As the 2008 college baseball season gets underway, Rider has its hopes set high on earning a berth in this year’s MAAC Tournament, something the team hasn’t done in two years.
Rider will begin the season ranked sixth of nine teams in the conference, but that hasn’t deterred anyone. According to junior shortstop Jamie Hayes, it has only motivated them.
“We haven’t earned respect from last year so we have to prove people wrong,” Hayes said. “Myself and the team feel like we’re underdogs but that’s the way a lot of us like it.”
The team is looking to improve upon last year’s eighth-place finish in the MAAC. In order to improve and make their mark on the conference, they will have to prove they can play with the likes of perennial powerhouse Manhattan, a team that defeated the Broncs every time they met last season.
“Manhattan probably has our number out of all the teams in the league,” said Head Coach Barry Davis. “We have a better record against everyone in the MAAC but Manhattan.”
According to Davis, the key to staying at a competitive level is focus. The players know they have the talent to compete and, especially with their newly recruited pitching depth, senior pitcher William O’Connor can’t help but be optimistic.
“We upgraded our bullpen a lot,” he said. “We’ve got two freshmen lefties coming in that are going to be pretty good. Also, all of our starters are coming back, which helps as well.”
Ultimately, their goal is to qualify for the MAAC Tournament. The team is motivated by the fact that Rider is hosting the tournament at Trenton’s Waterfront Park.
However, this motivation method reminds them of how close Waterfront Park is to Rider, a meager 7.1 miles. That was Coach Davis’ inspiration behind the brown camouflage T-shirts the team sports with a red “7.1” on it.
“You can look at it a number of different ways,” Davis said. “It brings the team together, it makes you focus. That’s what the goal is. Winning the league guarantees you’re in the tournament. They only take four out of nine so to get in is an accomplishment because the league is pretty good. I think it’ll be wide open.”
With the improvements the team has made this year, along with the fact that it split last year’s two-game series versus top-ranked Canisius, the Broncs are looking forward to kicking off the season and showing those who doubted them that they will earn their spot among the MAAC’s elite teams.
“Just like any other year, we’re going in with high hopes,” Davis said. “They’ve been here before. They’ve worked hard all year and we’re going to start playing this weekend in Maryland.”
All of the preparation and getting psyched up is one thing, but it’s a different situation when it comes to applying it on the field. According to Hayes, as long as the players stick to the basics, they will be fine.
“Our pitching staff and defense are going to be good; we have the arms to make it happen,” Hayes said. “On offense we just have to sit back and not try to go for the long ball.”