By Shelby Townsend
With the baseball team’s season fast approaching, Head Coach Michael Gaffney and his team hope that lessons learned from a “disappointing season” last year and more experience this year will help push them into post season play.
The Pioneers ended their 2016 season with an overall record of 23-20. Gaffney is entering his third year as head coach of the Pioneers, and he is hoping to learn from the inconsistencies that prevented his team from making it to post season play just a year ago.
“We were very young last year, therefore inconsistent,” Gaffney explained. “For instance, we had two wins versus nationally ranked top ten opponents, but lost nine out of 12 to start our conference schedule.”
Last year, the Pioneers finished with their best record since 2012, and they were just one game away from making it into the post season. “We had a lot of trouble holding onto leads last in games,” Gaffney explained. “Our bullpen was inconsistent. This season, we feel we made the necessary adjustments to improve that area.”
The team returned to campus from the holiday break on Jan. 14 with full team practices starting on Jan. 15. Gaffney said that the team has been working to build consistency on offense with more focus on hitting, bunting and running the bases.
Junior shortstop Joe Spitaleri said the team is working very hard, and their goal is to build a “winner’s mentality,” which he explained as everyone doing each and every job that needs to be done for practice. “Setting up equipment, taking ground balls, hitting or even picking someone up when they are having a bad day. It all has to be done with a great focus and effort day in and day out,” Spitaleri said.
Coach Gaffney and his players are confident in the team’s experience this year compared to last year. With eight out of nine starters returning from last year’s lineup, Gaffney is confident that “the same talent and another year of experience is going to go a long way.”
The Pioneers will travel to Gaffney, S.C. for their first two games on Feb. 18 and 19 against Gannon University and Limestone College. They will return to South Carolina during the last week of February for the Northeast Challenge at Myrtle Beach. Last year, the team travelled to South Carolina, Texas and Florida, but Gaffney said “these two trips were the ones we felt would give us that challenge and opportunity.” He also said it is important for the team to play 15 to 20 games before Conference play begins in March.
Junior outfield Rob Andreoli said the team is eager and excited for their upcoming trip. “Last year, Limestone took four from us, so we’re looking forward to giving them a little pay back this year,” Andreoli said.
He also added that the second trip to South Carolina could be their toughest test. “We’re facing two teams in Southern New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce who are nationally ranked,” Andreoli explained. “I think that will be our toughest games of the year.”
The first Conference game is scheduled for March 24 against Saint Thomas Aquinas College at LIU Post Baseball Field, but they will play seven games between Conference play and their trips down south.
Before Conference play begins, The Pioneers will return to their home field for the first time this year on March 4 when they take on Boomfield College at 12pm.