It’s a good thing the Swarthmore baseball team traveled to Florida for spring break. With the local weather the way it has been, the team might never have gotten a game in. Rain on Monday and Tuesday postponed the scheduled games at and against Penn State-Brandywine. Monday’s game was rescheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
It was nothing but sunshine in Florida though, where the Garnet competed in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. Playing a grueling nine-game slate, Swarthmore came away with a 6-3 record to climb over .500 for the first time all season, with a record of 6-5.
The team showed continuing improvement throughout the trip, particularly in the pitching. What appeared to be a liability in an early season loss to Arcadia has proven to be a strength, as the Garnet rode quality starts to three wins in a row, shutting out Juniata 11-0 and sweeping Rhode Island College in a doubleheader.
The starting pitching was solid in recent losses as well: Oscar Leong ’16 threw five shutout innings in an eventual 8-3 loss to New Jersey City, while Nathan Booth ’16 allowed three runs in five innings in a 4-3 loss to Juniata. Upperclassmen have pitched well too–Luke Alventosa ’15 allowed one run on just four hits .in a complete game effort against Rhode Island, while Ramsey Walker ’13 had a complete game of his own, allowing three runs in the nightcap.
Travel helped awaken Swarthmore’s bats, as an offense that had scored just two runs in its first two games exploded for 43 in the first four games of the trip. Rory McTear ’13 has been on a tear, leading the team with a .462 batting average and .548 on base percentage. He isn’t the only one, either. During the trip, eight players had a batting average over .300. Tim Kwilos ’13 and Nicko Burnett ’14 have provided the big guns, slugging a home run each and knocking in eight and seven runs, respectively.
Kwilos said the team improved rapidly as it shook off the early-season jitters. “We are a young team with a lot of guys trying to either win a starting spot or find their roles within the lineup, so people really viewed this trip as an opportunity to show what they had and how they could contribute. So as guys settled in, we’ve seen everyone take a good step forward and we saw much more consistent play by the end of the trip.”
McTear emphasized that the Garnet were playing better as the trip went on. “Our two wins over Rhode Island College on the last day of the trip were the best we have played all year. We got two stellar pitching performances and got contributions at the plate from lots of guys, especially Danny McMahon ’15, Cody Ruben ’14, and John Lim ’16.”
Lim, along with Leong and Booth, has in particular adjusted well to the college game. The second baseman/catcher has hit .391 with five RBIs so far in his first season. McTear pointed out that all of the freshmen pitchers have been doing well, saying that “all [have] thrown some quality innings and haven’t been afraid to challenge hitters.” Kwilos said it was especially important this year that the younger players perform well, and was impressed that they had thus far. ” We have been preaching all year that we need everyone, regardless of age, to contribute this year if we are going to be successful, and I think the freshmen understand that.”
There is still a week left on the nonconference schedule, but it is never too early to think about the upcoming Centennial Conference season, which begins with a doubleheader at home against Dickinson on March 30. Both Kwilos and McTear thought the spring break games provided a strong preparation for the always competitive slate. Each player emphasized, in Kwilos’ words, “what a grind the season is” and how “we need to be ready for quick turnarounds each week.” McTear added that many games “allowed for all of the players to get multiple opportunities to play.” At the same time, Kwilos pointed out that the game is the same regardless of opponent. “I think it was more important for us to focus on our play as a team and take steps forward as a group…We know we’ll need a consistently high level of play to have success.”
Following Thursday’s game at Cairn, the next Garnet home game is a doubleheader against Oneonta State on Saturday. The first game is scheduled for 12:00, while the next will follow at 3:00.