After long-tenured Marist baseball head coach Chris Tracz departed to take the Army job over the summer, his replacement needed to be someone who could maintain and improve upon the foundation he laid in his 13 seasons at the helm.
The man who received the call was certainly no stranger to the program.
Lance Ratchford was an assistant coach in Poughkeepsie from 2016-2018, and described becoming the next head coach of Marist baseball as a “dream come true.”
“When the job opened, obviously I was super interested in coming back,” Ratchford said. “As soon as the opportunity hit for me, I was ready for anything…I think that this is obviously a place where you can be really successful here, as far as building a baseball program, so soon as I knew that this was gonna be available I really wanted to jump at that opportunity and come back.”
Prior to his latest position, Ratchford was the head coach at SUNY Cobleskill for four years, accumulating an overall record of 60-56. For his efforts, Ratchford was awarded the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) coach of the year honor in 2022, overseeing a team that finished first in the NAC West division for the second straight year. They also were the runner-up in the 2022 NAC championship.
Ratchford now sets his sights on leading the Red Foxes and achieving many of the goals he has set forth for himself and the program. At the top of his list are a few obvious ones: winning the MAAC tournament and returning the program to the NCAA tournament, but there are also some personal plans he must attend to in the initial stages of his tenure.
First and foremost, Ratchford is focused on relocating his wife and his daughter, Nolla, who are from Oneonta, New York. Come springtime, his family should be fully immersed in the local community, as they are currently in the process of moving to Poughkeepsie.
“Marist and Poughkeepsie are super special to me,” Ratchford said. “We were able to do some really cool things when I was an assistant here. I am so happy to be back and I can’t wait to make new memories.”
While Ratchford has his past experience as a Marist assistant coach to draw back on, the vast majority of the program’s recent history occurred under Tracz’s tutelage. Ratchford is aware of the fact that Tracz’s fingerprints are all over the program after coaching under him for a few years; he embraces the pressures that comes with being a first-year head coach on the heels of 13 consecutive seasons with the same skipper.
“There’s not just pressure of following up what Chris did here, but following up with this program has always done,” he said. “I think that this is a little bit different of an animal for me taking over. This isn’t a total rebuild, this is a place that has a tradition of winning, finishing second place last year… I think that my job as a head coach is just to pick up right where Chris left off.”
As mentioned, Marist finished second in the MAAC last season. The Red Foxes possessed an excellent 17-5 record in conference play and ended with a 29-17 record overall. Despite the high-quality regular season play, it was all for naught, with Marist losing the first two games of the MAAC championship tournament, sending them packing much sooner than anticipated.
The good news for a Marist club looking to make it deeper into the postseason is that Ratchford has had deep playoff experience in the past as a head coach, with his team making it to the NAC championship last season.
“There is a science to it and there is a mentality about it where you can be successful in the postseason,” Ratchford said. “The main goal is to be playing our best baseball come May and putting our best foot forward when we get to the postseason.”
The formula Ratchford wants his program to implement to reach the promised land consists of a good two-strike approach, taking advantage of free bases, and putting the ball in play on offense. When it comes to run prevention, he wants his pitchers staying away from walks, while his middle infielders will be counted on to dominate the routine play defensively.
“We have a really good mix of just maturity,” Ratchford said. “But then we also have a great group of freshmen that came in and a couple of transfers that we added in… We have a good group of guys that have been to postseason play before and have had a number of starts and games played underneath them.”
In his short time at the helm, Ratchford has already begun a fundraising project called the “Giving Campaign,” which aims to raise money for the baseball program.
Soon after becoming the head coach, he knew this would be a key goal of his; getting in touch with alumni only furthered his desire to raise funds, as he quickly realized that many alumni wanted to see some facility upgrades.
“I think it would benefit the overall look and overall landscape as you’re coming off of the highway and coming into campus,” Ratchford said. “Our field is already great to look at. But, something that almost matches what McCann looks like as you are walking to the McCann Center, seeing brand new dugouts, seeing nice stands, and maybe a nice press box area and a brand new backstop.”
Most importantly, Ratchford emphasized that any upgrades will be a direct benefit to the players. He hopes to eventually gain access to better equipment and facilities, while simultaneously providing fans with an enhanced experience attending a Marist baseball game.
The campaign raised well over $6,000 in its first month with the end goal of reaching $25,000.
“In the first month of the Giving Campaign, I think we’ve taken some big steps, but obviously, we’re gonna need some help and we’re gonna need more help moving forward,” he said.
Ratchford will start this journey towards achieving all his goals, including making the NCAA tournament this year, on Feb. 17, as he is set to make his Marist head coaching debut against the University of Southern California.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Luke Sassa
Photo from Marist Athletics