26 games in 28 days. A number many professional baseball teams would shudder at. After a surge in COVID-19 cases on campus, the Marist baseball team was forced to undertake its most demanding season in program history.
When the schedule was initially released, the team was meant to play 36 games in 43 days, which was already a tall task. Each game is part of a doubleheader, with the first head lasting seven innings and the second head going the full nine. They’ve played four games every weekend along with at least one weekday series per week. For context, in 2019, Marist’s MAAC schedule consisted of 24 games in 49 days.
At the beginning of the season, it was uncertain whether they’d even get to play this season. Marist was scheduled to start their season on April 2. They ended up having their first six games canceled due to the campus pause. However, from the moment they were given the green light, they were locked in.
Heading into the MAAC Tournament, the team held a 17-9 record, good enough for fifth in the conference. However, based on winning percentage, they would rank third in the MAAC. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job,” said head coach Chris Tracz. “This is what [the players] wanted, so we should show up ready to play.”
Offensively, Marist was exceptional. They lead the MAAC in runs per game with 7.5 and also rank in the top two in the conference in batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base percentage.
Sophomore shortstop Dylan Hoy broke out offensively for Marist this spring. He finished the regular season with a .400 batting average and .505 on-base percentage.
What is truly remarkable is how well Marist’s pitching staff performed with such little rest. Marist held the third-best combined ERA in the conference at 3.87, with opposing hitters batting just .245 against the Red Foxes. Coach Tracz recognizes the importance of pitching in such a compressed season. “If we can get good starts, we’re going to be okay,” he said.
While their run support has been excellent, the four-man rotation of junior Erubiel Candelario, junior Ryan Cardona, senior Alex Pansini, and sophomore Jack Keenan has been just as important to the success of the team. Their performances have given Tracz the freedom to be aggressive with his use of the bullpen when he needs to be.
Redshirt senior Conor McNamara has been borderline unhittable on the mound for Marist this season. In his seven appearances, he holds a phenomenal 0.63 ERA, with opposing batters hitting just .179 against him. While Marist’s biggest strength may be their bats, they have a dangerous array of pitchers who have the ability to do multiple things on the mound.
On their rare off days, the team’s main focus is, predictably, recovery. “It’s an hour and 25-35 minutes [of work] and then we try to get off our feet,” said Tracz. This season, Tracz has had the difficult responsibility of balancing development and maintenance. “Maintenance is a little bit higher on the priority list just because I think if we’re healthy, we have a chance to be really good,” he said, “And if we push too hard, those game days could suffer a little bit from a physical and mental standpoint.”
Overall, the team took a loose, yet intense approach to the season. After the rollercoaster that the past year has been, the team realized there isn’t much they can do about the number of games they play. “After everything we’ve been through, beggars can’t be choosers,” said Tracz.
Heading into the MAAC Tournament, Marist was going to be confident against whoever they had to play. “Our focus just needs to be on what we do and how we can prepare for when we play,” said Tracz, “Whenever that is, wherever it is, against whoever we just need to be ready.”
Marist drew Canisius in the quarterfinals, who finished fourth in the MAAC with a 17-13 record. After losing game one of the best-of-three series, Marist responded by winning game two by a score of 12-6. After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning, it looked like their hectic season would continue, but Canisius rallied for five runs in the third and three in the seventh to end Marist’s season.
While their season may have ended in disappointment, it can’t be looked at as a failure for Marist. They were pushed to the limit physically and responded incredibly on the field. The foundation they built this year will undoubtedly pay dividends to a team that returns top pitchers Candelario and Cardona along with breakout star sophomore shortstop Hoy next season.
When it was all said and done, Marist finished their season with an 18-11 record, playing a total of 29 games in just 34 days. To finish such a taxing season seven games above .500 is an accomplishment in and of itself. Regardless of how it ended, the 2021 Marist Baseball season will be remembered for years by members and fans of the program alike.
Edited by Bridget Reilly and Mackenzie Meaney
Photo by Marist Athletics