Spring Fever: Baseball Preview

The Hawks are hoping that a mixture of new faces and returning players will be able to land a spot in the SUNYAC Championships this May.
The Hawks are hoping that a mixture of new faces and returning players will be able to land a spot in the SUNYAC Championships this May.

The New Paltz Baseball team has one goal this season – to win a championship.

Coming off an 18-18 season in 2010, the Hawks are hoping the additions of transfers and freshmen can jolt a team made mostly of returning players, eventually leading them to a spot in the SUNYAC championships this May.

“We have been doing great, we are excited with what we have,” Head Coach Matt Griffths said. “With the drive and passion that we have, we think we can take it a long way.”

The Hawks kicked off their campaign last year by going 7-4 in the 25th Annual Cocca Sports Expo Sports College Baseball Spring Training in Cocca Beach, Fla. However, the Hawks finished the season losing six of their last seven games and missing the SUNYACs.

Despite the team’s defeats, third-year infielder Paul Merola has an optimistic view of the team’s upcoming season.

“Obviously our goal at the beginning of every season is to win the SUNYACs and make it to the regionals,” Merola said. “We’re looking forward to getting out of the gym. We have a bunch of great guys that joined our program this year.”

Griffiths said injuries were a factor in the team missing the playoffs last year. At that time, the Hawks had athletes playing out of position because of a lack of depth – something the team is not worried about heading into this season.

“The difference from years past is that we have depth at every position,” Griffiths said. “We have very capable players at every spot, which is something we needed here.”

According to Griffiths, only two players graduated after last season and the team will be welcoming 16 new members to the orange and blue. Of these players, eight are transfer students while the remaining are freshmen.

Transfers Jake Cameron and John Schmidt are two players that Griffiths said will make an impact on the team.

Cameron, who transferred from Virginia Wesleyan College, will split time between third base, catcher, designated hitter and first base this season and will be a major source of power in the Hawks lineup. Schmidt, a Division I transfer, will be part of the Hawks starting four heading into the season.

While the Hawks will feature new faces, most of the squad will be returning players from the team’s 2010 season.

Schmidt will pitch behind second-year staff ace Chris Chismar. Chismar led the Hawks with 70 strikeouts in 49 innings pitched while setting a program record last season by striking out 20 SUNY Oswego batters on April 19.

Griffiths said another season of Chismar on the mound leading the Hawks’ staff is “exciting” because last year Chismar was second in the nation in strikeouts per nine innings. Griffiths said that the pitcher ahead of Chismar was drafted in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Hawks will be returning Merola and third basemen Mike Marash, both of whom Griffiths believes will be impact players on the club.

Merola was a second-team all-SUNYAC selection last year and hit .297 with one home run and 20 RBIs. Marash, who Griffiths called a “top hitter” for the team, was an injury-victim for the Hawks but still had 15 hits in 37-at-bats and scored 10 runs while knocking in another nine last season.

The return of high performers and the addition of new faces mixing with the current roster is something Griffiths believes will be the formula that leads the Hawks to success this season.

“We expect to win a championship,” Griffiths said. “We set that back in September. We know we have the talent to do it. Daily we are working on perfecting the game we want to play.”

This “game” includes executing the small things and minimizing mental errors. Griffiths said he hopes the team will be able to move runners over, score runs, throw first pitch strikes and get the first batters in each inning out.

Griffiths said he noticed that this year’s roster has been larger than recent years and that team chemistry has been strong and the roster is solid from top to bottom.

“There is a real team feel to the whole thing this year,” Griffiths said. “It feels like everyone is on the same page and moving toward a common goal.”

The team chemistry and attitude has led to an overall theme Griffiths said he has instilled so far this season – focusing on fundamentals and consistency.

“It’s not about being perfect – it’s about the pursuit of being perfect,” Griffiths said. “The more we can focus there and keep it consistent the numbers in baseball take care of themselves if you do that.”

The Hawks will begin their quest for a championship on Saturday March 12 against the SUNY College at Old Westbury and hope their strategy will lead them to the SUNYAC tournament in May.

“We feel strongly that if we execute our game everyday that we can beat everybody,” Griffiths said. “There are a lot of ups and downs in a season and keeping steady with your game plan will bring you success.”