Baseball: Season Begins in Florida
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It's that time of year again. With every passing day the spring sun seems to cut through the clouds just a little stronger, more lax pinnies are out on the quad holding 9-irons and even those dreaded Ugg boots and North Faces have started to morph into flip-flops and tank tops. Looking down Mayflower Hill, Coombs Field sits in snowless glory. What's the best part of it all? Baseball is back.
The Mules are reenergized and return to the field looking to improve on last year's disappointing 8-24 record. Just two years ago Colby produced its first winning season (18-14) since 1999. With a core of returning players, hopes were high going into last year, but inconsistent play, injuries and a decrease in production led to a season below expectations. Rather than stew in denial, the same nucleus of players that was a "young group" just a year ago has returned as a veteran squad with a new-found resolve.
"This has been the best off-season since we've been a part of the program," senior co-captain Ryan Conlon said.
Head Coach Dale Plummer, going into his fourth year at the helm, is also happy about the fall and winter workouts. "We are much stronger physically than ever before. I feel after a disappointing season last year, guys realized there had to be more of an off-season effort to get better and to instill confidence on the field and as individuals," Plummer said.
The team has come together as a unit during the off-season, but the bottom line remains: baseball is a numbers game, and the Mules were lacking in these on both sides of the ball last year. Colby plays in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) East, and although it is one of the more competitive Division III baseball conferences in the country, last in the league in batting average (.281) and last in ERA (8.27) will not cut it this year.
The offense must cope with the loss of last year's seniors, NESCAC second-team selection Craig Cooper (.398, 4 HR, 32 RBI) and catcher Kyle McKay (.311, 18 RBI), who were the team's leading run producers. Thankfully a core of returning starters should raise their level of play in order to offset the loss.
"Offensively, we should be strong with a lot of depth if some guys are not producing," Plummer said.
Two years ago, then sophomores Conlon, John LaMantia and Ken Kaufman were all in the top-ten of NESCAC batting average. If these three can replicate their former batting prowess the lineup will take on a whole new shape. Third baseman Mike Mastrocola '12, outfielder Richard Newton '11 and outfielder John Lerner '11 will provide power and on-base ability to round out the core of the lineup. Lerner has fully recovered from off-season surgery on a Superior Labrum from Anterior to Posterior (SLAP) tear that he knowingly played through last year. Taro Gold '12, Brandon Nieuw '12 and Will Greenberg '12, all of whom proved themselves in limiting playing time last year, will make for a speedy trio at the middle infield positions. With McKay graduated, the role of catcher is up for grabs. Nick Ruocco '10, converted over the off-season from a pitcher and has shown an adept ability in the defensive roll of catcher. He will battle with Brendan Gallagher '12 and Devlin McConnell '12 for the spot.
Two years ago, most of the 18 wins for Colby were highlighted by an explosive offense. This year it may be pitching that keeps Colby on the right track.
"I would hope that pitching is our strength. We have the arms to be very competitive on the mound," Plummer said. "Shutting down teams and playing solid defense will be the key to our W-L record this season."
The 1-2 punch of senior co-captain Matt Moore and Dom Morrill '11 will return to head the rotation. Moore is an inning eater and will be leaned on heavily this year to give the Mules' bullpen a rest. Morrill can light it up. His strikeout stuff matches up nicely against Moore's unyielding pounding of the zone. Sophomores Mark Collins, Connor Sullivan, Abhi Chandel and first-year left-hander Nate Sugarbaker will compete for the third weekend spot. Wil Hartigan '11 will return once again to hold down the closer role.
So circle your calendars, folks. Baseball is back. The Mules will travel to Winter Haven, FL over spring break to play 10 games in seven days. The first game against Union College looms ahead on March 20.