Tweaks and adjustments have been made. The kinks have been worked out, and roles have been established. This weekend, the Binghamton baseball team will be ready to begin its quest to repeat as America East champions.
With a 4-9 non-conference season in the books, the Bearcats are staring down the barrel of a 24-game America East schedule that starts on Saturday at UMass Lowell.
In 2013, the Bearcats roared into AE play with an 8-4 non-conference record, but this year they’ll be less reliant upon momentum and more reliant upon experience.
“I thought we challenged our guys with a pretty good non-conference schedule,” Binghamton head coach Tim Sinicki said. “I thought we left a win or two out on the table that we probably could have had that we just didn’t close the door on, but I thought we did some things. I’m hoping that what we’ve learned from our successes and some of our failures, that we can kind of put it all together and play complete games as we head into the conference part of our schedule.”
The nine position players from last year’s championship team are back to stage another title run this season, but Sinicki said experience is only important if it yields production.
“It’s great to have the experience, but at the same time, we can’t just sit back and keep running those same guys out there every game if we’re not getting production and we’re not playing as well as we want to play,” Sinicki said. “I love the fact that some of our younger guys and some of our guys who didn’t play on a regular basis last year, are working hard and challenging our returning guys. I think competition is healthy for a ball club.”
With BU’s top two starting pitchers having graduated at the end of last season, senior Jack Rogalla has stepped into the role of staff ace and hasn’t missed a beat. In four starts this season, the right hander is 2-1 with a 2.16 ERA. In 25 innings pitched, he has struck out 17 batters and held opponents to a .167 batting average.
But Rogalla isn’t the only pitcher who has performed well. BU’s starting staff has continued to get the job done despite missing its two biggest arms from a season ago, which has helped to compensate for a shaky and still developing bullpen.
“[Rogalla’s] been everything you can ask of an ace. Every time he takes the mound, he gives your team a chance to win,” Sinicki said. “I think [sophomore] Jake Cryts has thrown the ball well. Unfortunately, [junior] Mike Urbanski is still kind of resting at this point with a minor injury. But in his place, [junior] Mike Kaufman started last weekend, and he’ll get the ball again this weekend. Again, I think our starting pitching has been pretty solid so far this season. It’s more the bullpen that’s a concern.”
Defensively, Sinicki said the Bearcats have performed “pretty consistently” and that it’s been the area they’re most ready to rely upon in conference play. But while starting pitching and defense have been strong for BU, the team’s bats have been inconsistent and are only now starting to wake up.
“Guys are showing signs of breaking out,” Sinicki said. “They’re hitting balls hard and at people. Sometimes, statistics don’t reflect nearly how a young man is doing. But at the same time, we need contributions from one through nine in the lineup, not just relying on our two-through-four hitters.”
Senior outfielder Jake Thomas is hitting .283, a respectable mark for a team’s cleanup hitter, but not anywhere close to his 2013 numbers. His .371 batting average a season ago led the America East and ranked 52nd in the country. Sinicki attributes the dip to a number of factors.
“People are going to pitch to him a little differently,” Sinicki said. “He might not sneak up on people like he did last year. What has to happen is the guy behind him has to produce, and [Thomas] needs to continue to be patient and take what pitchers give him.”
Senior center fielder Bill Bereszniewicz has started in all 13 games this season, and his .340 clip has jump-started the offense on many occasions. Senior second baseman Daniel Nevares and sophomore third baseman/designated hitter Reed Gamache are also hitting above .300. Gamache also leads the team with 11 RBIs.
After plating 10 runs in its series-opening win against Virginia Military Institute last weekend, Binghamton managed only three runs in the following two games combined. But with a clean slate ahead of them, the Bearcats have an opportunity to put all of their offensive woes behind them.
UMass Lowell is new to the conference, and with no exposure to the America East, Sinicki said he expects the newcomers to be chomping at the bit to get their first conference wins this weekend.
“They’re a ball club that we don’t know much about, obviously never having seen them play or compete against them,” Sinicki said. “All I know is that their coach is widely respected in the northeast. And they’ve beaten some good teams, too. They’ve beaten Virginia Tech, they’ve beaten University of Rhode Island, they’ve beaten Cincinnati. So I expect them to be hungry to get their first crack at America East play, and we’ll have to go out and be prepared for that.”
First pitch of Saturday’s doubleheader is slated for noon at Bill Beck Field in Kingston, R.I. Sunday’s series finale is also set to begin at noon at the same location.