The baseball team currently sports a .500 record on the season after returning from the Ripken Experience tournament last weekend.
The team continued their non-conference preparatory play, competing against six non-conference teams in seven games over four days in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The weekend began with a split for the Hawks, as the team earned a 13-4 win over King’s College Friday, March 7 before losing 9-7 later that day to Muhlenberg College. The following day the Hawks swept a doubleheader against Grove City College 3-2 in the first game and 2-1 in the second.
“Our confidence level was still up after the doubleheader with Salisbury,” third-year pitcher Tyler Bell said. “They are a top-10 team in the nation and beating them once was an accomplishment.We definitely showed what we are capable of.”
A 7-1 loss to Catholic University of America and a 9-4 defeat by Alburtus Magnus on Sunday was met Monday afternoon with a 9-7 win against Penn State Berks to cap off the trip.
Head Coach Matt Righter said while wins and losses are always important, his focus at this stage of the season is on player development in smaller areas of the game in order to perfect the bigger picture down the road.
He felt the Ripken Experience was a positive experience for the team looking forward.
“If you fast forward to playoffs, you can play six or seven games in three or four days,” Righter said of the importance of playing in these types of tournaments. “That’s what we’re going through now, so when we get to the same spot in the future, our guys will say ‘we’ve already done this, it’s a piece of cake.’ Teams that haven’t done that, we’ll have a leg up on.”
Righter cites the presence of Bell and second-year infielder and catcher Andrew DiNardo at bat this weekend as substantial contributions to the teams’ wins. Fourth-year Captain Chris Pyz and second-year pitcher Christian Huertas, along with first-year northpaws Luke Schuessler and Kyle Krebs, also made a significant impact on the mound, he said.
Righter said while the low point of the weekend was undoubtedly the back-to-back losses against the Cardinals and Falcons on Sunday, the team’s ability to come back the next day with a different approach and more aggressive style of play led to the win against the Nittany Lions and the highlight of the tournament.
“I feel like it made us stronger as a team,” DiNardo said. “That’s one of our strengths. We’re a very close family, and if someone makes an error or messes up, the other person’s there to pick them up and support them.”
“We have plenty of guys who can come in off the bench and still get the job done,” he said. “It certainly makes you feel comfortable knowing that at a moment’s notice, another guy is ready to step up and perform.”
Righter believes the Hawks’ strengths lay within their hitting line-up and ability to steal bases, and their performance this season thus far only illustrates their future capabilities.
“On a scale of one to 10 we’re probably performing around a five, and we’re 5-5 on the season and went down and played some top pitchers,” he said. “So if we continue to improve in those smaller, mental areas, we’ll start playing at a seven or eight and we’ll be as good as anybody.”
Second-year outfielder Tom Dieckhoff, who secured the team’s first win against City Grove with a gun down of a potential game-tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh, said he is very confident about both the immediate upcoming games and the team’s playoff potential.
“I think we’re going to have a very strong season, and hopefully come tournament time we’re firing on all cylinders and hopefully win the tournament and make it to regionals,” Dieckhoff said.
The team will spend Spring Break playing in the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, F.L. competing against six teams, including No. 10 Marietta College. The classic will prepare the Hawks for their first conference game against conference stronghold SUNY Cortland on March 21.
“It will be a great way to start conference play,” Righter said. “Everyone expects Cortland to win, so there’s no pressure on us. If you ask our guys, I think they feel pretty confident that we have a chance to win. One of our goals is to have a chance to win every series we play. And I think we will.”