The Fordham University baseball team was picked ninth by the Atlantic 10’s coaches in its preseason poll.
There was reason for such a low selection; the Rams graduated staff ace Tom Davis, and didn’t even make the conference’s postseason tournament, which included the top six teams. They missed out by one game.
Senior starter J.P. Mack knows if the other coaches had seen their freshmen, Fordham would’ve picked higher. The Rams, who boast a 6-13 record, 2-1 in league play, took two of three in their A-10 opening series from Charlotte, the two-time defending champions who, in Mack’s words, had dominated them in recent years.
“It says we can beat anyone,” the southpaw said. “We’re a contender in the A-10.”
The newcomers are big reasons for the good start. Coach Nick Restaino uses up to five freshmen, including infielders Brian Kownacki, Ryan Maghini and Nick Martinez and outfielder Stephen McSherry. The youngsters arrived with a swagger, a confidence that they belonged from Day 1.
“They knew they could play with anyone,” Mack said. “They’ve stepped in nicely.”
This year’s seniors aren’t a bad bunch, either, led by Mack. Restaino won’t commit to Mack as his ace; he likes to rely on all his arms.
“I think we got a bunch of Kings,” he said, pointing out sophomores John Flanagan and Max Krakowiak
But Mack tends to start off weekend play, and has racked up two wins already, including 6 2/3 of six-hit, one-run ball in a 13-1 win over Charlotte on March 20.
“When he’s in a rhythm, he’s tough,” Restaino, the fifth-year coach, said. “He can throws three pitches for strikes, he keeps his pitch count down and he gives us a chance to win. J.P. has really been a key factor pitching long into games. Not having to go to the bullpen early gives us an advantage.”
Said Mack: “I like to step into that role and start out the weekend pitching the first game.”
In the every day lineup, Restaino made sure to mention seniors Danny Leach, Bobby DiNardo and Ryan McCrann. Leach, a utility man who has already made starts at second base, third base, shortstop and center field, has served as the teams’ spark plug, batting .354 with 18 runs scored. DiNardo, a first baseman, has been a fixture in the middle of the lineup, credited with team-highs of seven homeruns and 18 runs batted in. An infelder, McCrann is hitting .322.
However, it has been the seven freshmen that have been the biggest surprise. They have made mistakes, Restaino said, the kind all youngsters are prone to committing, but have also quickly turned the page.
“There are getting better every day,” the coach said. “We’re aware there is some on-the-job training.”
Fordham has faced an extremely difficult schedule, from meeting such powerhouses as Florida Atlantic and Virginia. Yet, after each loss, the Rams come back feistier, ready to avenge the previous day’s setback.
Restaino’s goal is to see improvement every day. He hasn’t gotten overexcited about the team’s early-season success in the A-10, nor too down over losing winnable games. But he likes what he sees so far.