Versatility, leadership and pitching depth could drive Warriors
WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - The Eastern Connecticut State University baseball program has assembled a long list of All-America players and professional draft picks in qualifying for 39 post-season tournaments and winning 14 regional and four national championships in 44 years under head coach Bill Holowaty.
At left: Joe Balowski
It is quite possible that no one on the 2013 edition of the team will attain those personal achievements, but that does not mean that the goal of qualifying for national tournament competition is not attainable.
A total of 20 letterwinners - including five starting position players and two of the pitchers who appeared in the final game of 2012 - return in 2013 as the Warriors shoot for their first regional championship berth and national tournament appeareance in six years.
"Our team goal," says Holowaty, "is to take a bunch of unselfish, disciplined, good ballplayers and make an exceptional team. It's something that we've been working on since last fall. I feel that we have good ballplayers. Are there any studs? No. Are they good ballplayers? Yes. If we can think as 'one', we can be a very good team. But we need to be commited to 'we', not 'me'. And so far," points out Holowaty, "that has been happening."
Void of a deep senior class during last year's 29-13 season (coming up one win short of its 12th straight 30-win season), Holowaty is encouraged by the early leadership of his nine seniors - eight of them veterans of the program.
Five of those seniors are members of a pitching staff for which Holowaty holds out great promise for not only this year, but for the ensuing three seasons.
Senior first baseman Joe Balowski (Berlin) is the team's lone returning All-New England Region selection, earning first-team accolades last year on the strength of team-leading totals for batting average, total bases and hits and a .994 fielding percentage in his first season at that position.
Additional returning position players from last year's season-ending appearance in the Little East Conference tournament are senior second baseman Drew Accomando (Monroe), senior centerfielder Mike Riemer (Ellington), junior shortstop Danny O'Connell (Braintree, MA), junior third basemen Mike Vaccarelli (Wolcott) and Brendan Lynch (Wethersfield) and sophomore leftfielder/catcher Adam Roderick (West Hartford). Roderick was named LEC Rookie-of-the-Year and joined O'Connell as a second-team All-LEC selection.
As juniors last year, 2013 senior righties Andrew Merritt (Norwalk) and Matt Purnell (Stafford Springs) combined to allow only one run in 6 1/3 innings of last year's 1-0 LEC loss to Plymouth State.
As he has every season, Holowaty feels that the team's success hinges upon pitching and defense. He likes this year's pitching depth but is concerned in the early going with the offense and the lack of experienced catching.
Expected to get the ball when the team opens its season with four games in two days March 2-3 are senior righty Evan Chamberlain (Amston), senior lefty Tom Darby (Middletown, RI), junior righty Greg Porter (Mystic) and Merritt. In his first healthy season, Darby joined Porter as the most dependable starter a year ago, both going undefeated. Chamberlain alternated as a starter and closer.
Evan Chamberlain (at left) is projected as the 2013 opening-day starter.
Also vying for starting slots are junior righty Michael Pendergast (Farmington) and sophomore righty Brent Pelella (Southbury).
A long reliever last year, Purnell is penciled in as the closer this year, with additional bullpen help coming from among junior righty Pat Barnett (Windsor), sophomore righty Tyler Cyr (Bristol), freshmen righties Peter Gregory (Pittsfield, MA) and Sam Kosterich (Stamford) and unproven lefty returnees Jose Santiago (Windham), Matt D'Orsi (West Hartford) and Dave Cloutier (Chicopee, MA). Barnett and Cyr each tossed ten innings on the varsity level last year; Cloutier is a senior with but two varsity appearances on his resume, Santiago a junior also with just two appearances, and D'Orsi is a sophomore with four relief outings to his credit.
"Our young pitching staff has potential to be a mainstay for the next three years," stresses Holowaty.
Veterans Roderick, Vaccarelli, Balowski, Riemer, Lynch, Accomando and junior DH Gavin Lavallee (New Milford) will comprise the opening weekend's starting lineup, along with sophomore catcher Cory DeMedeiros (Fall River, MA) and first-year senior outfield transfer Tyler Caserta (Stratford).
Lynch will replace the injured O'Connell at short and DeMedeiros will step in for injured sophomore transfer Chuck Vogt (Windsor Locks) behind the plate. O'Connell is expected to sit out the first month of the season with an Achilles injury, and Vogt will miss up to three weeks with a broken finger. DeMedeiros made four varsity appearance off the bench as a freshman. Balowski, the No. 3 hitter, is the only left-handed bat in an opening lineup which features Roderick returning to leadoff and Riemer settling in at cleanup.
At left: Drew Accomando
Holowaty is also expecting contributions from junior outfielder Tommy McKenna (Lexington, MA), sophomore outfielders Joe Perez (North Branford), PJ Jamieson (New Fairfield) and Kyle Hart (Guilford), sophomore transfer infielder Corey Keane (Tolland), freshman infielder Jeffrey Zajac (Wallingford) and junior transfer Nik Ververis (Plainfield), a catcher/outfielder.
In addition to senior leadership (Darby, Riemer and Chamberlain all returned for a fifth year to complete their eligibility), Holowaty sees versatility as a team strength, pointing to Accomando's ability to play outfield, Balowski's ability to play the left side of the infield, Roderick's experience at catcher (where he saw considerable time last year), and Vaccarelli and Lynch's ability to play several infield positions.
Holowaty believes that physical fatigue produced mental fatigue a year ago when the Warriors dropped a doubleheader at the University of Southern Maine on the final day of the regular season, then followed an opening LEC tournament victory with two season-ending losses on the final day.
Holowaty will not make an alibi for the fact that a number of those players were being asked to assume starting roles for the first time in their careers in 2012.
"Our expectations are always that whomever is in the lineup is going to play well," he emphasized. "I don't ever assume that we are young or that we are not good enough, but probably at the end of last year, it showed up. We were not physically strong enough to play in May. I thought that we physically broke down, and then we mentally broke down. We did not understand how to play 40 games in 80 days.
"We have to be stronger this year, and we've worked on that."