By Chris Gionta
On Sunday, March 8, 2020, Jack Cooney – who was on his way to winning NEWMAC Athlete of the Week – was in scoring position in a tie game in the 7th inning. It was the second half of a doubleheader, so this inning was the last of regulation. The Pride had already walked it off in the first half of the doubleheader, and first-year shortstop Michael Barrett lined one into left field to drive in the speedy Cooney in order to make it back-to-back walk-offs.
This lifted the Springfield College baseball team’s record to 5-0, and this was the program’s first time starting 5-0 since 2011. Things were looking promising, but unfortunately, they did not learn their fate.
The story went unfinished.
Now, the Pride must do its best to pick up where it left off over 12 months ago. And this upcoming season they will have to go about things much differently. As opposed to a normal 35-40 game season, only 12 games are scheduled, which will be played via six Saturday doubleheaders. This is being done to ensure that the players have negative tests before traveling off campus.
This results in a change of approach for coaches and players.
“We just have to understand that each game means that much more,” said third baseman and co-captain of the team, Jack Simonetty. “Just playing conference opponents this spring means that we’re going to be playing high-level competition every weekend, and we’re going to see the best that everyone’s got in those two games a week. And we just gotta know that we have to show our A-game.”
Playing one day a week makes it difficult to maximize the use of the roster. There are 42 players on the Springfield roster, and it will be very difficult for head coach Mark Simeone to use all of them.
“Everyone’s playing mostly in those non-conference events,” said outfielder and co-captain Jack Cooney. “But, every game is a playoff game now, so it’s going to be challenging for those guys. But basically, I think they should be active on the bench and just be ready for when their opportunity comes, because it will come.”
The roster has its variations of similarities and differences from 2020 to 2021. Thirty-two of the 42 roster spots are being filled by players from last year’s squad. The most notable of their losses came in the outfield.
Center fielder Chad Shade and right fielder Jake Gleason graduated in 2020. Gleason will not use his extra year of eligibility while Shade transferred to play baseball for Kansas State University while in pursuit of a Master’s Degree.
Gleason was an on-base machine for the Pride, accumulating a .397 on-base percentage throughout his career. In the brief 2020 season, he reached base two or more times in all but one of the five games. Shade also reached base at an elite rate, getting on at a .388 clip in his college career, and along with that, he stole 46 bases in 79 career games.
“Those two guys in the middle of our order, and right in the center of our outfield are spots that need to be filled,” said Cooney. “They’re going to be filled in different ways this year.”
The available outfielders to fill in offer an electric mix of talent.
“I think you’re going to see some older guys have some bigger roles,” said Simonetty. “I think you’re going to see Conor Santoianni have a big impact for us in the outfield this year.”
Santoianni is a senior outfielder who has a lot of college baseball experience, and is known for displaying a lot of power in live batting practice. Simonetty’s co-captain pointed to the opposite end of the experience spectrum when he spoke of a player to watch.
“I think one player that can make a splash if he gets his opportunity is Andrew McCarty; he’s a first-year. He’s looked real good in practice, and he can definitely be a huge part of our team down the line and this season.” said Cooney.
Playing one day a week makes the pitching situation rather interesting. Theoretically, the team may require only two starting pitchers. However, the necessity for starters to go long innings is not as present as it would be in a normal season.
Last season, Springfield saw starts from Blake Roberge, Noah Bleakley, Mitch Wright, Brendan Kirck, and then their fifth game was an array of bullpen arms. Bleakley was a starting pitcher in 2019 as well, so it would be safe to assume that he will continue his role into 2021.
While it is unclear what the starting pitching situation will entail this upcoming season, the Springfield College baseball team was very safe when the game went to the bullpen in the abbreviated 2020.
Pitchers who came in relief last year allowed a combined one earned run in 19.1 innings pitched. Ben Arnold and Alex Gonfrade each appeared twice, combining for 11.1 innings, no earned runs, 12 strikeouts and one walk.
The Springfield College baseball team will play their first games on Saturday, March 20, on the road at WPI, and play their first home games on Saturday, April 3, starting at 12 p.m. against Wheaton College.
Photo: Jack Margaros/Springfield Athletics