Heading into a weekend series against Villanova on Saturday, the Binghamton baseball team will look to tidy up its fielding and solidify its pitching staff.
With many players in new roles this season and many new players besides that, Binghamton (4-8, 1-2 America East) has been a bit inconsistent in the early season. The team has posted a few blowout wins, such as an 11-5 routing of Auburn, a 13-6 beating of Virginia Military Institute, and, most recently, a 13-2 triumph over AE rival Stony Brook. But most of the time, the Bearcats have suffered a relatively close loss, and at least part of that is due to their youth and inexperience.
“I think that’s really what the preseason, all of our nonconference games, were for,” BU head coach Tim Sinicki said. “Trying to find the right combination, not only defensively but offensively, trying to define the roles both for the position players and for the pitchers. I think we’re getting there, but we do have a lot of new faces this year. So I think it’s going to take some time, obviously.”
Helping to lead the charge for the new kids on the field are senior right fielder Jake Thomas and junior second baseman Reed Gamache. Both have been named the AE Player of the Week this season, with Thomas earning the distinction the week of Feb. 17 and Gamache garnering the merit on Monday, after he batted .538 and plated six runners through play over the weekend. Thomas leads the team in RBIs, with 11, and owns BU’s best batting average clip, at .405. Gamache, who switched to second base this season — which Sinicki called his natural position — leads the team in assists, with 27.
“Everybody leads in a different way, and both Jake and Reed are kind of quiet guys, and so they’re the guys that kind of lead by example,” Sinicki said. “I think it’s important for our younger guys to see the various types of leaders you can have within your program, and those two guys are great examples of guys who aren’t really rah-rah guys, but they just kind of let their play do the talking and those were awards they really deserved as Player of the Week.”
Senior Zach Blanden has also been seminal for the Bearcats in the early season. Blanden is second on the team in slugging percentage with a .524 mark and on-base percentage, appearing on the sack at a .500 clip. He’s also connected on the second most hits — 16 — and leads the team with 13 runs.
In the center of the diamond, junior Rob Hardy has had a breakout of a debut season after transferring to don the green and white. The right-hander has been the most consistent of the pitchers this season, maintaining a second-best 3.92 ERA through a team-high 20 2/3 innings pitched. Through that time, Hardy (1-2) has let up only 20 hits and 13 runs, neither of which are team highs.
“Rob’s been the most consistent guy we’ve had so far, and every time he’s taken the mound for us, he’s given us a chance to win the ball game,” Sinicki said. “There aren’t a lot of secrets with Rob — he basically just comes at hitters and he throws a lot of strikes and the ball is put in play. You’ve kind of got to rely on your defense when you have pitching like that, and that’s fine, that works.”
For the past couple of seasons, that’s been an ideal pitching style for Binghamton, which ranked in the top-50 nationally in fielding percentage. Without three integral members of its field, however, Binghamton is experiencing some growing pains, and that’s what makes these non-conference series so crucial.
“There’s going to be a period of time where [the players] have to get acclimated to the speed of the Division I game through a regular basis,” Sinicki said, “and I actually believe that by the time we get to early, mid-April, those guys will be very comfortable and settled into those spots at this point.”
First pitch against Big East-member Villanova (7-11) is set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday, with a second game between the two directly following. Sunday’s matchup is set to begin at 1:15 p.m. All games will be played at Villanova Ballpark in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.