By Steven Eggert
Despite the snowfall that seems to consistently coat the Rider campus, the Broncs have found a way to get ready for the 2014 season without skipping a beat.
Last year, the baseball team set school records for most wins in a season with 34, ranked third in the MAAC offensively, were No. 1 in pitching with a 3.75 team ERA and took home a MAAC regular season championship.
The Broncs graduated eight seniors from last year’s team and lost Jerry Mulderig following his junior season after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 28th round of last year’s MLB draft.
One returning player who saw a lot of success on the mound last season was junior pitcher Kurt Sowa. As a sophomore in 2013, Sowa ended his season 11-1 with a 3.40 ERA and went 7-0 in the MAAC with hitters only batting .180 against him.
This year, Sowa will be the ace of the Rider pitching staff and is expected to lead the rotation every weekend. His mindset for this year has not changed since last season.
“Basically, in order to repeat what I did last year, it’s just giving my team a chance to win every time out and keep us in the ballgame,” Sowa said. “If we score a couple of runs, I think that’ll give us a win every time.”
Two key changes to the MAAC this season will be the additions of Monmouth and Quinnipiac to the schedule.
The Broncs have a short history against Quinnipiac. The two teams have only played twice with Rider winning both games.
However, Rider and Monmouth were former NEC conference members and have compiled an all-time record of 32-25 against the Hawks.
“It’s certainly a challenge and I think the league has strengthened by adding those programs,” Head Coach Barry Davis said, the reigning MAAC Coach of the Year. “We play Monmouth every year and they’ve always been at the top of the class in the NEC. I expect nothing less in the MAAC. With Quinnipiac, we play them the first conference weekend on the road, so we’re going to find out what they can do.”
A strength of this Broncs team is experience. With the exceptions of the departing Adam Wayman, Ian Lindsay and Mulderig, the rest of the offense and defense will remain intact.
“We have a lot of guys back,” senior outfielder Nick Crescenzo said. “We lost a pretty big senior class last year, but a core of our team basically came back.”
At the same time, the pitching staff is going through several changes. Graduating seniors such as Tyler Smith, Mike Murphy, Sean Kuberet and Chris Taylor left a tough act to follow.
As a result, Davis has enhanced the roles of several pitchers within his staff. Experienced relievers will now be asked to start games while some underclassmen will need to expand on their roles.
“All of those guys are going to have to step up,” Davis said. “Last year’s seniors are big losses. The guys that are here are going to have to fill those spots and compete. We’ll really have to step up on the mound.”
Overall, the goal is to win a MAAC Championship this year for the first time since 2010. With nobody on this roster with a title on their résumé, Crescenzo wants his senior season to be the year that changes that.
“There’s a tremendous hunger in all of us,” he said. “We’ve had a couple shots, but fell short. It gives us a chip on our shoulders.”