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Baseball Heads South

Column by Eric Oliver

With a high level of optimism and experience, this year's varsity baseball team could prove to be one of the better teams of recent years. "The confidence is there, and the talent is there," said Coach Francis O'Brien. "This team could be as successful as the '89 team." The 1989 club won a record 17 games against nine losses and earned a berth in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division III tournament.

The main reason for the optimism is the players' experience. All five seniors have played for four years -- led by Co-Captains Brooks Mendell '93 and Ian Somerville '93 -- and all six juniors have played three years. Several players have experience at more than one position, which should help the team in the case of unexpected injuries.

The team combines an effective combination of pitching, hitting and defense that will account for an exciting year. The pitching will be led by Pete Hinteregger '93 (7-1, All New England selection as a sophomore) and Nate Ritter '93 (5-1 last year with a 2.83 ERA). Rob Lepard '95 should provide excellent relief from the bullpen, provided an off-season injury heals completely. Add to that four talented freshman pitchers Aaron Loutsch '96, William Nielson '96, Steve Brunelli '96, and Jeff Kyle '96, and one can see why expectations are high.

"The team can hit," O'Brien said. "We're not going to be a long-ball club, but we'll do a little hit and run, some delayed steals, some bunting" -- most of the strategies usually important to MIT's success. When you mention `Beaverball' to an ex-varsity player, he'll conjure up stories of late inning five-run rallies, scoring three runs on one hit, or killing a bases-loaded no-out rally with two pick-offs and a strikeout.

The leadoff 1-2 punch will be provided by outfielders Jeff Olson '94 and Jon Gass '94. Somerville will bat cleanup. A converted third baseman, Somerville filled in the catcher's role, and responded by being named to the Greater Boston League All-Star team (along with Hinteregger and Eric Hopkins '92). "One of the finest defensive catchers in the league," O'Brien said.

Momentum is definitely on the Beavers' side. Last year the club compiled a 14-15 record by winning eight of the last 10 games, and by winning the MIT Fall Classic tournament.

The Beavers face a tough schedule, including Brandeis University, currently ranked 20th in Division III nationally, and Division I teams Harvard University, Boston University, and Boston College. After a discussion of BC's narrow 2-0 loss to the Red Sox a few weeks ago, O'Brien recalled "You know that kid who struck out the side against the Sox in the seventh or eighth inning? We faced him last year in a close game and tied the score off him, sending the game into extra innings." MIT ended up losing the game, though.

What are the goals for the season? "To play as hard as we can, put a good team on the field for every game, and to have fun," O'Brien said.

What about post-season play? "By the end of the season, if we're not in consideration for post season tournament play, we'll be disappointed. We've got the talent and confidence," O'Brien said.

All the right ingredients seem to be there. Provided they stay healthy, there is no reason this team can't challenge the 17 win plateau. The team starts off the season with a trip to Florida and games against Upsala, Dominican, Western Connecticut, Florida Memorial, Kings Point, and Bowdoin starting March 19.

"We play three games in three days, have a two day break, and then three more games in three days," explained O'Brien. "That way all of our pitchers can throw twice." Although the goal of the spring trip is to get some quality playing time against some difficult clubs, O'Brien would like to come home with three wins, a definite achievement.

The regular season schedule starts with a home game against Suffolk University on March 30 at 3 p.m. This team should be well worth spending the afternoon watching and supporting. Good luck on the trip and bring us back some Florida sun.