"After those early losses I saw in my players' eyes that they weren't responding to my [intense] ways," Horan said. "So I just told them to go out and play baseball and have fun."
What he saw was that the intensity with the team was still there, but it was also a more relaxed group.
And a winning group as well. After that 0-3 start, Audubon went 21-3 the rest of the way, earned the South Jersey Group 2 title and a state championship appearance.
For guiding the Green Wave to a 21-6 season and the sectional title, Horan has been named The Inquirer South Jersey coach of the year.
"What I saw was that some teams are unique with a different blend of athletes, and you always have to adjust," Horan said.
Even though he turned down the intensity meter ever so slightly, Horan still was able to transfer his sense of competitiveness to the team. Never was that more evident than in the South Jersey Group 2 semifinal, a 4-2 win in eight innings at Haddon Township.
Audubon trailed, 2-0, entering the top of the seventh inning but scored two runs to send the game into extra innings and then won on Tyler Urban's two-run single in the eighth.
Trailing, 2-1, the game was kept alive when No. 9 hitter Chris Borgesi hit a two-out single, putting runners on first and second. Then John Flacco tied the game with an RBI single.
"I told them that as long as we have outs left, we have a chance," Horan said.
In addition, Audubon enjoyed a long postseason run because Horan was able to adeptly use his pitching staff.
Sophomore lefthander Kevin Kraemer pitched six innings against Haddon Township, and ace Wade Gies earned the win in relief.
Gies beat Buena, 4-3, in the sectional final and even though he was eligible to pitch in the state semifinal, Horan went with Kraemer.
"You have to show players you have confidence in them, and we had a lot of confidence in Kevin," Horan said.
Audubon won the state semifinal, 13-3, over Spotswood, and Gies was able to pitch the state final.
Even though Audubon lost, 2-1, to West Essex in the state championship, the Green Wave certainly distinguished themselves in defeat. They fell to a team that was ranked No. 3 in the state by The Newark Star Ledger. In addition, Audubon trailed, 2-1, and thought it had tied the score in the sixth. But Flacco was robbed of a home run on a sensational catch by centerfielder Andy Santomauro.
It was typical Audubon, going down while fighting and scrapping, a team playing in the image of its coach.
"Coach Horan has the ability for finding the best way to make us better as players and as a team," Flacco said.
Horan, 362-149-2 and the winner of five state titles at Audubon, has never used one formula because he understands that the makeup of each team is different.
He assesses each team and adjusts accordingly. This year's adjustment was among his best, which considering what Horan has accomplished is truly saying something.
Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.