While Mother Nature continues to treat the New York region with a cold and snowy shoulder, the College of Staten Island men’s baseball team will be making its escape in time for the start of their 2014 campaign this weekend in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.  The Dolphins will be on a four-game, three-day swing this weekend, taking on Grove City College, Manchester University, and Johnson & Wales University as part of the Cal Ripken Division III Experience in Myrtle Beach.

The Dolphins have high hopes for the season, but are certainly at a disadvantage heading in.  The team has not been afforded a single outdoor practice leading up to what will be their first intercollegiate game tomorrow against Grove City, part of a doubleheader on Saturday.  “Not being outdoors will certainly take its toll on our hitters and should throw the advantage to the pitchers,” Head Coach Michael Mauro said.  “I guess the only positive thing you can say about the weather is that it has effected a lot of teams, and the teams we will face to begin our season will be in the same boat that we are in, and that helps.”

One thing is for sure.  The team being outdoors in the warm Myrtle Beach sun will have them anxious to get started.  “Oh, there is no question,” Mauro noted.  “The second we got off of the bus our players wanted to get to the field and play.  It’s an exhilarating feeling to have the opportunity to get started and we are ready to go.”

That said the Dolphins are eager to hit the ground running.  The defending CUNYAC Champs lost a lot of firepower last year, including Pitcher of the Year and CUNYAC Tournament MVP Richard Anderson, but return a healthy 10 players from last year’s squad, and their team features 16 new faces, including 13 true freshmen, all of whom can contribute.  The results make for a young but rather experienced team with a championship pedigree, one that boasts just one senior.

“Our first year players certainly out-weigh our veterans,” commented Mauro, “But they have caught on to what we are looking to do.  They are energetic; understand our winning ways and tradition and they’ve jumped right on board.  You would never know it just by looking at our roster but we have a team that feels like it’s been playing together for years.”  

The lone CSI senior is captain Chris Ramanauskas, a CUNYAC All-Star who dominated the diamond last year entrenched on the hot corner. An ABCA first-team all-region player, Ramanauskas batted .406 a year ago.  Also returning to the scene at the plate are sluggers Will DiFede, Joe Palmeri, with lefty John Baggs, who doubles on the hill.  Anthony Storz (3-0, 1.73 ERA) and Michael Fitzpatrick (6-2, 3.00 ERA) anchor the mound work with Baggs as the notable returners.  CSI did lose some muscle last year, but Mauro is excited about the new installment thanks to his torch-bearing returning class.

“I expect to see to progress every year they all had great years last year and we expect that growth to continue,” Mauro said.  “I expect their leadership to also pave the way for our new kids.  That’s important to every successful program; being able to have your veterans open the door for our new players and when everyone is progressing together, we end up becoming a very good team.”

While the returning class is enough to make the coaching staff comfortable, it’s the incoming core that really has the leadership excited.  Outfielder and pitcher Chris Falcone and infielder Tilson Brito are a pair of NCAA Division II transfers with experience and high expectations, with non-athletic transfer Ryan Kennedy and true frosh Nick Delprete anxious to take on big roles early.  From there, the CSI power will show with depth, and with Mauro’s ability to interchange pieces without losing talent.  For Mauro, it’s one of the deepest teams he’s had in what his now his sixth year with the squad.

“Without a doubt this is the most talented first-year class we have had since I have been here,” the coach beamed.  “Looking at all of them you would think they’ve been playing the college game for some time.  They exercise a great mentality for the game, wise beyond their years and when you mix that in with talent to play the game, it becomes very impressive.”  

When they do take the mound and get their seasoning in check, expect the Dolphins to return to what they do best.  Timely hitting, tough, deep, pitching and excellent defense on the field will be used to wear down opponents.  It helped the team to a 30-12 record a year ago, and makes the team a “team to watch” in the Collegiate Baseball Top 30 pre-season rankings.

“This year we are little less dependent on our speed and our ability to manufacture runs on the basepaths, but our defense and pitching has definitely improved,” said Mauro.  That’s saying something for the Dolphins, considering they boasted among the top team ERA’s and fielding percentage not only in the CUNYAC but the entire metro region last year.  “When you come to see a baseball game at CSI this year, you are going to see a smart team that is defensively sound, and that’s the backbone to every successful team.”

Of course, a CUNYAC Championship has become par for the course these days for CSI Baseball.  The team is eagerly looking, however, towards an NCAA National Tournament appearance, which the CUNYAC gets this year as an automatic qualifier.  To get there CSI will have a tough path in front of them, with the likes of Stevens Tech (affiliate member of the CUNYAC) and Baruch College nipping at their heels.  Mauro knows the competition will be tough, but that will only make the Dolphins that much more prepared.

“I expect us to be in the running for the CUNYAC Championship,” the coach said. “With the NCAA bid in our grasp making that a priority is certainly one of our goals.  It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be tough, but this is something we have been waiting for, and now it’s here and we plan to fight for the right to be there with everything we’ve got.  We have a one in seven chance right, and everything we do from here will give us a better and better chance if we play well, and that is the goal and we going to go all-out to get there.”

CSI will get underway against Gove City College at 12 Noon on Saturday.  The games can be viewed, via a subscription at http://streaming.ripkenbaseball.com/myrtle.  CSI will open up the home portion of their season on March 15, with a home doubleheader vs. St. Joseph’s (Brooklyn) at 12 Noon.