You can make excuses for as long as you want, and there are plenty of them. You could claim they were too young, too often injured, or unable to cash in on baserunners. The list goes on and on.
But the reality is, the Springfield College baseball team (12-21-1) massively underperformed, finished last in the Western part of the NEWMAC – second to last overall in the conference – and finds themselves for the second year in a row a mere spectator of the conference tournament.
“There were some ups and downs. We had a very good spring trip and came back and struggled up north,” said head coach Mark Simeone. “With some of those ups and downs, there’s no question we’ve got to play better in all three phases of the game.”
33 players stepped foot on the field at one point or another this season, 19 of which made their varsity collegiate debut in their first appearance, something Simeone cites has never happened in his 20 years as head coach and will likely never happen again. And some of those youngsters thrived in that role. Freshman Brandon Drabinski banged a home run in his college first swing and led the team in RBI. Matt Fraoli was a defensive asset in the infield. Brian Johnson stepped in and made seven appearances, three of which were starts.
But on the flipside, errors were made in pivotal moments, players did not step up when they needed to, and it caused them games.
And for seniors like Dan Green, who has been on the roster since his freshman year, it’s understandable that growing pains exist with a young squad, but not something the team wanted to be used as a crutch.
“We have young players who can play this game at a high level. Overcoming being young as a team has been over-stated. College athletes are college athletes whether they are 18 or 22,” said Green. “We all hold ourselves to a higher standard than to make that an excuse. We struggled to be clutch as a team this year. Quite often the other team had the big hit, big strikeout, or big defensive play and we did not.”
The injury bug was prevalent from the get-go, with 13 of the 33 players incurring injuries at some point during the season. Mark Joao, the only returning infielder on the roster, tore his ACL in the team’s first conference matchup. Ben Bohlke and Tyler Kelly, two pitchers who were expected to be in the top-three on the team in innings pitched, suffered injuries and had limited use, missing more than half of their season’s.
In fact, of the 14 pitchers on staff for the Pride, seven missed time at one point or another, leading to a vicious cycle. Pitchers would have to make spot starts or come in when they were not ready, the bullpen would get depleted, starters were not getting adequate rest, and as a result command was often lost and in turn capitalized on by the opposition.
“In terms of injuries, we did not overcome them as well as we had hoped. We never gave up or conceded. Our morale, spirits, and the effort was still there, but losing our 3-hitter and only returning infielder [Joao] was very tough to overcome,” said Green.
The season got off to a fairly hot start, with the pride going 5-2-1 in their spring break trip to Florida. Across the board, that appeared to be the highlight of the season. However, once the team hit the northern part of their schedule their game simply did not translate.
In fairness however, the team did show some resiliency. And on top of that, there were plenty of bright spots.
The Pride had back-to-back walk-off wins on April 11 and 12 against Brandeis and Emerson, respectively. In their final game of the season on Monday, Billy Peterson had a memorable final at-bat of his baseball career, hitting the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th to put the Pride ahead which they would hold on to in the bottom half.
“What I took away from this season is that you have to have a very short memory in a sport like this. I learned this the hard way growing up through the years and try to make a point to hustle around and not hang my head when things are not going well,” he said. “There will always be another chance to go out and do better the next time, and you never know who is watching you.”
It’s easy to forget that this is a team that won only 10 games last year, so the revamped roster is actually an improvement — albeit a modest one — from last season.
And with this year now about to enter the rear-view mirror, the team knows there’s no shortage of things to improve upon.
“We didn’t make the tournament, we had a losing record, so there’s no question that we need to be better in the future. And guys that were in the program this year are going to be challenged to improve individually so we can improve collectively,” said Simeone. “If we use this experience [of this season] the right way it can help us more than hurt us.”
And they’ll have to do it without the core seniors who formed the nucleus of this program over the last four seasons. The three outfielders in Peterson, Colin King and Corey Wilcox will all be graduating, as will Green and Jack Baldwin, the top two pitchers in terms of innings pitched. Bohlke will also be graduating, but returning next year as a part of the coaching staff as a Graduate Assistant.
“They’re tough holes to fill. Fortunately there’s only five of them and not ten of them like we had last year. Those guys are not only are solid players, they’re outstanding teammates and people and leaders,” said Simeone. “[They’re] all guys that have been around and in this program for many years. They’ve been exemplary in the way they’ve gone about their business as students, as teammates and as leaders.”
He added, “I couldn’t have asked for more from them with regards to how they represented our program and the effort they put forth in doing the best they could individually and doing the best they could as teammates in our program.”
The program took a new shape this year, and though the annual goal of reaching the conference tournament was not met again, the team has already begun establishing its new nucleus. There’s a clear mindset and goal, and moving forward it will be compelling to see how it pans out.