WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- Spring is in the air, and there is an added spring to the step of Ephs' head coach Bill Barrale as he enters his 10th season at the helm of the baseball program.
And that's not only because his Ephs open their season in four days. It's also because Barrale believes this year's quad has the talent and leadership to compete with NESCAC West Division rivals Wesleyan, Amherst, Hamilton and Middlebury along with all other comers.
"I've been impressed with the leadership of this program, especially before we even started the preseason in mid-February," Barrale said. "We have a relatively young team, but I'm very excited to see how much we grow and compete this season."
The Ephs leadership comes from its senior class of five that includes Dan Smith, Alex Beschloss, Arnie Capute, Beau Horan and David Rosas. Capute, Smith and junior Luke Rodino are the tri-captains for this year's team.
Williams struggled in 2015, finishing an injury-plagued season 14-19 with a team earned average of 5.75 and a fielding percentage of .943 that led to 54 unearned runs. Barrale expects each of those areas to be significantly improved this spring.
Smith and Rodino will lead the Ephs pitching staff. Smith, a right-hander, struck out 27 in 34 innings last year. Rodino and Smith led the Ephs with seven starts each. The former went 3-4 with a team-leading 2.72 ERA. Over 43 innings he allowed 48 hits and 16 walks while striking out 25.
There are several candidates for the coveted third weekend starting spot. Junior righty Tyler Duff will get a look after he compiled a 3.76 ERA over 40 2/3 innings last year. The innings pitched were second highest on the squad behind Rodino. Junior Nathan Michalski is also being considered, he threw 7 1/3 innings last season, as are first-years Will O'Brien (righty) and Jack Bohen (righty).
"We've had a different focus each week of preseason," Barrale said, "but the most important thing we have been stressing is just locating the ball down. That, and fastball command. I've been pleased with their approach and Tanner (pitching coach Tanner McIntyre) has been working very hard with them. I'm optimistic."
Lev Schecter, a walk-on who played a lot of third base for the Ephs last year but is expected to see plenty of time on the hill this spring, will bolster the Ephs' pen. Capute will get a shot at closer, and Barrale hopes to keep Duffy in his versatile middle-to-late relief role he flourished in last season.
Health will go a long way in determining how successful the Ephs are on the diamond this spring, but as of right now, they have a strong line-up 1 through 9. Behind the dish Barrale has two above average receivers in sophomore Adam Dulsky, who batted .323 in his freshman campaign with a .398 on-base percentage and 11 doubles. Barrale also likes what he sees from first-year Alex Panstares, a very capable defensive catcher.
Junior Michalski and his 6-5 frame are back at first base and first-year David Kwan, also 6-5, will handle the duties if/when Michalski is on the mound. Look for junior Jack Roberts to slide back to second base after starting at shortstop last year and batting a team-leading .359 with a .415 OBP and a .564 slugging percentage, also a team-leading figure. Junior Jackson Parese will also see time at second base and all around the infield as will senior Beau Horan. Both are veterans and have proven themselves at this level. Cyrus Beschloss, a first-year, will also see time around the infield.
First-year Kellen Hatheway is the strongest -- and leading -- candidate for the shortstop job. The hope is sophomore Doug Schaffer takes the third base job and runs with it. He missed last season entirely with an injury, but is healed and has had a strong preseason.
The Ephs will look for junior Jack Cloud to rebound with the bat and start in left field. Rosas will anchor center field, and sophomore Adam Regensburg, who hit 313 in an injury-plagued first season, will get the call in right field. Others who will vie for time in the outfield are first years Jack Overholt and Sam Stark along with Horan.
'I think the most important thing is from Day 1 we've had competition at every spot," Barrale said. "That helps motivates guys, when they have someone pushing them every day, every practice. I think our line-up is above average, I think we will be better defensively and then the pitching ... it has looked good so far."
The Ephs open their season Monday with a doubleheader against Hamline in Tucson, Az. They will play 15-games in Arizona, including a critical three-game series against Middlebury at the end. They open at home on April 8 against rival Amherst at 4 p.m.