Last season’s MAAC tournament ended in anguish for the No. 2 ranked Marist Red Foxes, failing to win a single game despite a stellar regular season. Despite the frustrating final result, 2023 is a new year with new expectations and limitless potential.
For the first time since 2009, former head coach Chris Tracz will not be leading the Red Foxes, as that responsibility has gone to former Marist assistant coach Lance Ratchford. The SUNY Cobleskill head coach of four years has a tall task to fulfill with the departure of frontline starting pitchers and losing a few crucial bats.
Their 2022 ace Erubiel Candelario transferred to the University of Pittsburgh and second starter Alex Pansini graduated, the only two on the staff with 75+ innings pitched. Gene Napolitano, Robbie Armitage and Reece Armitage also graduated, while Gavin Noriega transferred to Bryant University – four everyday starters, including the three players with over a .900 OPS.
It is a different-looking team that is going to need time to adjust, but Ratchford is confident this team can turn it around despite their tough non-conference start.
“You’re going to see some different guys out there. You know, guys will have the opportunity to win jobs or lose jobs over the next couple of weeks here before MAAC play,” Ratchford said.
In non-conference play so far, the Red Foxes are 2-8 with an 10.98 team earned run average and hitting a dreadful .213 from the plate with a .603 OPS. Losing a significant portion of the roster that carried last season’s success is a challenging hurdle to overcome, but it is an opportunity for the underclassmen to step up, with the slow start potentially opening windows for players overlooked in training camp.
While the batting has not fared well, the pitching has been the most alarming concern through the first few weeks. The two are intertwined from a competitive standpoint and the effect the pitching disparity has had on other aspects of the game has displayed itself.
“If you’re not getting started pitching, if you’re not defending at a high level, it can put pressure on the offense and it can manipulate the way you really want to play,” Ratchford said.
Playing from behind puts the hitters in a completely different mindset versus playing tied or ahead because of the constant sense of urgency to have to catch up. Especially, with some of these early season scoreboards being very lopsided, finding motivation with each at bat becomes increasingly more difficult with the odds of coming back being slim to none.
Aside from the consistent hitting of senior Colin Mackle, currently batting .343, and the power of graduate student Brian Hart, already with four home runs, the team has been desperate to find any source of offense – Marist was second in the MAAC in batting in 2022.
Having to face off against teams out west or down south does create a competitive disadvantage simply due to less exposure outside because of the frigid temperatures in the northeast.
“I’m not someone that makes excuses. Marist baseball has been playing in cold weather for as long as it’s been around and championship teams did the same thing,” Ratchford said. “You are going to be behind anyone that is outside from day one of the spring,”
It is a geographical difference schools in this part of the country have to accept, making these non-conference games essentially the collegiate version of spring training for a school like Marist. With the Red Foxes highly unlikely to be in the running for a tournament bid, their primary focus should be on MAAC competition and to disregard these early season woes.
“Every single weekend we just want to be playing better baseball as we go, and we don’t want to take steps back,” Ratchford said.
They understand where they are talent-wise and he remains confident in his team’s ability to perform at a high level.
“At the end of the day, we want to be peaking at the right time and I think that’s the key to winning a tournament and getting to the NCAA Tournament,” Ratchford said.
In college baseball, it is all about getting hot at the right time, with this holding true through last year’s national champions. The Ole Miss Rebels just barely snuck into the tournament, despite a mediocre regular season, however they played their best baseball when it mattered most and won their first College World Series.
Marist may not be Ole Miss, but baseball can be a simple sport. Pitch with confidence, make the routine plays, put the barrel on the ball and the wins will come.
Edited by Ricardo Martinez and Andrew Hard
Photo from Marist Athletics