Baseball swings into spring training

After compiling a disappointing 5-7 record in the NESCAC last season, baseball will look to come out swinging as it heads to Arizona to finish spring training. The Ephs will seek to replace five graduated seniors with a deep returning roster bolstered by nine recruits.

“Our roster appears to be very strong this season,” co-captain Steve Maier ’12 said. “There is a great deal of talent in the returning players this year, and we have supplemented that strength with a very talented first-year class.”

The departing seniors left several starting spots open, including three spots in the rotation and vacancies at catcher and right field. The men struggled last year to fill the catcher’s position, with former co-captain James Allison ’11 ultimately stepping up behind the dish. This year, three players will fight for the spot: Marco Hernandez ’14, Chance Reuger ’13 and Phil McGovern ’15.

“Those three guys have done a great job in the fieldhouse catching, and the best defensive guy at that position is going to play the most innings,” Head Coach Bill Barrale said. “We’re willing to give up some offense at the catcher’s position for a good defensive catcher.”

The men will also have to fill the slot in right field vacated by former co-captain Pat Barren ’11. Barrale predicts Tommy Stephens ’14 and rookie Kirby Neuner ’15 will compete for the spot. Stephens looks poised to assume the position, but as Barrale pointed out, “the thing about Arizona is we play so many games that positions are going to be won on the field.”

With four returning starters, Barrale expects the infield to anchor the team. At shortstop, Cameron Susk ’12, who was named to the First Team All-NESCAC last year, will start for his fourth season and will again seek to put up consistent numbers at the plate. Susk ended last year with a .389 batting average and a team-leading 51 hits. He will be joined by KC Murphy ’13 at first, Matt Kastner ’14 at second and Taylor Mondshein ’13 at third. “They started the majority of the games last season, and they’re all back so we’re excited about that,” Barrale said.

In the outfield, Darren Hartwell ’13 will join Stephens. The men, however, will be handicapped in the early season with the loss of Maier, who is currently not able to play due to a wrist injury. Maier is hoping to return to the field before the end of the Arizona trip. Last year, Maier demonstrated impressive speed and athleticism on both offense and defense. In the field, the senior had only one error to his credit while batting .341 and leading the team in triples and stolen bases.

The pitching rotation will see changes this season after the loss of several perennial starters. “We struggled with starting pitching last year,” Barrale said. “But Steve Marino [’14] had a really good summer and a really good off-season, [so] we think he can step up and help us out.” Barrale also has high hopes for co-captain Harry Marino ’12, who benefited from a strong season with the Cape Cod League’s Chatham Anglers.

“We also have some young arms, some young guys who came in,” Barrale said. “They’re a little unproven because they haven’t played yet, but I’m excited to see them play in Arizona.” Barrale has particularly high expectations for rookies Jacob Slater ’15 and Tom Murphy ’15.

Barrale’s goal is to maintain a high level of play for every pitch of every game. “We’re trying to win on a pitch-to-pitch basis,” he said, “and if we can win more of those individual battles, the bigger picture things will take care of themselves. I want to win every game – I don’t care who’s on our schedule.”

After dropping three games to Middlebury in Arizona last season, the men will put particular emphasis on their March 30-31 series against the Panthers. “With only 12 NESCAC games all season, the three games against Middlebury in Arizona are critical,” Maier said.

Regardless of the outcome of that series, however, the men are determined to stay focused. “Our goal is to maintain an even keel throughout the season,” Maier said. “With a schedule of 38 games, there are plenty of ups and downs. We are aiming to build upon the positives and learn from the negatives, while keeping a short memory.”

The men will start their 16-game spring break schedule with a double-header against Augsburg in Arizona on Sunday. The team’s first home game will be on April 4 against Keene State, and the men will then host Amherst on April 6 before traveling to the Jeffs’ home field for a doubleheader on April 7. Williams will also travel to MCLA for a game on April 9.

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