Battle-Tested Rams Look to Take Next Step
Today, the Suffolk Rams baseball team is migrating south to Central Florida to take part in the Russmatt Invitational for their first ten games of the regular season.
With them, the team brings ten seniors, nine juniors and a stale taste from last April.
In last year’s GNAC conference tournament, the Rams battled back from an early defeat to earn a spot in the title series, needing to beat St. Joseph’s College of Maine twice in the tournament’s double elimination format. The Rams won the first matchup, but fell 7-6 in extra innings in the second game on a walk-off base hit to right field.
It was the second year in a row that the Rams have lost the GNAC title game in walk-off fashion to St. Joseph’s, and the third year that St. Joe’s has beaten them for the title.
“You look at how things ended last year… I think it makes the guys hungry,” says Associate Head Coach Anthony Del Prete. “It makes them work harder and practice harder, so that this year we can get over that hurdle.”
Del Prete has been an assistant under Head Coach Cary McConnell for nine years now and has seen at least 20 wins in each season with the Rams. In fact, 2013 was Suffolk’s 16th straight 20-win season.
The hurdle however, is St. Joe’s, who has won the last four GNAC tournament titles.
“The goal every year is to get to 30 [wins],” he added. “We finished eighth in New England [last year]. Ideally we’d like to be one of those top five teams.”
30 wins would likely mean a GNAC championship, a dog-pile on St.Joe’s field, and a berth into the NCAA tournament.
The veteran club only graduated two players after the 2013 season, D3 All-American Mike Cunningham and offensive standout Chris Stanley, but has added a handful of new faces and returns almost their entire pitching staff, which will include an extra addition — fifth-year senior and captain, Jhonneris Mendez (Boston, Mass.).
Mendez only had two appearances in 2013 before undergoing Tommy John Surgery. The right-hander will re-join a rotation that was held down last season by three lefties in Jonathan Richard (North Reading, Mass.), Josh Desai (Shrewsbury, Mass.), and Steve Chamberland (Bristol, Conn.).
“He’s ahead of schedule,” added Del Prete about the righty. “We’re looking probably at April 1st for him to come back… that just gives us even more depth.”
How the Rams decide to use Mendez is to be determined, but adding a power arm down the stretch during conference play will be a huge boost for an already deep rotation that is showing promise in practice.
The Rams hope to see growing production from young-guns LHP Tim Conroy (Arlington, Mass.), RHP Chuckie Gibson (Malden, Mass.) and LHP Wyatt Stanley (Placentia, Calif.) along with other seasoned bullpen presences like RHP Eli Libby (Sudbury, Mass.), RHP Chris Campbell (Buffalo, N.Y.), RHP Dan Shields (Haverhill, Mass.), RHP Paul Pollano (North Andover, Mass.) and LHP Mike Masulli (Prospect, Conn.).
“They’ve already hit the ground running,” said senior catcher Jack Sullivan (Hamilton, N.Y.). “They are hitting their spots and performing pretty well so far… we definitely have a deep staff.”
Sullivan also attested to the offensive expectations that the team has put upon themselves.
“Losing Mike [Cunningham] and Stan [Chris Stanley] was obviously huge, but I think we have people that are going to step up this year,” he added. “We are returning a bunch of hitters, our whole infield and Mac [Jacobsen] (Norfolk, Mass.) in center… there’s no reason we shouldn’t put up the same numbers as last season.”
Ranked in the top-20 in several offensive categories last season, including runs, on-base percentage, batting average, and home runs, the Rams offensive baton has been passed on from Mike Cunningham, to senior captain Jake Cintolo (Wrentham, Mass.).
The six-foot, 215 lbs first basemen was named pre-season All-American by D3Baseball.com after earning his third consecutive All-Region selection last year, finishing the year with a .398 batting average, while also setting the Suffolk single season record of 18 doubles in a year.
“We’ll definitely be more well-balanced,” said coach Del Prete regarding the deep pitching staff. “But still, you look through that lineup with Jake [Cintolo], Devan Jones (Roslindale, Mass.), Mike Muse (Milton, Mass.) … all those guys have been four-year starters.”
But when you lose 120 RBI (from Cunningham and Stanley), everyone needs to contribute.
The Rams are looking to continue their success during their Florida trips, where they went 8-1 last year. They kick-off the season on Friday against Gwynedd Mercy College, then go on to play Roger Williams University, The College of New Jersey, Wartburg College, nationally ranked Bridgewater College (Va.), Husson College, Thomas More College, and William Paterson University, before returning North.
“Florida is a big test for the new guys and the returners,” said senior captain and OF/P Frank Tierney (Hyde Park, Mass.). ” Hopefully we’re capable of getting a few wins down there so we can keep it rolling like we have in the past.”
The team returns to Boston following spring break and will instantly hit the road; kicking off a six-game road trip on the 19th @ Bridgewater State. The Rams will take their home sod on Thursday, March 27th, hosting Curry College.
For the experienced group, Captains Jake Cintolo, Frank Tierney, Mac Jacobson, Jhonneris Mendez, and Devan Jones have made the goals clear and concise.
“It is important for this school to bring home a championship this year,” said Tierney. “I think we have all the necessities to do that.”