Matt Koperniak right at home with SteepleCats this summer
NORTH ADAMS — Matt Koperniak didn't make his debut in North Adams until the NECBL season was already a week old. Better late than never.
"I still have no idea how he is playing in this league," North Adams manager Mike Dailey said. "He is going to be a very, very good player at the next level if someone looks in his direction.
"He has no flaws in his game whatsoever. He is a jewel just waiting to be found."
Koperniak, a rising junior at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., started the year with the Harwich Mariners of the Cape Cod League on a temporary contract. He appeared in one game, going 0 for 3 in a loss to Falmouth on June 10. Temporary contracts provide Cape League teams a full roster until some of their signees who may be in NCAA Division I Super Regionals or the College World Series get wrapped up, and can get from Omaha, Neb., to the Cape.
Five days later, he was back in North Adams, and he picked up where he left off in the NECBL last year. Koperniak was 2 for 3 with two runs batted in as the SteepleCats beat Vermont 7-5.
"I just think seeing some velo [velocity on the Cape] definitely helped," Koperniak said. "You get a couple of weeks after your college season for a break, so going into that was great. Playing with some great talent there has really helped my transition to the SteepleCats.
"I got to see a couple [of pitchers with big arms]. We had a couple of scrimmages and I got in one game. It was definitely a help."
The former Hoosac Valley three-sport standout came into Wednesday's game for the Northern Division-co leaders leading the NECBL with a .425 batting average. He has appeared in 23 games for the SteepleCats and has 34 hits in 80 at-bats. Koperniak has hit two home runs and has 21 runs batted in. Koperniak has been the key piece of a North Adams offense that is fourth in the league with a .280 batting average.
In his last 10 games, Koperniak was hitting .439 with two homers and 11 RBI. He was hitting .480 with runners in scoring position and has driven in 19, and has nine RBI and a .714 batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs.
"I've just been trying to go opposite field, which has been working for me," he said. "I'm getting pitches to hit and pitches I can swing at."
Last year, Koperniak hit .318 for the SteepleCats, with a home run and 24 RBI.
"I'm way more confident just knowing I can play at this level," Koperniak said. "Confidence helped me get through, grind together and get some hits."
Dailey was on the coaching staff in North Adams a year ago, and he too has noticed that Koperniak's confidence is high.
"He has no problem getting down 0-2 or 1-2. He doesn't swing at bad pitches," the SteepleCats manager said of his No. 3 hitter in the lineup. "A lot of the guys at this level swing at pitches in the dirt. He doesn't do it. He commands the batters box better than anyone I've seen in this league, literally will wait until the pitcher makes a mistake and capitalizes on it.
"That's exactly what you want a minor league hitter, a pro hitter to do. He's patient and never looks out of sync, never looks overmatched."
A year ago the SteepleCats won only 15 games. Going into Wednesday's game at Sanford, they had 18 wins. With just over two weeks remaining, North Adams has in its sights the possibility of equaling the 26-win mark from 2010, the most the team has won in a decade.
"There's way more energy" this year, Koperniak said. "We have plenty of guys with good arms. We've got the support, and hopefully we can ride it as long as we can."
Howard Herman can be reached at email@example.com, at @howardherman on Twitter, or 413-496-6253.
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