MCLA baseball looking to take the next step
NORTH ADAMS -- It is said in sports that you are what your record says you are.
That's why coming off a 5-26 record, the MCLA baseball team is picked to finish eighth in the eight-team MASCAC. That doesn't mean the players on coach Jeff Puleri's team have to like it.
"That's a chip on our shoulder right off the bat," said MCLA's Jared Gersch.
Puleri's team will begin its season in Florida today, and will open the northern portion of their schedule March 21 at Clark University in Worcester.
In addition to finishing 5-26 overall, MCLA was only 2-12 in conference play.
"Last year was pretty disappointing because the year before, we had a lot more wins," said Cody Weaver. "We were really expecting to do a lot better.
"We all didn't play to our potential."
Twelve months ago, Puleri went to Florida with one senior in Joe Duncan. Seven sophomores played in at least 25 of MCLA's 31 games. Will they be better this year?
"It's a really difficult question because, to be honest, most of the kids that played a year ago return," said Puleri. "I need them to return to form. I thought a lot of them had down years.
"For us to be successful, they've been playing for their third year in the program, they need to take that step forward. They've given me a lot of optimism indoors. It needs to translate on the field."
The Trailblazers will, in the words of their coach, be "competitive" off the mound. Puleri said he doesn't have a true "ace" on his staff, but the returning pitchers are all pretty good.
Former Drury pitchers Tyler Benoit and Robert Jutras start the year at the top of the MCLA rotation. Weaver started five times last year as well. Freshman Matt Clark from Pittsfield could also be counted on this spring.
"I don't think the pitching was as poor as the numbers suggest," said Puleri. "Our margin for error was so small because we couldn't score runs."
That is an understatement.
The Trailblazers scored only 82 runs while opponents scored 202 runs, 155 of them earned. MCLA's team batting average was .225, and Mike Sullivan hit the only home run. Chase Preite, another former Drury player, is the top returning hitter with a .265 batting average.
"We need to get on base first," said Puleri. "You can't win swinging the bat like that. We have made an emphasis on getting to first base -- drawing some more walks and moving some runners around.
"Baseball comes down to key hits. You have to get people on base and drive them in."
Sullivan moves back over to shortstop for the Trailblazers and could form a keystone combination with Pittsfield's Derek Lescarbeau and/or Jutras at second. Rory Slattery will be at third base.
Slayter Aubin, a sophomore from Drury, could be poised to take over the catching duties from Alon Willing, who was the starter last year. Aubin is a better offensive player and is improving defensively.
Benoit will be the first baseman when he doesn't pitch. Weaver will play in left, Pittsfield's Mike Mancivilano will be in center and Preite will be the regular right fielder.
"We've seen programs here at the college level get ranked pretty high and struggle. We've seen programs rank pretty low and make it to the conference championship game," said Puleri. "It's basically you have to catch a couple of breaks, you have to stay healthy and you have to win a couple of tight ballgames."
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