by, Pete Janny, Sports Editor
The return of Manhattan baseball to Van Cortlandt Park has made for one of the better highlights of the academic year thus far. The excitement being generated around the program has been a breath of fresh air during the dog days of the semester.
The Jaspers are currently 3-11 overall with a 3-3 record at VCP. Their first win of the season came against Rider by a score of 8-1 in the second game of a doubleheader on April 2. Then, they were able to use the momentum from that win to sweep the doubleheader vs. Iona on April 7.
The home field advantage appeared to be on full display against the Gaels, as the Jaspers took the first game 8-1 before capping off the day with a 13-1 blowout.
“You can just see the energy level of playing at home,” head coach Mike Cole said. “Most of the guys we have experienced what it was like to go to Dutchess Stadium so they have an understanding of it and being able to just walk across the street now makes life a lot easier.”
The Jaspers broke open the first game in the sixth inning with five runs that gave them an insurmountable 8-1 lead. Sophomore Kyle Lesler notched his first career victory in game one by pitching a scoreless fifth inning. On the sunny afternoon, the Jaspers offense came out to play from the get-go and was led by three hits and two RBIs from junior Jake Knop in game one. Senior Will Trochiano, who has served as the Jaspers’ lead-of f hitter this season, continued his strong season by adding two hits and scoring twice in that first game.
Head coach Mike Cole is excited to see Trochiano fulfilling his potential at the top of the lineup in his fourth season in Riverdale. Trochiano, a native of Morganville, New Jersey, had struggled to stay healthy early in his Manhattan career, but is now batting a team-high .333 while also tied for the team lead in home runs with two.
“He’s finally healthy which is the most important thing,” Cole said. “This is really his first year of playing MAAC games and he’s an older kid that’s had some success when he’s been healthy.”
In game two, junior Jonathan Barditch set the tone with a two-run home run over the left field fence that highlighted a five-run first inning for Manhattan. From there, the Jaspers never looked back on their way to scoring a season-high 13 runs. Five Manhattan players recorded at least two hits, as Barditch finished 2-of 4 and three RBIs. Teddy Sabato registered his win of the season in allowing one run over four innings pitched.
“To get going early gave everyone confidence in the line-up,” Cole said about the 13-1 win in game two. “We strung together a bunch of good at- bats, stayed in the strike zone, and when we got some pitches to hit we did damage.”
One of the bright sports early in the season was freshman Trevor Santos. Having established himself as the starting left fielder, Santos recently won MAAC Rookie of the Week due to his performance across six games. In those games, Santos registered at least one hit in five of them and batted .467 (7- of-15) altogether. He’s batting .303 on the season, making him one of three players on the roster to be batting over .300 with at least 30 at-bats.
“I think Trevor has a chance to be a really good hitter at Manhattan,” Cole said. “He’s a little more advanced than other freshmen when they get here. When he gets his pitch he doesn’t try to do too much and he has a really good left-handed swing.”
Some factors that have contributed to the disappointing team results this season have been the lack of consistency in both facets of the games. As a team, the Jaspers are hitting just .242 and have seen their team ERA balloon to 5.98 after losing four games to Canisius two weekends ago.
The lack of production in the middle of the order has been the most glaring deficiency for the offense. Key players such as Jake Knop, Richie Barrella, Matt Padre and preseason MAAC Player of the Year Nick Cimillo have seen their batting averages dip below .200 in the early going after getting limited opportunities to practice as a team before the season started. But having been around his veterans for a few years, Cole knows it’s just a matter of time before they start swinging the bats like they are capable of. If that happens, the Manhattan offense will be tough to deal with for opposing pitchers.
“Early on COVID hurt us because we only had five team practices in a 30-day period, and it’s hard to get back into things,” Cole said about his team being thrown into the fire. “Those guys have had a ton of success in their careers and I think they may be pressing a little bit. Those guys are old enough that they are one swing away from getting back on track.”
The Jaspers resumed their schedule at Siena this past weekend for four games against the Saints. Prior to that, Manhattan’s second double-header vs. Iona scheduled for April 14 at VCP was postponed due to a COVID-19 case within the Gaels’ program. The postponement marked the second time Manhattan had to make changes to their schedule after their own COVID-19 problems pushed back a home series against Niagara. The Niagara series will be made up with doubleheaders on May 4 and 5 at VCP, while the plan for the Iona series has not been announced yet.
“Everyone around the country has had to make a lot of sacrifices,” Cole said. “No one kid on the team has complained. They show up to play everyday and are trying to get better. Hopefully we’ll be playing our best baseball here at the end of April and into May.”