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Baseball Team Hopes to Reverse Last Year's Record

By Danny Su

Coming off a disappointing 11-16 season, the MIT baseball team hopes it can reverse its record this year. The team is young and talented, with only three seniors. Fran O'Brien, the head coach, said the team is entering the season with a positive attitude despite the loss of two key players, Dan Paulsen and Brooks Mendell '93. Paulsen, the starting catcher last year, is taking a year off, and Mendell, who had a record of 2-2 with an ERA of 4.05, is out for the season because of a back injury. But the team plans to repeat as the Constitution Athletic Conference champions, a division that includes Worcester Polytechnic Institute, the Coast Guard Academy, and Norwich, Western New England, and Babson Colleges. O'Brien expects tough competition from the Coast Guard Academy, which finished second last year and has the strongest lineup coming back this year.

The pitching staff is anchored by Peter Hinteregger '93 and Eric Hopkins '94. Hinteregger complied a record of 6-1 with an ERA of 2.69 last year and led in almost every pitching category, including complete games, innings pitched, victories, and strikeouts. He was also the team MVP and was selected to the All New England team.

Hopkins had a record of 2-6 with an ERA of 7.57 and one save. When he is not pitching, Hopkins, along with two other players, will fill the catching void left by Paulsen. Coach O'Brien also plans to use him occassionally as a closer, and said he wouldn't be surprised to see Hopkins play all three positions in one game.

Behind the one-two punch of Hintergger and Hopkins, Nater Ritter '93 (0-1, 12.22) and Rob Lepard '95 will be the number three and four starters. Although Ritter had a rough season last year, he has the "best stuff"among the team's pitchers, according to O'Brien, who expects Ritter to have a better season and more consistency. When Lepard is not starting, he will fulfill the long relief role in the bullpen. He is joined by Matt Gimre '92, who is coming back from arm problem, Mkurlima Britt '94, and Mike Purucker '92. With only seven pitchers on the staff and one southpaw (Gimre), the team will have to juggle its pitching staff to avoid problems when it has four games in four days.

Infield is the strength of the team. At shortstop is Dan Sabanosh '94, who batted .258 last year, led the team in RBIs with 16, and was second in slugging percentage. He will also play third base when Hinteregger is playing shortstop. O'Brien is very impressed with the development of Sabanosh and expects him to play a bigger role this year.

The starting second baseman is John Mueller '94. Mueller batted .272 last year and led the team in at-bats, runs scored, and doubles. He will help behind the plate when Hopkins is pitching. Ian Somerville '93 is the starting third baseman. He led the team in walks last year and batted .288. He is also one of the three catchers. Gimre will play first base when he is not pitching. Brian Christensen '94 is the utility man of the team. He is the most versatile player and plays all the infield positions. O'Brien expects Christensen to fill any void around the infield on any given day.

In contrast to the infield, holes need to be filled in the outfield. After the entire starting outfield graduated, O'Brien has asked Mike Purucker '92 to move from third base to the outfield. Purucker was the the starting third baseman in 1989 and missed last season due to back injury. According to O'Brien, Purucker is the quickest guy in the outfield. O'Brien also expects great contributions from Jon Gass '94 (.259) and John Olson '94. Olson had an excellent pre-season and will play a bigger role this year. Olson and Gass will be joined by Lepard and Ritter in the outfield when they are not pitching.

With only seven home runs last year and no additional power hitter, O'Brien does not expect many three-run homers. Instead, the team will try to score one run at a time. Purucker is the leadoff hitter, and he has the best ability to steal bases on the team. Although O'Brien describes the overall team speed as average, they will try to move the runners whenever possible by using plenty of hit-and-runs. Christensen is the best hit-and-run hitter, and Mueller has the best bat control. But in general, the team will use the hit and run anywhere in the lineup. Also, the team will use bunts, squeezes, and safety squeezes to move the runners.

O'Brien said this is a team without any superstars, and he expects no one to carry the whole offensive load. He expects great leadership from team captains Hopkins and Purucker. On any given day, he believes this team can beat anybody, even Division I powerhouses like Harvard, Boston University, and Boston College. It's hard not to believe him.

The team leaves Wednesday for six games in Florida. Their first home game is on March 31 at 3 p.m. against Suffolk University. If you enjoy the little things in baseball, like bunting, hit-and-run, the squeeze play, and other, more fundamental aspects of the game, I strongly encourage you to go out and watch them play. It's sure to be an exciting season.