After posting an embarrassing 1-28 season in 2004, the Lion's baseball team was reduced to club sport status in 2005, but when Emerson gave the team a second chance at varsity last season, the men posted a respectable 7-19 record and won five of seven Great Northeast Athletic Conference games. This year, they're looking to make an even bigger impression.
Head Coach David Hanley said that other teams no longer look at Emerson as a pushover, and their off-season efforts have suggested they might soon be taken more seriously. The boys went through an intense winter workout program and are currently practicing some nights until 11 p.m., and six starting pitchers will have thrown 100 pitches at practice by the start of spring break.
The Lions will take that work ethic to Fort Myers, Fla. next week to play 10 games in nine days against top-tier Division Three teams like Dennison and Baldwin Wallace from Ohio, Penn State at Abington and the Coast Guard Academy from Conn. The Lions spent last spring break in Fort Myers and came out with a 1-8 finish on the week. This year, the Lions hope to stay healthy and prove themselves worthy contenders.
"This is a great way to get the team together," said Hanley. "The repetition is great. It's a baseball atmosphere."
The boys are led by a few veteran players including senior captains Brian Fennessey, Zachary Wintrow and Kent Anderson, who were on the team when it was a club sport. In fact, they entered the program in its first year of club play.
"I found out right before the 2004 fall semester was going to start was going to start that the [former] coach left the program and it was knocked down to club," said Fennessey, a broadcast journalism major. "We needed a coach and I was with one of my captains at the time and we interviewed Coach Hanley. He came on and has been my coach since."
Complimented by a strong recruiting class in 2004, the hiring of Hanley provided the necessary turnaround for the team. After posting two surprising .500 seasons playing against Division One programs like the University of New Hampshire, Boston University and the University of Maine, the athletic department agreed to give the Lions another shot at the varsity level three years earlier than expected.
Though the current seniors essentially turned around an otherwise-defunct baseball program, Hanley said it's going to be up to the underclassmen to continue winning.
"Kids that aren't starters have to step up-need to step up," said Hanley. He went on to say that he is looking especially to freshman catcher Brian Kitson and sophomore right fielder Ben McNamara to fill the voids in the line-up.
Last season the Lions finished with a .259 batting average and will look for hitting to be a major contribution to the team's success this year.
"It's just a question of whether the guys who can hit, will hit," Fennessey said.
Since the team's pitchers are entering the season in top form, the Lions hope to post a .500 record and make it to the playoffs for the second year in a row. They will play twenty regular season games, including eight GNAC contests. Their first home game is against University of Maine Farmington on March 22 at 1:30 pm.
"We should be ready to compete," Hanley said. "It's a tremendous thing for this program."