Sports

Winning With Relationships

By Dustin Niles

Layout & Design Editor

It’s not a line from “Goodfellas.” It’s Assistant Coach Justin McKay’s motto for the 2017 Knights baseball team.

McKkay said wants to get far out in front early with an aggressive offense to take pressure off of pitching later in games. McKay has had a profound impact on the baseball team since his start at FDU in 2012. As assistant coach, he is in charge of the offense and also of recruiting.

The Knights’ offensive performance in 2016 increased in key stats across the board,, including batting average, runs scored, hits, home runs and in stolen bases, in which they were seventh in the nation in stolen bases per game.

McKay also wants to place an emphasis on driving the ball into the outfield for extra-base hits. He knows how to make his point – the season’s first practice was a home run derby.

McKay loves the work ethic of this team.

“Those guys are crazy workers,” he said. “Our best guys are our hardest workers.” The coaches trust their players to follow the plan, letting them run their own batting practice before games.

Successful programs show the results on the field, but they are built through recruiting. And in the 2016 season, McCay was the best in the NEC, and was recognized by his peers by being named NEC Recruiter of the Year.

He places an emphasis on relationships and uses camps to attract great players that he’s worked with to FDU’s program. So far, he’s brought on 11 players that came from FDU’s youth camps.

One of McKay’s longest relationships is with Head Baseball Coach Gary Puccio. McKay originally met Coach Puccio in 2006 when he was a McKay played for him at Briarcliffe College on Long Island. His knowledge of Puccio’s style and expertise brought him back to FDU after building a high-level travel team that sent 12 players to the MLB draft, including a first-rounder. Pro scouts have expressed interest in shortstop Matt McCann, Left Fielder Ryan Brennan, and pitcher Logan Frati.

Puccio earned his own accolades in 2016. On April 13 he won his 100th game with FDU, and on April 30, he won his 400th as a collegiate baseball coach.

The first event of the 2017 baseball season is the First Pitch Dinner at the Park Ridge Marriott on Feb. 11, which McKay called “incredible.” The event had more than 220 attendees last year, including more than 45 alumni. The event honors a decade of players each year, inducts Hall of Famers, functions as fundraiser for the program, and ends with a ceremony that names the player who will throw the first pitch of the season.

McKay said this season’s schedule is tough, but he likes it that way.

“Playing tough competition outside the conference makes you  better inside the conference,” McKay said.

McKay has set his goals high for the season and wants to win the NEC Championship.

“I tell Coach Puccio that he’s not allowed to retire until we do,” McKay said.

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