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First-years, seniors look to revive baseball team after rough 2013

Bears lose five seniors, return many top contributors with hopes of climbing out of Ivy basement

After a disappointing 7-33 record and last-place finish in the Ivy League in 2013, the men’s baseball team is hoping to rebound this year with help from a strong freshman class and vocal senior leaders.

Last season was difficult for the Bears in many ways. The team struggled with injuries and lost 10 of its first 11 games,  going 3-27 before finishing its last 10 games 4-6. Bruno was just 3-17 in Ivy League play and performed poorly in many areas of the game.

“Offensively we really, really struggled,” said Head Coach Marek Drabinski, entering his 18th year in the position. “We had some injuries, which didn’t help.”

“We’ve been disappointed with our previous three seasons,” said infielder Nate Kukowski ’14, speaking for all the seniors.

The team last won the Ivy League title in 2007.

Despite the past, the players and coach were united in their optimism for 2014, citing stronger leadership and hard work.

“Our team’s worked harder this offseason and preseason than I’ve seen any team work in my four years,” Kukowski said.

“I see leadership among our senior class,” said pitcher Anthony Galan ’14.

But most of all, and perhaps as a result of greater effort and more assertive seniors, Drabinski and his players noted a new environment around the team.

“It’s been a different feel and different atmosphere,” Drabinski said.

“I think what’s changed a lot is just the culture of the team,” Galan said. “This team has just congealed way better than it has in the past.”

Another cause for hope was a strong first-year class, who have been impressive so far in practices and scrimmages. Specifically, they singled out the efforts of pitcher Christian Taugner ’17, who Drabinski said “has an opportunity to be in the conference rotation,” which would be quite an achievement for a first-year.

“I think the whole freshman class has proven a lot,” said infielder J.J. Franco ’14.

“I love the work ethic of the freshmen,” Galan said, adding that the team’s newest members have shown more maturity than his class did when they were first-years. “They feel like upperclassmen.”

With all these factors in mind, the team has its sights set high for the upcoming season.

Both Franco and Drabinski said they at least hope to be “competitive” in the Ivy League, but nobody is counting out an Ivy title.

“I really think we’re going to win the Ivy League,” Galan said.

“It’s open every year,” added Kukowski, referring to the contested conference title. He said he would be “extremely disappointed and frustrated if we don’t have a good showing in the Ivy League.”

The long road begins this weekend with a huge test in Columbia, S.C., where the Bears take on No. 3 South Carolina (10-0), winner of two of the last five national championships. Bruno also has two baseball national championships in its pocket — in 1896 and 1907.

To their credit, the Bears do not seem rattled by their opponents. They have faced tough competition in season openers before. Last year, they traveled to top-ten Louisiana State, and in 2011, the team opened against national powers Vanderbilt and Texas, even defeating the Longhorns.

“We’re going to prepare the same way whether we’re playing the No. 3 team in the country or Dartmouth,” Drabinski said.

He also downplayed the importance of the trip, saying, “If you have a great weekend, you’re not necessarily going to have a great year and vice versa.” Drabinski also said he told his team, “Let’s just worry about us.”

Kukowski echoed his coach’s sentiment. “We can only control our preparation,” he said.

Though the Gamecocks present a formidable foe, the Bears expressed enthusiasm about the challenge.

“It’s an awesome opportunity,” Franco said. “You can compete with anyone if you bring your best. I’m expecting this weekend for us to be competitive with South Carolina.”

Galan said there would be “definitely a lot of jitters,” but simply because this game is the season opener. “It’s really no different. It’s more for the memories.”

“It’s going to be something they’ll never forget,” Drabinski said.

After that opening hurdle, the Bears have a long season ahead of them. But if hard work and promising leadership pay off, it might be even longer since the Ivy champions get a trip to NCAA.

“We’ll play as hard as we can,” Drabinski said. “If we do that, I think we’ll be a lot better than the last three years.”

Bruno’s first game is Friday at 7:00 p.m.

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