Injuries, inexperience, and missed opportunities have kept Manhattan’s Men’s Baseball Team from returning to the top of the MAAC the past three years, but 2017 may prove to be the year that all changes.
The team has a lot to build on, coming off a strong 2016 season in which the team’s underclassmen showed a lot of promise behind the leadership of the upperclassmen. Head coach Jim Duffy has seen everything from MAAC Championship teams, to teams that miss the playoffs, and seeing potential in the core group he has now.
“We have experienced guys back,” said Duffy, “most of the guys who were on the field competing in close games last year, will be on the field this year”.
Manhattan does have to weather the loss of reigning MAAC Player of the Year Christian Santisteban, who led the team with a .367 batting average and 76 hits, while also finishing second on the team in runs, home runs, and RBI. However, with the emergence of freshman hitters in the 2016 season, as well as the return of middle infielder Matt Forlow, the Jaspers will look to collectively replace the presence of their star player in 2017.
The leadership for the position players now shifts to shortstop, where senior Jose Carrera looks to lead his teammates to a MAAC championship. Carrera has been a mainstay in the middle infield since his freshman year, and maintains his upbeat attitude by exerting positive energy.
“We stick together and we don’t give up,” said Carrera.
Known around the team as “Chiqui”, Carrera is one of the few seniors on this team playing in his fourth and final year. His mantra, to have fun, and to remember that baseball is a game of failure. In his final season, he looks to lead the younger guys by example.
“They have to take it day by day,” said Carrera, “everyone’s going to struggle sometimes; they have to be willing to fail.”
Coach Duffy will miss many things about the senior from Miami, Florida, including his ability to hit for average, power, and play stellar defense to name a few. Most importantly, Duffy will miss having someone like Carrera coming in every day to work hard.
“He brings positive energy to this team and it’s contagious. It’s like having another coach on the field.” said Duffy.
What the Jaspers do have to look forward to is the return of a lethal starting rotation, featuring junior ace Tom Cosgrove, as well as seniors Joe Rocchietti and Joe Jacques. Pitching coach Brian McCullough expects his guys to carry the same swagger they featured in the 2016 season into the 2017 season.
“They’re winners. They imagine themselves winning and they go out and execute.” said McCullough.
For McCullough, the pitching becomes most effective when performed in its simplest form. He drills into his staff the fundamental importance of throwing strikes early in the count, controlling the running game, and properly adjusting to different batters and situations. Ultimately, he attempts to limit the giving the opposition an advantage at the hands of a mistake on the mound.
“At this level, he game of the free-bee’s is huge,” said McCullough.
After a season where he recorded a team leading 80 strikeouts and lead all starters with a 3.70 ERA, junior Tom Cosgrove finds himself ready to lead this staff into a successful season. When looking at the jump he made from freshman to sophomore year, Cosgrove was grateful for coach McCullough’s ability to change his approach.
“He simplified the game for me,” said Cosgrove, “he was able to tailor all of his ideas to each specific pitcher”.
The understanding between the staff and McCullough grew throughout the course of the year, which lead to more success on the mound and ultimately a playoff berth. Duffy’s team had an above .500 record in close games last year, going 12 and 10 in games that were decided by two or more runs, many of which came towards the end of the season. Cosgrove feels that while this was a team effort, one side of the baseball truly emerged in these games.
“You can’t win tight games without pitching, but I ultimately think that the hitters won us a lot of tight games,” said Cosgrove.
A key part of the Jasper’s playoff run last year was the stellar play of their underclassman hitters. Fabian Pena was named MAAC Rookie of the Year as well as a Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American, while other freshman such as Richie Barrella and Anthony Rocchietti contributed as everyday guys.
Freshman pitchers Marc Galvan and Ryan Takacs also had hopeful starts to their collegiate careers out of the bullpen. They helped hand the game to now senior closer Shawn Kanwisher who lead the team with a 2.57 ERA while recording 57 strikeouts over 49 innings-pitched.
Ultimately, the team this year feels their season must end in a championship. They have the experience and the firepower to make a run back to late June baseball. The current roster has seen success and failure within the conference, experience which they think will give them an advantage going into tight games.
Jose Carrera is one of the men on the roster who has seen it all, and thinks that the Jaspers can make that final push this season because of what they have played through the past 4 years.
“We know how it feels to lose, we know how it feels to win,” said Carrera, “we have to make a statement.”
The Jaspers kick off their season at UCF on February 24th, with the hopes of turning their southern road trip into a hot start to the season.