By: Dan Popoloski – Managing Editor
After a season of missed opportunities and middling results, the William Paterson baseball team is gearing up to start with a fresh slate in 2017.
Last year ended with a 21-20 record, well off the mark of what the veteran squad was hoping for. Now, the team is undergoing a quick rebuild, moving onto a youth movement that could help to define the program for the next few years under the tutelage of 10th year head coach, Mike Lauterhahn.
The team is young, very young. Out of the 30 players on the roster, only six players are seniors. However, that will make the team lean on their upper classmen more than ever. Michael Abate leads the elder statesmen of the team, after a strong junior year in 2016. The outfielder hit .393 and scored 42 runs en route to earning All-NJAC second team honors.
He will lead the offense, along with fellow senior and first baseman Erig Colon, who led the team with six home runs last year. Catcher Mike Knauf, a returning senior, was named to the All-NJAC second team as well, primarily due to his work behind the plate and managing the staff. While those three will help keep the Pioneers competitive, more players are going to need to step up and fill the holes left by seniors lost from last season.
On the pitching side, the team will likely lean on a pair of junior hurlers, Mario Danza and Bryan Kopko. Danza led all returning pitchers last year with 58.2 innings pitched, posting a dependable albeit unspectacular 4.14 ERA. Kopko put up the best ERA on the 2016 team, primarily out of the bullpen, making only one start out of his 20 appearances. Sophomores Chris Babb and Eric Rosenberg are each looking to take a big step forward in their second seasons, while other pitchers will need to step up after the loss of 2016 staff ace Mitch D’Amato to graduation.
The road to the NJAC conference tournament is dogged with seemingly insurmountable obstacles, including three conference rivals who are all prepared to put up huge seasons. Ramapo, TCNJ, and Kean are each ranked in the Top 25 nationally in Division III baseball, filling out at eleventh, eighteenth, and nineteenth respectively to start the year. However, William Paterson is no slouch in this department either, garnering several votes in the poll ran by D3Baseball.
In a year where most of the key contributors won’t be coming from the senior ranks, any success by William Paterson would be a great sign for the future of the program. But there’s no reason to consider 2017 a throwaway year for the team. The Pioneers can easily compete with the big names in the NJAC conference.
Some of the younger players will need to step up and perform with the team’s bigger stars, but if they can survive a tough schedule and slip into the conference tournament, there’s no reason to think they can’t make some noise and spring for the title this season. As the preseason title pick, Kean will likely be the stiffest competitor for the coveted spot.
The baseball team will head to the Russmatt Central Florida Invitational on March 11th, as part of their season kickoff. Their conference schedule opens up with a double-header against Rutgers-Camden on April 1st.