By MARK LINDSLEY
(HACKENSACK.) – The men’s baseball team is only about a third of the way through their season and just started conference play, but they have already faced a full season’s worth of adversity. They started the season 0-4, won six straight games to get to 6-4, and have since lost five of their last six, including their first three NEC conference games against Central Connecticut State last weekend, making their record 7-9.
They expected to get o to a slow start, because they are a very young team with only two juniors and three seniors on the 30-man roster. Their first few games were against southern teams who, because they have better weather, had a huge head-start on the season and were able to practice outside at least a month before the Knights did.
“At the beginning of the year, those freshman were just getting their feet wet, especially pitching-wise,” Head Coach Gary Puccio said. “You start out against southern teams and they are way ahead of you at that time.”
And then there were the snowstorms. The nets along the third baseline at the Naimoli Family Baseball Complex where they play were blown down, so the Knights couldn’t play true home games until they were fixed. The nets keep balls from flying out onto Route 4 and hitting cars.
“The issue that we have right now is that we’re not able to run a real practice,” Puccio said before the nets were repaired. “It’s limiting what we can do. Hopefully, it will be resolved soon.”
The nets were repaired on Tuesday and Assistant Coach Justin McKay credited Cathy Liggett, the Associate Athletic Director for Facilities and Operations. The biggest problem the team has now is the number of injuries they have suffered.
McKay said that five of the team’s best seven hitters are out now, and there are only two position players left on their bench. He said this is a big reason for the team’s last few losses, and is going to continue to be a problem moving forward.
“Our leadoff hitter Adam Frank is done, broke his hand,” McKay said. “Our five- hitter Owen VonEsslinger, hairline fracture in his hand, so he’s out. The starting shortstop Bobby Romano, who’s a senior, potential draft guy, he’s done.
“We’re gonna have to focus on guys just doing their job, not trying to be the guy that they replace,” McKay said. “We’re gonna have to bounce back and just keep doing us.”
There have been some bright spots on the season, which occurred during the six-game win streak. Pitcher Corey Zeller received NEC Co- Pitcher of the Week honors, and Adam Frank received NEC Co-Rookie of the Week honors while playing with a broken hand, before he found out it was broken.
“I tell the young kids to watch what Corey does,” Puccio said, “because he’ll show you how to keep your pitch total low. He’s just good at what he does. He knows what he’s doing.”
McKay said they have been watching Frank for years.
“Adam Frank is a guy who was MVP of our youth camp when he was 11 years old,” McKay said.
And then there is FDU baseball history.
With the team’s first win of the streak and of the season, Coach Puccio moved into sole possession of third place on the all-time FDU baseball coaching wins list.
“I feel good about the fact that the program is better now than it was when I got here,” Puccio said. “When I got here they were last place like seven out of nine years before I came. Since Coach McKay and I came, we’ve made the playoffs three times in seven years and, hopefully, we’ve got a shot this year.”
The Knights next two games are at home Friday, March 30 at 1 p.m. and Saturday, March 31 at 1 p.m. Both games are against the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds.