Sports

Baseball enters season with sights on Red Rolfe Division crown

Balance of young, experienced players, new facility set baseball team on path to spring success

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 17, 2017

With a brand new facility and strong upperclassmen leadership, the baseball team is entering its season in high spirits.

“We’re very confident in what we can do,” said co-captain and starting pitcher Christian Taugner ’17. “Our optimism — freshmen through seniors — is going to drive us through the season and boost us forward.”

The Bears finished last season with a 15-24 overall record, placing seventh in the conference and last in the Red Rolfe Division with a 9-11 Ivy League record.

From last year returns a key group of upperclassmen, including co-captains Taugner, outfielder Rob Henry ’17 and catcher Josh Huntley ’17, all of whom were regular starters in 2016.

The team will also benefit from the addition of nine new first-years instead of the usual six per class. Having a roster with an equal balance of younger and more experienced players has been an advantage for the Bears in training.

“Seeing the upperclassmen work together with the younger players has been a definite positive for us,” said Grant Achilles, who leads the Bears in his third year as head coach.

“It’s our opportunity to help shed some wisdom to some of the younger guys,” Huntley said, who paced last year’s team with a .313 batting average. “We’ve put a big emphasis on being able to help the younger guys learn as quickly as possible.”

Offensively, the Bears have been working to improve last season’s .259 team batting average. At the plate, Bruno will miss some key 2016 graduates, including infielder Tim McKeithan ’16 and outfielder Jake Levine ’16. But some of the team’s younger members hope to fill in the blanks left by the six departing seniors. A large percentage of the team’s home runs with be departing with the seniors, as the class of 2016 accounted for half of the team’s 22 dingers.

“We’ve seen some of our younger guys and also players who may not have had as much exposure last year truly step into those roles and take them on well,” Achilles said.

Following last year’s strain on a smaller pitching staff, the Bears will rely on a stronger, larger group of pitchers — including Taugner, Max Ritchie ’17, Reid Anderson ’18 and Dante Bosnic ’18 — to power through four-game weekends.

“It was tough in that last game because we didn’t have enough arms to throw,” Taugner said, who led the Bears in 2016 with a 2.79 earned run average after returning from elbow surgery in 2015. “This year, we have five or six more pitchers that will have an immediate impact, which will really help us out.”

With the new season fast approaching, Achilles places particular emphasis on building up the team’s defensive strategy. He cited Brown’s new facility as a catalyst for improvement in this area.

“We let a lot of the plays go that we should have made over the past several years,” Achilles said. “A key part for us, just in our quest to improve the team defense, is being able to actually get out there and do it more.” The new facility, he said, gives the team that opportunity.

Brown’s new turf baseball and softball complex, constructed in the second half of 2016, has afforded the team an ability to practice outside in colder temperatures than in years past. The facility has provided more opportunities for full-team practices and repetitions in the offseason.

“It’s a great boost in our ability just to practice,” Taugner said. “There have been times where our first time outside isn’t until we travel for our first away game at the beginning of March.”

“It’s definitely going to pay off,” Henry said, who finished last season with a team-high 40 hits. “That’s been the main part of our training — just playing more baseball.”

Looking forward, the Bears have their sights set on earning their first Ivy League title in ten years.

“Winning the Ivy League championship — that’s our expectation,” Huntley said. “Anything short of that is settling and not fulfilling our expectations.”

“It’s just a matter of competing and staying present in the moment,” Henry said. “Our season goes by so fast — we have these expectations, we have these goals, and then we just lose sight of them once the season starts because we get so caught up in playing games and recovering.”

The Bears will begin their season March 3 and March 12 with a pair of three-game road series at Nicholls State and Texas A&M before playing their home opener on their new field against Holy Cross March 15. The game will mark the first time in Brown’s recent past that the team is able to play a game at home before the month of April. Bruno is slated to play a full month of non-conference games before kicking off Ivy League play at Cornell April 1. April will keep the team busy with 25 games scheduled, including 12 home contests, ten of which will be against conference competition.

“We’re very confident going into the season,” Taugner said. “We’re going to prove some people wrong, and that’s what we’re going to take pride in.”