Thirty players saw action when Warriors won three of four games
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. -- It was not a unique occurance for Eastern Connecticut State University to host the NCAA Division III regional baseball tournament last May. After all, the old Alumni Field and current Eastern Baseball Stadium have housed the event 18 times in the 37-year history of the tournament.
What was unusual was the fact that the Warriors were spectators - not participants - at the tournament, something which has occurred but five times in 44 seasons under head coach Bill Holowaty.
This past weekend, Eastern began its march back to post-season prominence when it opened its season with three wins in four games. The Warriors defeated New Jersey City University, 8-1, and Stevens Tech, 8-7, on Saturday in Hoboken, NJ. On Sunday at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank, NY, perennial post-season qualifier Ithaca College scored five early runs in a 6-3 victory before the Warriors bounced back to conclude the mini-trip with a 9-1 rout of Baruch College.
Andrew Merritt (below) was one of three starting pitchers to provide quality starts last weekend.
Thirty of the 32 players on the travel roster saw time over the weekend - 16 position players and 14 pitchers. Veteran infielders Joe Balowski (Berlin), Mike Vaccarelli (Wolcott) and Brendan Lynch (Wethersfield) and outfielders Adam Roderick (West Hartford) and Mike Riemer (Ellington) were the leading hitters, with transfer newcomers Nik Ververis (Plainfield) and Tyler Caserta (Stratford) seeing significant starting time.
The starting pitching was encouraging, with seniors Evan Chamberlain (Amston), Tom Darby (Middletown, RI) and Andrew Merritt (Norwalk) all cruising through their five-inning stints, combining to allow just nine hits and five walks while striking out 19.
In relief on opening day, junior Michael Pendergast (Farmington) and freshman Peter Gregory (Pittsfield, MA) allowed only two hits and one run in four relief innings against New Jersey City. On Sunday, sophomore Brent Pelella (Southbury) tossed 3 1/3 shutout innings in relief of junior starter Greg Porter (Mystic) - giving up only two singles and hitting two batters - in the loss to Ithaca. Behind Merritt against Baruch, sophomore Matt D'Orsi (West Hartford), senior closer Matt Purnell (Stafford Springs) and senior utility player Drew Accomando (Monroe) muzzled the Bearcats on one hit with seven strikeouts over the final four innings.
It should be noted that the extreme cold, wind and intermittent snow flurries on both days were not conducive to optimal performances, with Holowaty listing the demanding conditions among the three coldest playing dates during his tenure.
Based upon the weekend's performances, Holowaty's contention that pitching depth and defensive versatility will prove to be strengths for this year's club was confirmed. He cites Gregory, freshman pitcher Sam Kosterich (Stamford), freshman shortstop Jeffrey Zajac (Wallingford), sophomore transfer infielder Corey Keane (Tolland), Ververis, Caserta, and injured sophomore catcher/infielder Chuck Vogt (Windsor Locks) as newcomers who will bolster the veteran nucleus.
With the return of injured (Achilles) junior starting shortstop Danny O'Connell (Braintree, MA) still weeks away, Lynch and Zajac shared shortstop duties and commited only one error between them.
Leftfielder Roderick, last year's Little East Conference Rookie-of-the-Year, and sophomore Joe Perez (North Branford) shared leadoff duties, with junior Gavin Lavallee (New Milford) and senior utility player Accomando handling the DH position.
The experience void left by the graduation of veteran catcher Steve Cammuso after last year still concerns Holowaty, who fully realizes that veteran leadership behind the plate is essential to the development of his young pitching staff. At catcher, Holowaty is looking to contributions from one or all of the following: sophomore Cory DeMedeiros (Fall River, MA), Ververis, Roderick and/or Vogt.
Eastern returns to Baseball Heaven this weekend (weather permitting) for doubleheaders Saturday at noon against Albertus Magnus College - coached by Eastern graduate Brian Leighton - and Amherst College Sunday at 11 a.m.