by Sean Begin
When a spring sport’s season kicks off in the last few weeks of winter, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that games could still be cancelled. Thanks to several inches of snow still on the field, Central Connecticut baseball was forced to postpone or cancel multiple games at the beginning of the season.
The extra time, though, wasn’t a concern for head coach Charlie Hickey, who looked to the silver lining of missing some game time.
“There’s no reason to anguish,” said Hickey. “What were trying to do is look at it and spin it in a positive direction. We had a couple kids who were banged up, so that helped [to get them healthy].”
With the exception of the team’s opening game against Iona at Dowling College in New York — which they won by a score of 2-1 in 11 innings — the team has played every game in the warm embrace of the Florida spring.
“We were going to be able to get some games under our belt to go down there [to Florida] and play. Reality is it didn’t happen,” said Hickey of what the lost games would have meant for his squad.
Instead, Hickey was left with extra practice time in an effort to prepare for an eight game road trip into the Sunshine State. There, the Blue Devils played a three game series against the University of Central Florida, one-off games versus Army and UConn, and finished with a three game series against Bethune-Cookman in Daytona Beach.
“At the end of the day I’m pleased with that fact that we were able to play quality baseball there. We played 73 innings of baseball in Florida. I would say 67 of them were very valuable,” said Hickey. “We were in just about every game. In the big picture, I think we got better. And that’s the goal at this point in the season.”
Central went 3-5 on their trip down South, but could easily have come back with one or two more wins if some luck and timely hitting had gone their way.
The Blue Devils opened the trip with three games against UCF. Central dropped the first two of the series 10-0 and 9-8, respectively, but took the third game from the Bulls 5-4 in 10 innings in what was the team’s second extra inning win of the season, and one which helped bring the team some confidence.
“Beating Central Florida allowed us to feel good about ourselves,” said Hickey. “You can run the risk of going down there on these trips and coming back without a win. Especially when you’re a young group.”
After an off day, Central fell to Army 9-1, a game in which the team didn’t play very well, according to Hickey who added, “We made some mistakes and they took advantage of it.”
The following night, the Blue Devils went into extra innings against UConn thanks to a well-pitched game from junior Jesse Frawley. Both teams entered the 10th inning tied at one before Central’s bullpen gave up five to the Huskies.
Central finished the road trip this past weekend with three games against Bethune-Cookman. The Blue Devils took the first two by scores of 2-1 and 8-6 before dropping the third game 4-0. Another strong Blue Devil pitching performance from Tom Coughlin led the Blue Devils in their 2-1 Friday night victory.
“We got some quality pitching, which we had hoped for,” said Hickey. “Traditionally, what happens when you go down there for a long stretch is you’re not used to the elements: The fields are faster, the wind’s blowing. And as soon as you make a mistake or two and give a team extra outs they punish you.”
In addition to strong outings by Frawley and Coughlin, the Blue Devils got a good luck at Anthony Mannuccia, who joined the team only in January.
“He got a chance to go out there three times and pitch so we got a chance to see what he’s capable of,” said Hickey of Mannuccia. “He was very effective this past Saturday when he went out and got a two inning save for us and beat a Bethune-Cookman team who had knocked off the University of Miami the prior week.”
In that save, Mannuccia struck out four of the six batters he retired while allowing only one hit to secure Central’s 8-6 victory.
Hickey has had to find a good balance in giving his younger players quality innings, both on the mound and at the plate this season, without allowing them to lose confidence, especially his young hurlers.
“You’re trying to go with the concept of bringing people along the right way,” said Hickey. “You’ve got some young kids, you put them in a spot against teams that have played 20-24 games; that’s a delicate manner trying to get younger pitchers of ours into games where they can get their feet on the ground without having to come into the game with bases loaded and nobody out.”
The Blue Devil’s offense has struggled this season at times, only hitting .212 as a team. But Hickey doesn’t see that as a bad thing.
“We’re very thin or young offensively. And so we have to find different ways to score runs,” said Hickey. “We’re not going to be able to sit there and play for the three run homer. We’re going to have to battle, we’re going to have to put the ball on the ground, we’re going to have to bunt, we’re going to have to hit and run. Our numbers are not going to be impressive. You just have to try and scrap and claw a little bit.”
Despite the low offensive numbers, the opportunities have been there for the team like Sunday’s loss to Bethune-Cookman when the team had bases loaded with no outs, yet failed to score a single run. For Hickey, it’s just a matter of capitalizing on the opportunities as they come.
“As a team we have to take better approaches in putting the ball in play and not striking out. If they’re moving runners or driving in runners, those are the things that help you win ballgames,” said Hickey. “The averages and the numbers, everybody who plays looks at them but I think as we get into situations where we have opportunities to score, we have to be productive.”
The Blue Devils are scheduled to play three games this weekend: a double header on Saturday versus Seton Hall starting at noon and a single game Sunday versus Iona at 1 p.m.