Not even two months ago, the Binghamton baseball team was voted the favorite to place first in the America East this season. Fast forward six weeks to the present, and the Bearcats stray far from that vision, with a 4-11 record and a seat in the basement of the conference.
Despite losing last season’s top two starters, Jake Lambert and Jay Lynch, the source of the Bearcats’ woes has not been their pitching. Oddly enough, it’s their offense that’s struggling — the same offense that propelled BU to a 2013 conference championship.
Senior captain Bill Bereszniewicz leads the team at the plate, batting .345 with 12 runs scored, nine RBIs and five stolen bases. The middle of the lineup, however, has failed to drive in runs on a consistent basis.
At times, several BU hitters have gone on a tear — sophomore third baseman Reed Gamache is hitting a shade under .300 for the season but leads the team in RBIs, and junior left fielder Jake Thomas, sophomore third baseman David Schanz and junior right fielder Zach Blanden have all driven in three runs in a single game. But in each of their past four games, the Bearcats have failed to score more than two runs, and they haven’t scored more than three in seven of their last eight.
Head coach Tim Sinicki believes that as the season progresses and his players get more at-bats, the hits will come.
“I think baseball is a high repetition sport,” Sinicki said. “You only play on the weekends, you’re not playing mid-week games [and] you’re not getting on the field and getting a chance to swing the bat. I think sometimes that the offense starts a little slow, but they’re working as hard as they can during practice during the week.”
Thomas, Baseball America’s preseason America East Player of the Year, has had trouble replicating his stellar 2013 campaign. This year, pitchers know how dangerous he is and have been approaching him differently — he’s not going to sneak up on anyone the way he did last season. As a result, Thomas is hitting only .269, but is third on the team with seven RBIs.
“He needs to take advantage of what the pitchers are giving him,” Sinicki said. “If they’re trying to pitch around him, he needs to be patient and take the walk; if they’re coming at him I think he doesn’t need to be picky, he needs to be aggressive when he sees fastballs and put good swings on them. I think it’s a matter of [Thomas] finding his way right now and getting adjusted to the reputation he’s built in the conference.”
For a team struggling to score runs, Binghamton has learned the hard way that mistakes can loom large on the scoreboard. Against UMass Lowell, the Bearcats failed to take advantage when they got runners on base, and Sinicki chalked it up to carelessness, saying his players must make better decisions on the bases.
This weekend, the Bearcats will take on Hartford in a three-game conference series. In the first game of the series, BU will face sophomore pitcher Sean Newcomb, who hasn’t allowed an earned run all season.
“They’ve got perhaps the best starting pitching in the conference,” Sinicki said of Hartford. “Sean Newcomb, he’s got a chance to be a first round draft pick this June — he’s a 6-foot-5 left-hand pitcher who will run it up there around 95-96 miles per hour.”
However, earlier this season the Bearcats plated six runs against Virginia Military Institute junior Reed Garrett, who, like Newcomb, hadn’t given up an earned run.
“I think our hitters are looking forward to the challenge of getting in the box and facing those guys,” Sinicki said.
If the Bearcats can get on base, they will have to be smart and see if they can rattle Newcomb, who has not pitched out of the stretch very often this season.
“He hasn’t given up many hits and walked many guys, so I think it’s important for us to get some guys on base, get him pitching out of the stretch and see if that has any kind of negative effect on him,” Sinicki said. “If it’s the right guy on base, we’ll absolutely take our shot with stealing bases, but we won’t be careless either. I think it depends on the situation — about what the game is like and who’s on the base, and [if] we have the opportunity to try to steal it.”
The Bearcats’ series against the Hawks (7-7) features a doubleheader on Saturday and a finale on Sunday. First pitches on both Saturday and Sunday are slated for noon at Fiondella Field in West Hartford, Conn.