From 2009 to 2012, the men’s baseball team had double digit wins in every season, finishing with 15 victories in 2010—its highest number as a varsity team.
But since that run of consistency, the Lions have won just five games in the past two seasons combined, and 12th-year head coach David Hanley said their pitching largely to blame.
“There were 361 teams in Division III last year, and we finished 350th or worse in every pitching category,” he said.
The Lions pitching staff finished the season with a 9.44 ERA, allowing 231 earned runs in 220.1 innings.
Sophomore Cal Laird and recent graduate Andrew Brightman were the only pitchers to top 30 innings, according to the athletics website.
Entering this season, however, Emerson focused on recruiting pitchers, and what was once an obvious weakness may now have become a strength.
“If there’s one thing to be optimistic about, it’s our pitching,” said senior first baseman and captain Zach Dean.
Hanley agreed with Dean.
“This year we have a starting rotation of six guys, which we’ve never had in my 12 years here,” Hanley said. “If we get five or six innings out of our starters, we’ll be [competitive] in a lot more games.”
The Lions are hoping to get the season off on the right foot when the team heads down to Fort Myers, Florida, on March 7 for an 11-game road trip before conference play begins later this month.
They open up against Hiram College on March 8 and will play doubleheaders for the five remaining days.
“[The] best case scenario in this spring trip is six wins,” said Hanley. “Realistically, who knows, but if our best pitchers show up in the games that are most winnable, we could do some damage.”
Once the Lions return from Florida, opponents from the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference await.
“I think the NEWMAC is one of the top two or three [Division III] baseball conferences in the country,” Hanley said. “We faced a kid on Babson [College’s team] that got drafted by the New York Mets last year. Wheaton has been nationally ranked 10 of the last 12 years. MIT was nationally ranked last year.”
Despite this competition, Hanley is expecting significantly better results this season in the Lions’ second year in the NEWMAC.
“If we can win four or five games in the conference, to jump from the one we had last year, that’s a huge step up for us,” Hanley said.
In the Lions’ first year in the NEWMAC, their lone win was the program’s first no-hitter, a combined effort by Laird and junior Jack Capotorto.
In 17 conference games, the Lions averaged just 1.2 runs per game.
Dean, who hit a combined .314 in his first two years on the team, hit just .236 last year, and said a turnaround for the team will require improving at the plate.
“I need to return to my production in my first two years,” said the journalism major. “Really, we all need to hit better on a more consistent basis to have a chance to beat some of the better teams.”
The Lions graduated seniors James Sullivan and Cal Ciarcia last year, who had the second- and third-best batting averages on the team, and will field as many as four players on offense who weren’t on the team last year.
In the days leading up to the Lions’ opening day, Capotorto, who has logged the second-most innings pitched for the team in the last two years, said the team had already improved in a facet that has nothing to do with wins and losses.
“Last year we had a very mellow team vibe. It was great for hanging out with everyone but not for winning games,” said Capotorto. “This year we’ve upped the intensity, brought in some solid key pieces, and have already adopted a winning mentality.”