The Ursinus College baseball team suffered through a 16-23 campaign in 2016.  However, this season the Bears are off to an impressive 11-4 start in their out of conference slate.  The players know that isn’t good enough as a major issue for the Bears last season was their games in the always tough Centennial Conference.  In 2016, the Bears sat alone at the bottom of the conference standings with a 2-16 record in conference play.  After sitting down with Ursinus players this past week, they made one thing very clear: this is a different team and a new season.

The Bears kick started their 2017 campaign on a high note, as they traveled to Florida and returned to Collegeville with an 8-2 record.  However, the 2016 team also finished the Florida spring break trip with an 8-2 record.  Many of the players pointed to intensity and focus as the two things that need to translate from the out of conference play to Centennial Conference games.

Sophomore starting pitcher David Drea said “maintaining out intense focus and continuing to play as a team” is the key to having strong performances in conference.  However, Junior Travis Kozak stated “Keeping that intensity up while also having school and other obligations” is one of the challenges the team must overcome.  The players told me they are excited to finally show that what happened in Florida was a foreshadowing of things to come and not a mirage like the 2016 team’s trip seemed to be.

Conference play for the Bears brings many new challenges for the team.  The challenge begins Saturday, as the team heads to Dickinson College to take on the Red Devils in a doubleheader.  For the seniors, a victory this weekend would mean a lot as the senior class has never beaten Dickinson on the road.

Senior pitcher Seth Regensburg said picking up a win over the Red Devils “would be a statement for us.”  A victory over the Red Devils would certainly be a fantastic way to kick off conference play, especially after suffering two ugly losses last season at the hands of the Red Devils.  Drea echoed the words of Regensburg saying a win would “send a essage to the resto of the conference early on.”  We will certainly know a lot more about the Bears after this weekend, but it seems as if the team is really excited about exacting some revenge on the Red Devils.

Moving past Dickinson, I was curious to find out which Centennial games mean the most to the players.  The players were confident in saying that conference games have a completely different feel than their out of conference games.  “Every guy is a little more juiced up for conference play” is what Senior Greg Petorak said when asked about the intensity of Centennial games.

While many players gave the generic answer of not having a particular team or game they look forward to, others really seemed to have some games they are looking forward to.  Many mentioned their games against the Red Devils this upcoming weekend as a game they have circled on the schedule.  However, another popular choice was Haverford College, the reigning Centennial Conference champions.  The Bears played the champs to a one run game before being blown out two days later by the same Black Squirrel squad.

Sophomore pitcher Matt Rapp added “we are chomping at the bit to get another crack at them” after they swept the Bears last season.  “Haverford, for sure” is what sophomore pitcher Mark LeDuc said when asked about a team he is looking forward to facing this season.  Hopefully the Bears are more prepared this year to face a tough Haverford team when they meet on April 4th.

Sophomore Carter Usowski has returned from knee injury that sidelined him for a majority of 2016. Usowski is currently batting .464 with 12 RBIs and 12 runs scored.

The thing that jumps out right away about this Ursinus team is the senior presence on the roster.  In all, the roster is comprised of 18 seniors which makes up almost half of their roster.  Despite their experience there have been some fresh faces that have broken into the lineup and make an immediate impact.  Many upperclassmen pointed to freshman outfielder Dom Fiorentino as a newcomer who has stepped into a big role.  Senior Austin Kurey said that Fiorentino “has been performing well” and “will have a large impact by the end of the year.”

Fiorentino said that transitioning from high school to college baseball “isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”  The freshmen has showed well in 15 games, accumulating a .256 batting average with 4 RBIs and 7 runs scored.  However, the team recently received some bad news in terms of their strong freshman class.

Freshman outfielder Alex Mumme who was off to a blazing hot start with a .375 batting average and 7 RBIs in just 9 games was diagnosed with mono a week ago.  This will force Mumme to sit out the majority of conference play.

The Bears seemed focused and determined at the midway point in their season.  They are not letting the early season success impact their upcoming games.  The senior leadership of this group seems to be leading that culture of intensity and focus knowing this is their last chance at a conference title.  The Bears head to Dickinson for a doubleheader on Saturday starting at 12:30 PM.

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