WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — There's a lot of versatility in the line-up for the Williams College baseball team. The Ephs can hit, and head coach Bill Barrale, back for his 8th season, believes they can field better.
But can they pitch better? The answer to that question will likely define the 2014 Ephs, who had a gaudy 5.75 team earned run average during a 15-23 campaign last year.
"I think our strength is going to be hitting and defense," Barrale said. "But we have to pitch better. Obviously pitching is the biggest part of the game. We've been focusing on throwing strikes and pitching to contact in the field house, so we've been on it from day one."
"They've done a nice job in the offseason getting everyone doing what they should be doing in preparation for the season and leading by example," Barrale said.
Mike Gladu and Barrale will be focused on the pitching staff this week as the Ephs prepare for their season opening doubleheader in Phoenix, Az. this Sunday. There are no returning pitchers who had an ERA under 5.00 last season, but that doesn't mean the Ephs don't have a ton of talent to work with.
Every team has its three weekend staters, but at this point, Barrale is happy to have narrowed his choice, for now, down to four guys: Marino the senior lefty who pitched briefly in the Cape Cod League last summer; junior Tom Murphy, who was the Ephs' most consistent starter last year; sophomore righty Dan Smith, who pitched briefly in 2013 before being shelved by an injury, and first year Luke Rodino, a tall-righty out of New Jersey.
Of course, Barrale will test other starters during the Ephs' 11-game journey to the West. Senior lefty Marty Clarke, who missed all of last year with an injury, is back, sophomore righty Arnie Capute, who tied the Ephs lead in wins with two, is back, and first year Marcus Colella of Pennsylvania will get an opportunity.
Junior Eddie Kelly, sophomore Alex Beschloss and first year Nate Michalski will get an opportunity to be the key relievers from the middle of the game to the closer. Senior Baxter and junior Jacob Slater will work the closer role as the season begins.
Barrale does have three of his top hitters returning from a year ago in Matt Kastner, Phil McGovern and Marco Hernandez. Kastner will take over at shortstop full-time after a late-season switch to the position in 2013 from his acustomed second base. He batted .301 with a .389 on-base percentage, three doubles and 13 RBI with 15 runs scored last season.
McGovern is the top returning batter, hitting .352 with a .396 on-base pct. and nine doubles. He drove in 19 runs in '13. He'll start behind the plate for the Ephs, sharing those duties with Hernandez, who played all over the field for Barrale last season and still hit .299 with 25 RBI, making him the top run-producer back. Hernandez will also DH when not behind the plate.
At second base, first year Jack Roberts looks like the front-runner. Roberts is athletic, and strong in the field, which allowed Barrale to move kastner to short. At third base, sophomore Beau Horan will battle junior Kelso Stevens for playing time. Horan started 23 games at shortstop last season. Stevens batted .270 in 63 at-bats. Horan can also play second base. At first base first year Nate Michalski will get a long look.
First-year Jackson Parese will add depth to the infield for the Ephs.
Barrale has six guys battling for time in the outfield. Junior Tommy Stephens hit .270 in limited time in right field in 2013. Junior Luke Pierce played in only 17 games due to injury, junior Kirby Neuner also saw limited time there last season. Sophomore David Rosas missed the entire season because of injury and Jack Cloud is a first year. David Webster, also a junior, will battle Rosas for time in center field. He hit .264 in 91 at-bats.
"Our line-up has a lot of potential," Barrale said. "We can go right-left-right-left all through the line-up, and against lefties we could start nine right-handed hitters. I think our strengths this year are going to be hitting an defense. We just have to pitch better, there's no way around it."
Still, Barrale is confident his team can stay competitive in the very diffciult NESCAC West Division.
"Wesleyan and Amherst have two of the better teams in the conference," he said. "Hamilton had its best season in a long time last year and Middlebury always gives us a tough time. Those 12 games are going to be battles.
The Ephs open their season Sunday with a doubleheader against Hamline in Tucson.