Conference title the only goal for Garnet baseball

Coming off a strong season that ended just short of the postseason, the Swarthmore men’s baseball team comes into 2012 looking to take the next step.

After a 2010 season in which the Garnet made the Centennial Conference playoffs for the first time in the program’s history, last year’s team went 20-14 overall but just 9-9 in conference play.

After jumping out to a 9-4 record, the Garnet’s momentum stalled, as they lost four out of their final five conference match-ups to end up on the outside of the conference playoff picture.

“We’re coming off two 20-win seasons in a row now, so we’re getting used to being one of the top teams in the conference,” outfielder Rory McTear ’13 said. “Now we have our eyes on something bigger.”

Senior catcher Mike Waterhouse ’12 threw down the gauntlet for a team with playoff expectations.
“If we don’t make the conference playoffs, it’s an unsuccessful season,” Waterhouse said. “Last year, we thought we should have, but kind of fell apart at the end. If we live up to the talent we have, we should be in the top four teams in the conference.

“All eyes are set on conference championship and dethroning [last year’s conference champion] Johns Hopkins, but first things first: we’ll try to make conference playoffs.”
As is the case every year, the team lost valuable senior players, it has retained a strong nucleus of talent that excelled in 2011.

The four players that represented the Garnet on last year’s All-Centennial team, and who also happened to be the top four hitters in the Swarthmore lineup, will all return this season to anchor an elite offense.

Last year’s leadoff hitter, infielder Anthony Montalbano ’12, was the rare leadoff hitter to lead his team in slugging percentage (.538). However, in large part due to his place in the lineup, his 13 RBI ranked last among his team’s starters. McTear created havoc as the number-two in 2011, leading Swarthmore with 15 stolen bases and 33 runs scored.

“We all realize we have roles on the team,” McTear said. “We can’t try to do things we’re not good at. My job is to get on at the top of lineup, and steal bases.”
Waterhouse will return behind the plate and likely bat third again this year.

First baseman and putative cleanup hitter Nicko Burnett ’14, who was elected as a first-year, led the Garnet with a .389 batting average and a .500 on-base percentage. Burnett, for his part, stressed his desire for better plate discipline and an improved all-around game.

“I want to follow up a strong freshman year with a better one,” Burnett said. “I need to cut down on strikeouts and play good defense, but it really just comes down to helping the team win. The number in the wins column is the only one that really matters.”

Although the top four hitters in the Garnet lineup excelled last year, Waterhouse cautioned that the lineup was not set in stone.

“The good thing about this [team] is that there are so many options, and depth at a lot of positions,” Waterhouse said.

“No spot in the order is guaranteed, I just hope I can contribute as much as possible, [and] I’d prefer to hit second or third if I can, but if that’s not where I’m going to help the team, then I’d rather hit where Coach [Exeter] thinks I can help.”

Highlighting the returning pitchers are starters Ignacio Rodriguez ’12, Zach Weiner ’12 and closer Ramsey Walker ’13. Last season, Rodriguez led Garnet starters in wins (5), ERA (3.45), and strikeouts (40).

Weiner, the number-two pitcher in the rotation, went 4-2 with a 4.50 ERA, while Walker tallied seven saves to break Swarthmore single-season record.

Rodriguez, despite his success last year, still looks to improve.

“Personally, I’ve been working on throwing more strikes so I can go deeper in the ballgames,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve also been working on my curveball, which I think will help me get more swings and misses.”

Despite several standouts, pitching was an area of relative weakness for the Garnet in 2011. While they lead the conference in batting average and slugging percentage, their staff’s 5.42 ERA ranked Swarthmore seventh out of 10 teams.

Joining the roster this year are first-years Dylan Jeffers, Brian Kaissi, Trevor Shepherd, Danny McMahon, Samer Nashed, Zach Powell, Joseph Rizzo, Gregory Cox, Scoop Ruxin, Luke Alventosa and Colton Aho.

Whether they make a significant contribution to the 2012 season remains to be seen, but they have already won praise from older members of the team.

“They’re a crazy bunch of guys, but I love ’em,” Montalbano said, “I think they’ve got what it takes to be not just college baseball players, but good college baseball players. I’m proud to be able to pass the torch to them.”

Almost unanimously, members of the Garnet expressed their belief that this team has what it takes to win the conference championship.

Making the playoffs would be nice. This season, winning the title is what it’s all about.
“You’ve got to crave to win a championship, “ outfielder Sean Bryant ’13 said. “We’re all hungry for it, for the opportunity to bring a championship back to Swat.”

Swarthmore kicks off the season on the road with a doubleheader against the Catholic University Cardinals.

The first game is slated to begin at noon, while the second is scheduled for 3:00 p.m.

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