playing every position,” Rivera said. “I’m really honored to do that for my team. I think it helps in a big way.”
His versatility affords McCormack some luxuries. Against Central Florida on May 8, McCormack pulled reliever lefty reliever Jordan Poore for the final inning in favor of a righty. But McCormack wasn’t certain Poore’s night on the mound was compete. If the Knights got a couple of base runners, left-handed hitting DH Brody Wofford loomed and McCormack liked the match-up of Poore against Wofford.
Poore doubles as a reserve outfielder, so rather than send him to the dugout, McCormack moved him to left field, sending Rivera to second base. That Poore wasn’t needed again doesn’t diminish the unselfishness Rivera showed by making the move.
“Eric’s a unique individual,” FAU catcher Kevin Abraham said. “He’s such a team guy, such a high spirited, high energy guy. As a fan I don’t know if you can really tell by the way he acts on the field because he plays with emotions. That’s the way he carries us on the field, too. We feed off that. We feed off guys with energy, with emotion with passion.”
FAU also feeds of Rivera’s run production.
At 6-feet tall and 185 pounds, Rivera has the build of a run scorer, yet entering Friday’s NCAA regional game against Jacksonville Rivera leads FAU with 46 RBI.
“He always seems to come up with the big hit,” FAU coach John McCormack said. “He likes those moments. He cherishes that toughness aspect of it.”
Rivera began the season as the No. 7 hitter in the Owls’ line-up, but climbed the order thanks to consistency along with some injuries to other players.
A .286 hitter whose five homers are only sixth most among Owls, Rivera batted clean-up ever since former No. 4 hitter Pedro Pages broke a bone in his left hand on April 28.
“He gives us flexibility,” McCormack said. “He gives us options. He’s hit anywhere from two to eight. He’s kind of settled in four. He does have a penchant for driving in runs.”