By Tom Liljedahl
With four conference games left this season, the CCSU baseball team is in a familiar position, competing for a spot in the Northeastern Conference tournament.
After winning the NEC tournament last season, the Blue Devils viewed 2011 as a transition season. However, the team currently sits in fifth place in the conference with a 15-13 record, a mere half game behind Bryant University for the final spot in the NEC tournament. The tournament will take place May 19 and 20, at Thomas J. Dodd Memorial Stadium in Norwich, Conn., and the winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
“We lost nine important seniors from last year’s team, including infielder Sean Allaire, who was the Conference Player of the Year,” said head oach Charlie Hickey. “We had to replace a lot of good players, but we still had high expectations coming into the season.”
Other critical seniors from last year’s team included first baseman Tommy Meade, and outfielders Richie Tri and Kyle Zarotney, all of whom were three year starters. Despite the losses, Hickey had reason to be confident, as he has led the Blue Devils to the conference tournament nine times since coming here from Providence College twelve years ago.
“Coming into the season we had a lot of new guys such as freshman and transfer students, as well as a lot of guys who didn’t see the field due to older teammates, so in that sense it is a transition season,” said Mitch Wells. “Getting everyone used to how things are done here is always tricky, but that’s what the offseason is for. Come spring, I had just as much confidence in this team as I did last year’s team.”
Wells has led by example for the young team with a .371 batting average, 40 RBIs, and 30 runs scored. The pitching has also stepped up, with a pair of sophomores leading the way. Nick Newmann leads the team in strikeouts, with 50, and Todd Savatsky, who boasts a 3.00 ERA, each have five wins on the season.
“Last year we had a lot of veterans on the team with a lot of games under their belt. But this year we have a lot of new comers that were asked to step up and produce. Our goal remains the same: the NEC championship,” said Savatsky, who went from a red shirt to a conference starter this season.
Among the new comers are outfielder J.P. Sportman, infielder Dylan Delacruz, and outfielder Anthony Turgeon, all of whom start for the Blue Devils as freshmen. Turgeon is third on the team with a .327 batting average.
“We knew we were going to need contributions from new players this season,” said Hickey, “A lot of guys have really come on strong and gotten us going.”
Wells remains confident that this team will continue to be successful. “No one can be considered young at this point in the season, that’s just an excuse. I think we’re ready to battle this last weekend of conference play, make the tourney, and win it again.”
If the team hopes to defend the title, the Blue Devils must rebound from being swept in four games by Sacred Heart University this past weekend. The team plays host to Northeastern University at 3 p.m. on Wed., May 11, before travelling to Long Island this weekend for three critical NEC games.