By Isaac Harris
As the weather warms up, the Rider baseball team is looking forward to starting the 2021 season after an abrupt ending to the 2020 season that ended after 14 games because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With a good mix of veteran players returning and a great addition of new signees, Rider’s baseball team feels confident with depth, experience and a little pressure that they can make a run in the MAAC this season.
“We are an old team, we got a good mix of old guys and young guys and we got a good chip on [our] shoulder [so] the expectations are pretty high here this year,” said graduate student catcher Tyler Stockwell.
Stockwell has been itching to get back on the field since the cancellation, like many of his teammates, even if this year’s schedule is vastly different compared to years before. The Broncs schedule this year is highly unusual because of the pandemic.
The Broncs’ first scheduled game for 2021 is on March 20 against Marist College and they will only play conference games this season. The league’s coaches have picked the Rider team to finish seventh in the preseason coach’s poll. Despite what the polls say, this team feels they are in the perfect position to cause a storm this year.
“I think this gives us an advantage because other teams wouldn’t be thinking about us,” said freshman pitcher McCormick Buchner.
As the old saying goes it is not about how you start, it’s about how you finish; a relatable saying that resonates with the team.
“I think in the MAAC last year with a lot of transfers coming and going, I don’t think anybody has a real good idea who is going to be the best team yet,” Head Coach Barry Davis said.
Davis believes that the league has always been competitive from top to bottom.
“We’ve been picked seventh a couple of times and two of times we either won the regular season or even the tournament so you can’t really base [the preseason poll] teams off that,” the veteran coach explained.
Rider’s last appearance in the conference tournament championship game was 2017 and this year’s team hopes to recreate that run, even with the immediate start of conference play.
Starting the season with conference play and without playing any warmup or non-conference games will be the hardest part for this year’s team. However, Stockwell feels confident that his team is well prepared and focused for the challenging season ahead.
“I feel that we are more prepared than probably we ever been because of that sense of urgency without non-conference play,” Stockwell said.
Buchner believes that the team has a good group of guys that are ready to handle the stressful 32-inning weekends.
Coach Davis believes that this year is a good test for the team and its depth, which also feels it is at its strongest than ever before since he has overseen the team.
“We have a number of players that we can put in situations to where there is not a major drop-off, we have a lot of guys who can play,” Davis said.
The longtime coach also said pitching will be the only real test to come to the start after losing three players to injuries in the bullpen for the year. Despite the challenge, the team is ready to compete for a conference title and a trip to the NCAA regional in this strange pandemic year.
The mix of veteran and new Broncs opens the season with the preseason second-place pick Marist Red Foxes starting on March 20, which features two preseason All-MAAC players on their squad in Lawrenceville.