WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — If the race for the 2020 New England Small College Athletic Conference West Division crown becomes an arms race, it is one Williams head coach Bill Barrale feels his team has more than enough weapons in its arsenal to win.
But, first things first. The Ephs went 24-11 in 2019 and won the NESCAC West on the final day, neigh, in their final at-bat, of the regular season. It was a photo finish, and the margin from the top to the bottom of the West Diviision was, and will be in 2020, razor thin. The Ephs won every third game of the four best-of-three series they played against West Division opponents a year ago, a major factor in their division crown.
"We're trying to build off the momentum we gained last season," Barrale said, "and at the same time be mindful it wasn't easy. The West is very, very good and it's going to be wide open, so we have a lot of work to put in. I continue to tell them to focus on one pitch, one batter, one play at a time. We must be present and execute the task at hand. We're working on practicing with intent and to date, our practices have been great."
The 2020 Ephs have been and will be led by a senior class of four: left-handed starter John Lamont, outfielder Mike Stamas, left-handed starter/reliever Charlie Carpenter and closer Kyle Dean. That quartet has done a "great" job of getting the team prepared prior to the Feb. 15th date the coaches were, by rule, allowed to get involved and practice began.
"They did a great job in the fall and the winter and when we showed up on Feb. 15th, the team was in great baseball shape," Barrale said. "Their leadership has been tremendous, the practices have been sharp. It's a great leadership group to have for this season."
The Ephs will have some holes to fill in the rotation and the line-up as graduation claimed NESCAC Player of the Year Doug Schaffer and Co-NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year Kellen Hatheway in addition to starter Jack Bohen, who went 6-0 with a 2.45 earned run average in 2019. Hatheway also led the team in home runs with five despite missing 10 games with an injury, while Schaffer topped the team and conference with 47 RBI in addition to hitting .412. Third baseman Tom Benz had a strong season as well, hitting .324 with two homers and 11 RBI.
Still, Barrale has plenty to work with, beginning with junior shortstop Eric Pappas, who was named a preseason All-American by D3 Baseball and the NCBWA in January after a season in which he batted .410 with a .482 on-basepercentage. He led the Ephs in at-bats and hits in 2019. Pappas is part of a junior class that includes outfielders Erik Mini and Philip Barnett, infielder Jeremy Irzyk, and pitchers Bryan Woolley and George Carroll. Mini, the Ephs' left fielder, batted .282 last season and was second on the team in both home runs (3) and RBI (27). Barnett is a two-way player but should see plenty of time in right field while filling in on the bump, where he had a 1.74 ERA. Carroll started 7 games for the Ephs in 2019, going 2-0. Woolley is.a left-hander out the pen with a high ceiling. Irzyk should see plenry of time around the infield after hitting .318 in 22 at-bats last year.
Barrale has eight student-athletes in both the sophomore and first-year classes. Sophomore Sam Rohrer was a starter last year and won some big games for the Ephs, finishing 3-2 with a 3.57 ERA. Billy Shea has a shot at the vacant first base job or possibly in the designated hitter spot. he has a smooth left-handed swing that produced a .292 average in 24 at-bats. Ryan Young saw a lot of time at second base in 2019 and is expected to do so again. David Driscoll is the most experienced catcher the Ephs have and a bat to go along with that as he hit .362 a year ago. Nate Orluk is another two-way player and will see time in the infield when not on the mound. Daniel Lynch has a shot at the vacated third base job while Matt Duquette will see time at first base and Jacob Basil will give the Ephs infield depth.
The first-year class is the unknown, but Barrale is excited about the promise of the group as a whole. It includes outfielder Matthew Brown, catching prospect Jon Singleton, pitcher Will Jeffries, catcher Cole Whitehouse, pitcher Sean Hogan, pitcher Jack Sandifer, corner infielder Jakob Cohn and pitcher Bo Peponis.
"It's a strong group, a very talented group and they've have fit in well with our returning players from day one," Barrale said. "i expect a few of them to have an impact this season, but time will tell how much of one. The transition to the college game is not an easy one and they will need to put in the work."
The Ephs boasted a 3.71 team ERA in 2019, the best in a decade, since the 2008 season. With Lamont coming back after posting a 3.58 ERA last season, along with Rohr (3.57), Carpenter (4.31), Carroll and youngsters Jeffries, Sandifer and Hogan, it gives Barrale some options for his weekend rotation. Dean sat at the back of the bullpen and had a team-high 5 saves while striking out 25 in 19 2/3 innings.
"We have pitching depth coming back," Barrale said. "We have a lot quality kids. Hopefully, the situation will play itself out in terms of who is in the weekend rotation and what not. I think our line-up will be deeper 1 through 9 and we have the ability to spread out the production that Doug (Schaffer) and Kellen (Hatheway) gave us last year."
Williams opens its season Sunday weather permitting with a doubleheader at Springfield College beginning at 12 p.m.