Winning has become the norm for the College of Staten Island men’s baseball squad over the years, and with Spring Training in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, concluded, the team is looking to hold to that same high standard in 2012, one that has seen them post back-to-back CUNYAC Championships and a pair of ECAC Metro NY/NJ Postseason Tournament berths. The team graduated a handful of quality seniors a year ago, but stand focused with a collection of new faces and veterans that will continue to lead an upward climb. The team ushers in the regional portion of their season this week against Mount Saint Vincent (Away @ CSI, 4:30pm) and St. Joseph’s-Brooklyn (Home Opener, Saturday, 12 Noon, Doubleheader).
“Our main goal, as usual, is to make it to the national championship tournament,” tells fourth-year Head Coach Michael Mauro, the three-time defending CUNYAC Coach of the Year. “It’s just business as usual for us. We have to play outstanding baseball for that to happen, but we prefer to keep our goals very high.”
That call to excellence is what has garnered CSI a CUNY-best 13 conference titles, still, the team has gone without entry into the national championship since 1992. The coaching staff hopes that the championship pedigree that has been sown the last two years will yield even better results in time for 2012.
“We’re constantly looking to improve,” said Mauro. “We lost a lot of talent and gained some in return, but what’s most important is getting our team into that frame of mind where we expect to contend with the best teams day in and day out.”
The coach knows, however, that games are not just won with piece of mind. That’s why the Dolphins have a heavy 13 new faces on the scene this season, a collection that should complement a nucleus of 18 members. CSI only boasts four seniors and five juniors, signifying that the team, above all else, will be quite young.
“That will be our challenge,” said Mauro. “We have a lot of kids who will see time early and it will impact how we do as a team. It’s exciting though. It’s a newer chapter of CSI baseball and everyone is excited.”
The Dolphins will still work predominantly through its returning cast, one that includes all-stars Bryan Moreno and Dan Lynch. Moreno, in particular, led all Dolphins with a .366 batting average in 41 games played, topping the team in runs (38) and hits (52). Junior outfielder Lynch will be the stalwart in centerfield, where he boasted a .270 with a team-leading 13 stolen bases. On the mound, CSI will reserve the ace duty to Richard Anderson, who turned in a brilliant sophomore season in 2011, complete with a 5-2 record and a 2.82 ERA. Anderson won CUNYAC Tournament MVP honors, tossing a 10-inning, 1-0, shutout winner over Baruch College on the conference’s final day.
“We have one of the strongest pitching staffs as far as depth that we have ever had,” said Mauro, who was also quick to note the development of Anthony Colucci, Casey Mulligan, Matthew Shwartz, Mike Van Pelt and Daniel Slevin. “As the season progresses we expect these kids to get better and that makes for exciting things down the line when we get ready for the conference tournament and beyond.”
Pitching will be the key that defines the Dolphins in 2012. CSI went 1-3 in the spring training swing, yielding only two total runs to Ferrum College in 18 innings and dropping a tough 5-4 loss to perennial-power North Carolina Wesleyan.
At the dish, CSI is hoping the development continues as well. With five freshmen projected as starters Mauro understands that the going could be tough in the beginning as hitters get used to the elevated college pitchers, but in time, the team could be quite potent at the plate.
“We have some guys who can pop the ball, and get big hits at key moments,” he said. “It’s going to be important for us to get hits when we are ins coring position and we have the luxury of a lineup that can give us that ability.”
Adding to Moreno’s bat will be players like Sal Todaro (.311, 19 RBI), Henry Roman (.263, 35 Hits), and Joe Cassano (.200, 20 RBI), who will be complemented by the bats of freshmen George Kantzian (C, Tottenville HS), Frank Smith (OF, Moore Catholic HS), and Will Difede, a transfer from national superpower Cortland State.
“We will adjust our lineup according to what we feel will give us good production,” said Mauro when asked how he will interchange his personnel. “We are in a good situation where we have a lot of guys who can lend multiple roles. As the season goes on, we will have players step up and take over roles and keep themselves in the lineup. That makes our job easier as coaches. Until then, we will look to build cohesiveness and maturity.”
The coaching staff is hoping that translates into a lot of wins this season and an opportunity to defend their back-to-back championship from the likes of Baruch College and John Jay College, who promise to be bigger and better in the conference in 2012.
“Our conference has gotten and will continue to get better each year,” Mauro said. “These are teams that look forward to beating us every year so we have a big target on our back. We can’t let our guard down because every game is going to be a big one for us. And we don’t give ourselves much room to breathe with our out-of-conference schedule.”
All told, the Dolphins do have the resources for another quality campaign. The team has won 20+ games in three of the last four seasons, and boasts a 54-20 record over the last two years, which includes a 19-3 CUNYAC regular season mark.
Tickets to all CSI home athletic contests are free and CLUE (PG) Certified for students. The Dolphins will finalize their year by celebrating their annual Grace Hillery Breast Cancer Awareness Night on April 24, at 7pm vs. Drew University. The annual game sees CSI sport pink uniforms and raise proceeds for the Staten Island Breast Cancer Research Initiative, which so far has generated over $30,000 for the cause. The CUNYAC season culminates the weekend of April 26-28, which ECAC and NCAA postseason berths awarded thereafter.