Spring Preview: Baseball

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Spring Preview: Baseball

Fordham Baseball's pitching staff will be it's strength this season (Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

Fordham Baseball's pitching staff will be it's strength this season (Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

Fordham Baseball's pitching staff will be it's strength this season (Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

Fordham Baseball's pitching staff will be it's strength this season (Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

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by Jack McLoone

Fordham Baseball’s pitching staff will be it’s strength this season (Julia Comerford/The Fordham Ram).

Fordham Baseball had a tough 2017, missing the Atlantic 10 Championship Series with an 11-12 in-conference record and finishing just one game above .500 at 27-24. The Rams come into 2018 with a lot of fresh faces after graduating 10 seniors. Among those seniors were everyday starters Mark Donadio, Matthew Kozuch, Luke Stampfl and Jason Lundy, along with number one starter Jimmy Murphy and consistent contributor Ryan Mahoney.

“Losing seniors happens every year and it’s something that you try to prepare for,” said head coach Kevin Leighton. “We will definitely have some guys starting this year that haven’t had college experience yet, but we’ve had that every year, and young talent is an exciting and promising sign for the future.”

The Rams will feature just two seniors this season, the rarely-used reliever Jake Bernardo and starting pitcher Ben Greenberg. Greenberg, who is the team captain, missed all of last season with a back injury. In his freshman year he was named to the A-10 All-Rookie team, and as a sophomore posted a 2.83 ERA.
“Ben has experience and has pitched in big games for us so for him to be back is going to be big,” said Leighton. “He is a competitor and wants to win in the worst way and I know that our younger guys will learn from him just by watching his preparation and the way that he competes on the mound.”
The pitching staff will, as in years past, continue to be a strength for the Rams. Freshman Alvin Melendez settled into a closing role for the Rams last season – his exploits included closing both halves of a double-header – and tossed an A-10-best 0.76 ERA in 23.2 innings. He started the season also playing in the outfield, but a lower body injury limited his playing time there. Leighton hopes to get him back to playing in the field this season.

“He has tremendous natural talent and I expect that he will show that this spring in the outfield and the mound,” said Leighton.

The other focal point on the mound will be junior Reiss Knehr, last season’s number two starter, along with starting at second base. He led the Rams in strikeouts with 86, including a 16-strikeout performance against St. Joe’s.

Leighton thinks sophomore Brandon Martin could make a big step this season. As a freshman, he did not allow a run over his first six appearances.

Where the Rams run into problems, however, is at the plate. They had a .259 team batting average (219th) and .337 on-base percentage, good for 219th and 262nd, respectively, out of 295 teams. No matter how good your pitching is, simply being able to get runners on base will limit you. The Rams were shut out in six games last season.

“I am confident that this year’s group is bought in to the plan of how we want to run our offense,” said Leighton. “We need to compete in the batter’s box and we need to find ways to get on base more consistently this year.”

Leighton thinks junior first baseman Brian Goulard could be one of the breakout players at the dish for Fordham this season.
With all the graduating seniors, the Rams will field a young lineup out of necessity, especially on days that either Knehr or Melendez (if he starts) are pitching. Freshmen infielders Jake Mackenzie and C.J. Vazquez and outfielder Nick Labella are expected to contribute early.

On the mound, the freshmen slate of John Stankiewicz, Matt Mikulsi, Joe Quintal and Brandon Nance should be impact performers.

Fordham will start its season in the way it always does: three weekend road trips to warmer climes to escape the Northeast winters. The Rams will first head to South Carolina for three games starting Feb. 16 before weekend series at the University of South Florida and James Madison.

“That’s one of the things that I think as a student-athlete you will remember the most after your career,” said Leighton of the season-opening road trips. “The bonds that are made on road trips last for a lifetime and the experiences of playing some tough competition will definitely benefit us throughout the season.”
Fordham’s first home game is against Wagner on Wednesday, March 14 at 3 p.m.