By Steven Eggert
The new season brings high hopes for the Broncs, who enter the year only losing four seniors from last year’s team, which ended 22-34 overall and 13-11 in the MAAC.
The team feels confident in the ability of its returning players.
“When you get a bunch of returners, as long as guys are developing and we’re going to improve, I think it’s a good sign,” said Head Coach Barry Davis. “We have a number of starters coming back, the pitching rotation is sort of lined up, and we feel confident.”
Eight freshmen saw significant playing time last season. Three freshman pitchers appeared in at least 19 games, while four freshmen saw action in at least 40 games in the field.
“It’s the game we’ve played our whole lives,” sophomore infielder Greg Fazio said. “People try to impress because it’s a higher level, but they really need to play at standards they’ve always played at.”
There will be four new freshmen on the team this year: pitcher Vincenzo Aiello, outfielders James Locklear and Brian Donnelly and infielder Lee Lipinski.
“They’re filling in for what we lost,” Davis said. “None of them are going to start game one, but I think James has got a chance to play a little earlier and Lee’s got a chance. Those two of the group can probably help us right away.”
The pitching rotation consists of senior Tyler Smith, sophomore Kurt Sowa and redshirt junior Mike Murphy, the reigning MAAC Pitcher of the Year. Because of an experienced bullpen, the team’s strength is on the mound.
“My expectation for the pitching staff is that we will be competitive in every game we play,” Smith said. “In the past, we lived and died by how well we pitched. I think our hitters have improved, the experience of our team has improved and our pitching staff has gotten better.”
Offensively, the team wants to force opponents to throw more pitches and avoid strikeouts.
“This year we need to work on two-strike hitting,” senior infielder Adam Wayman said. “We struck out a lot last year, but we’ve been working on that. I think we’ve made significant gains and it looks like we’ll be a better hitting team this year.”
Smith and Wayman, the two captains for the Broncs, look to push their teammates and lead in a strong manner.
“I want to help this team to the best of my ability,” said Smith. “This is my second year now I’ve been a captain with Adam Wayman. Both of us will have to lead by example, and Wayman and I are going to show the guys what it takes to play at the highest level.”
Rider faces out-of-conference teams such as Radford and South Carolina, but it begins Feb. 24 with a double header at Norfolk State followed by an additional game on Feb. 25. One early goal this season is to make progress and get better with each performance.
“If we’re improving consistently week to week, I think that’s the biggest thing,” Davis said. “I would like to see our pitching staff solidified and see guys who’ve been given the opportunity to start to earn and keep the spot and do it in these upcoming games.”
Smith agreed with Davis and believes that these non-conference games will prepare Rider well for MAAC opponents later this season.
“This is the time of year where we make our mistakes now,” Smith said. “These first few games we play are all factors into being the best team that we can come conference play. They allow us the chance to realize what we need to work on and get better.”
For seniors like Smith and Wayman, they want to end their Rider baseball career with a MAAC title.
“I don’t want to go out any other way than with winning a MAAC championship,” Wayman said. “Hopefully we can get everybody together on that same page to work toward that MAAC championship.”