As the sun becomes more and more glaring and the days get longer, baseball becomes a part of our lives once again. For the John Carroll University baseball team, it is a new season with young faces that commenced last week in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Despite the loss of five key starters, the Blue Streaks still believe they can make a run at the top of the conference, a feat that will not be easy considering top-ranked Heidelberg University has shown few signs of weakness in the past few seasons.
In many respects, the trip to Florida was a success for the young Blue Streaks. The squad went 5-3 with losses to two teams: Medaille College and Ohio Wesleyan University.
Freshmen starters Bobby Peltz and Jimmy Spagna notched their first career wins, while seniors Brian Benander and Johnny Hastings teamed with junior Tom Hickey to run roughshod through the opponents with a combined 42 hits.
Despite going 0-3 this past weekend against competitive teams from Thiel College, Maryville College and Piedmont College, JCU’s ultimate goal remains the same.
“We aim to win the Ohio Athletic Conference regular season title, host a conference championship and win it, and receive a bid to the NCAA regional,” said manager Marc Thibeault.
Winning the conference would mean John Carroll would have to surpass the nation’s best team: Heidelberg. The ‘Berg is off to their best start in program history with a record of 10-0. Not to be outdone, the Marietta College Pioneers, ranked eighth in the country, will also challenge for first place.
JCU placed third in the conference last season, but lost starters Tim O’Brien, Mike Carbo, Bryan Robinett and John Skomra to graduation. The squad also lost Ryan Pacyga who elected to transfer.
This year, John Carroll’s starting lineup will boast a maximum of four upperclassman at any given time. The litany of younger players makes the challenge that much harder, but the team doesn’t see youth as a detriment.
“[The freshmen] are working hard. We like them and they’re a very talented group. They will be judged by what they learn this year about being a student-athlete and making contributions to the varsity level,” said Thibeault.
The Blue Streaks will run a three-man starting rotation with Peltz and Spagna joining senior Tom Schaberl as the starting pitchers while senior Tony Evanko nurses an injury.
In the outfield, senior Chris Larry will platoon with sophomore Connor Marrero in left field, sophomore Joe Veltri will patrol center and sophomore Ryan Konsler will be in right.
Seniors Hastings and Benander will occupy the left side of the infield at shortstop and third base, respectively.
Hickey will play first base and pair with sophomore Patrick Stone or freshman Mark Huddle at second to form the right side of the infield.
The Blue Streaks are still searching for a bat to replace Pacyga, who contributed a .388 batting average and a team-high eight home runs as the designated hitter last season.
In eleven games this season, JCU has tried Larry, Stone, Marrero, and sophomores Pat Fallon and Aaron Miller as designated hitters.
Miller will platoon at catcher with freshman Dan Potter, leaving the designated hitter up for grabs.
After the three losses this weekend, the Blue Streaks dipped below .500 with a record of 5-6.
“We are obviously disappointed with the weekend but realize that there is plenty of season left. We are learning what we need to do to win and compete,” said Hastings.
The Blue Streaks have a non-conference game with Montclair State University at 12 p.m. on Saturday before a chance for revenge against the team that bounced them from last year’s conference playoffs when they face Muskingum University at 4 p.m. on Saturday.
They will also travel to Westerville, Ohio to play Otterbein University on Sunday afternoon before returning home to battle Notre Dame College on Wednesday.