If last season’s baseball team was Clark Kent, then it has surely changed into Superman this season.
After finishing second-to-last in the conference last year, the baseball team heads into this year’s conference semifinals seeded first.
The team finished 4-14 in the conference last year, but this year the team finished the regular season with a 16-5 conference mark, a three-game lead over second place. The team has advanced to the conference championship game three times (2008, 2011 and 2013) since the team’s first Landmark Conference campaign in 2008, but has never taken a championship back home to Scranton.
Head Coach Mike Bartoletti said this is the hardest-working team he has ever coached. He admitted that this year’s team is more athletic, but said the main catalyst of this year’s success has been the improvement in leadership.
“At this level, your juniors and seniors is what makes the team chemistry and allows everything to develop. I think that’s the single biggest difference,” Bartoletti said. “That’s always the common factor when we’ve had successful years is the senior class. They’ve done a great job.”
The team started the season 1-5, losing two of those games in the bottom of the ninth inning while playing in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Bartoletti said the turning point in the season was going 2-1 in the team’s first conference series against Moravian College in late March. After that away conference series, the team played 12 more away conference games, going 10-5 during that 15-game stint. Bartoletti said the seniors helped keep the team together through that testing period.
“We didn’t name captains this year for the first time since I’ve been coaching,” he said. “We just felt like it was a collective group of upperclassmen that really have done everything I asked.”
Kevin Nolan, a first-year catcher, said the team shocked the conference this year because it was named sixth of eight teams in the pre-season poll of the conference’s head coaches. He said the seniors have provided leadership in all aspects, both on the field and off.
“Off the field they’re setting up the emails, they’re setting up the rides to games and everything. Last semester I got texts from two seniors asking if I needed help with classes,” Nolan said. “In the dugout, even the seniors that don’t play, the pitchers that aren’t playing, they’re up cheering us on telling us to get loud, and they’re showing good leadership.”
Nolan said, with the way the team is playing now, he does not see them losing another game. He said the team is working together much like a family.
“There isn’t a hate between anybody,” he said. “I’m a catcher and my three best friends on the team are catchers.”
Sophomore pitcher Michael Haag is currently fourth in the conference in earned run average (2.27) and tied for second in the conference in wins (5). He said the team’s closeness has definitely helped its success this season.
“The whole atmosphere of the team is better. It’s just fun to be here. Last year it was kind of dragging along. It’s just tough to be at the field when you’re playing bad,” Haag said. “Now it’s just the complete opposite.”
Senior first baseman Ross Danzig said Bartoletti’s individual meetings with each member of the team at the end of last season helped bring the team together. He said this year’s senior class emphasized being committed to staying together as one team.
“We met together as a group, as a class, and said, ‘We need to change this,’” Danzig said. “We need to emphasize that whatever we do, we do together, whichever way we’re going to go, we’re all going to go the same direction, no matter what it is.”
The team unity that began with the seniors set the tone this season and has been embraced by the younger players as well. Watching a game at Connell Park, it is clear to tell that the atmosphere surrounding the team is positive and confident. Many of the players on the team still feel they have more room to improve despite this season’s success.
Senior pitcher Matthew Calamoneri said the team is much more motivated this season compared to last season.
He said a major goal the seniors had this season was to make the new players feel welcome. There are 13 first-year players on the team including outfielder Tommy Trotter who was named Landmark Conference Athlete of the Week for his play in this weekend’s three-game sweep of Drew. Calamoneri said most teams stick to playing their starters the whole game, but many times Bartoletti will play 20 or more different players in a single game.
“It’s a full team effort. It’s pretty unbelievable, and everyone that comes in steps in and does a very good job. I think that’s what separates us from other teams. We’ve got depth on our team,” Calamoneri said. “Just going into these games knowing we can use the depth on our roster can make for a very exciting playoffs.”
Calamoneri said the entire team set a specific goal for this season, his final at The University.
“We had one goal at the beginning of the year and that’s championship or bust. We’re going into every game thinking we can win and it’s really paid off in these conference games,” Calamoneri said. “It’s one game at a time … We’re not looking ahead of us but at the same time a championship is always on our mind.”
The baseball team plays Catholic University (12-9 in conference) in first-round conference playoff action in a best-of-three format this weekend. The teams play at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday at Connell Park in Scranton. If Scranton wins this series, the championship series will be against the winner of Moravian (13-8 in conference) and Elizabethtown College (13-8 in conference) May 9 and 10 at Connell Park.
Bartoletti said he is confident about the team’s chances in the playoffs.
“I think that if we go out and take care of what we need to take care of, we have a chance to win a championship,” Bartoletti said.