Baseball steps up to the plate to chase NCAA bid

After a strong 10-4 record in the NESCAC last season, baseball is headed for Arizona to finish off its spring training and fine-tune its starting nine. After graduating six seniors last year, including NESCAC co-player of the year Al Mathews ’10, the men will turn to seven rookies to help carry the team into the NCAA tournament. “[The seniors] all did a great job,” said Head Coach Bill Barrale, “and so the start of the new year is always how do you replace those guys. It starts with recruits. We’re deep in a lot of positions, so we have a lot of competition.”

“It’s going to be hard to replace those guys,” co-captain James Allison ’11 said, “but we have a lot of young guys coming up. The freshman and sophomore classes are really strong.” Co-captain Pat Barren ’11 agreed that the men’s young talent would have a large impact on their season. “We have some younger guys who are ready to play after they got some experience last year,” he said.

In addition to relying on young talent on the field, the team boasts a renovated coaching staff, with the Ephs’ former shortstop Jim Entwisle ’10 returning as an assistant coach and Mike Gladu coming on as the pitching coach. “I’m really happy with the coaching staff this year,” Barrale said. “They’ve been doing a great job, and it’s been a good energy.”

Barren cited Entwisle’s presence on the coaching staff as particularly helpful in maintaining the team’s positive chemistry from the 2010 season. “It’ll be nice to have Jim back,” he said. “He’s someone who was a leader last year and will help with the young guys this year.”
The seniors left several starting roles up for grabs, including left field, catching and three pitching slots. “We have some freshman who are fully capable of filling in for any of our needs,” Allison said. “We have some good young pitchers, who I assume will see some innings, especially down the stretch.” Barrale agreed that the team would have little difficulty in finding talent to round out the roster. “There’ll be healthy competition, and the best guys are going to play,” he said.

Barrale pointed to the offense, speed and pitching depth as the men’s primary strengths, and the Ephs plan to concentrate on improving their defense and their pitching performance this season. “We have a lot of pitchers, but we need to pitch better,” he said. “Our team ERA was high last year and we gave up too many walks. We’ve been working on pitching a little better and playing more solid defense.” Allison agreed: “We’re focusing on trying to come out clean and play strong defense,” he said.

Part of that defense will come from Steve Maier ’12 in centerfield. Coming off an errorless season, Maier will combine speed and athleticism to anchor the men’s outfield. “Steve’s a really talented athlete, and he plays a great centerfield for us,” said Barrale. The coach also expects Allison, Chance Rueger ’13 and Harry Marino ’12 to play important roles on the team. Allison’s versatility will allow him to start at either second base or catcher, which permits the team to evaluate Rueger behind the plate without sacrificing defense. “Rueger did a great job in the offseason to make himself better,” Barrale said. Allison also pointed to offseason training as giving Marino an edge heading into the season. “Harry Marino has a lot of talent and has worked incredibly hard over the offseason,” said Allison. “He’s one of our starting pitchers, and he’s worked really hard to make himself that much better.”

The goal of the season for the men is to win the West Division of the NESCAC and thereby qualify for NCAA play. Allison is confident that the team has the talent necessary to reach these goals. “We’re the best in the West [Division of the NESCAC],” he said. “If we can come together as a team like we did last year, we’ll be pretty unstoppable.” While the team acknowledges its larger goals, Barrale wants the men to play nine hard innings every game. “We’ve got to focus on one pitch at a time,” said Barrale. “There’s a lot of things you can’t control in baseball, but if you focus one pitch at a time the game will take care of itself.”

The men will play 17 games over spring break in Arizona, starting with a game against Conn. College on Saturday. The men will meet Middlebury in Arizona on April 1 in their first conference game of the season. Their first home game will be on April 10 against Wesleyan.
“We came out of the gate slowly last year, and we won’t let that happen again this year,” Barren said. “Our goal is to earn an NCAA bid.”

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