Baseball looks to contend for NEC crown

John Merry

Whether he’s dealing with a team full of youth, or a group of veterans, Quinnipiac baseball head coach Dan “Skip” Gooley’s goals never change. Gooley knows his team graduated its three top hitters, including NEC Player of the Year Tim Binkoski, but he’s not worried. He has been around long enough to know that his veteran pitching staff and young talent at the plate makes Quinnipiac armed and dangerous for another NEC championship.

The Quinnipiac baseball team enjoyed much success last year, toting a 29-18-1 overall record and receiving the top seed in the 2007 NEC Baseball Tournament as Conference co-champions. But this is not the team that boasted a 21-7 in-conference record last year. “We now have six or seven guys who have never been on the field for a daily basis,” Gooley said. “It’s a brand new ball club.”

The Bobcats look to replace Binkoski, whose .424 batting average contributed to their league-best .305 team batting average. But the Player of the Year isn’t the only big bat that will be missed. All-NEC selections Ryan Rizzo, Wilson Matos, and Randy Gress graduated, as well as starting pitcher Pat Egan.

“The guys we lost all graduated which is the prime reason for coming to a university,” Gooley said, joking that “the country club has got to come to an end sometime.”

Despite losing such key contributors, Quinnipiac was picked to finish second behind Monmouth University in the NEC Baseball Coaches Preseason Poll. Gooley was humbled by the selection, but realizes the team must prove itself on the field. “I think it comes out of a line of respect that the coach’s extended to us,” he said. “I’m very grateful and appreciate it very much, but you have to earn it.”

While Quinnipiac is picked to be a top-team in the NEC, the conference is loaded with talented ball clubs. Monmouth returns with a top-notch pitching rotation still in-tact. NEC Pitcher of the Year Brad Brach, NEC Rookie of the Year Ryan Buch, and lights-out closer Justin Esposito dominated hitters last year. According to Gooley, it’s not just Monmouth that you have to look out for, it’s every team. “Teams like Mount St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart, Farleigh Dickinson, and Long Island University are much improved ball clubs,” Gooley said.

Andy Mayer, the ace of the Quinnipiac rotation, already has his eyes set on Central Connecticut State University.

“I think we have a good rivalry with them,” he said. “Not just because they are in state, but they are sort of a chirpy team, always screaming and shouting. We are a more conservative team, so it makes it competitive.”

And competitive is exactly what this Quinnipiac ball club will be, with the key factor being their veteran pitching. Mayer said that the pitching staff’s experience definitely helps.

“The fact that we know the league and a fair amount of players in it goes back to high school, where you know the players you play against and how to pitch to them.”

Quinnipiac looks to get quality starts out of the junior twin towers 6-foot-4 Joe Duffy and 6-foot-6 Chris Gloor, who both had great seasons last year. Mayer has led the team in wins since his freshman year. He has great command on his fastball, and has not one, but two changeups.

“My roommate calls it the ‘Marshmallow’ it’s a really slow changeup, in video games it would be called the ‘super slow’ pitch,” he said in regards to his second off-speed option. Senior Tyler Brett, who had an outstanding season last year, looks to hold down the bullpen once again.

Gooley’s expectations for this veteran staff is simple- “win.” With the way things look on paper that should not be too much to ask for.

While the Bobcats lost some hitters, their offense might not skip a beat. Pete Kummerfeldt is a leader on the team, and is poised to have a big season after belting 12 dingers last year. Brian Monack fills the hole Binkoski left in centerfield and All-NEC First-Team selection John Delaney will be the everyday guy at shortstop, bringing with him last years .301 batting average.

Bryn Doyle looks to have a big year offensively, but he brings more than his smooth swing to the team.

“Doyle is our starting second baseman and he’s the true character of the team,” Mayer said. “He’s always ready with a joke and makes practice funny and just lightens the mood.”

Year in and year out, Gooley’s goals remain. Mayer knows the expectations that his coach has like the back of his hand. “Get back to NEC tournament. As we’ve learned the past two years anyone can win, you just have to get there,”

Mayer added “we want to win the regular season title, go on to the NEC championship and win a regional series. That’s sort of been Skip’s thing for three years.”