The Overlooked NYIT Baseball Team
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Coming off of a 17-26 season, Coach Bob Malvagna and the Bears look to improve and show how good they really are. With seniors including Frank Valentino, Louis Mele, Matt Diaz, and Elias Martinez to mix with incoming freshman Brendan Down and Benjamin McNeill, NYIT is poised for a bounce back season. Their 2017 schedule includes rivals Hofstra, St. John’s, LIU Brooklyn, Iona, Stony Brook, Albany, and Manhattan.
“I told myself that by the time I got to my senior year, I want to be an above .500 team,” said Louis Mele, third basemen from Island Trees. “We feel like we’ve been overlooked and overshadowed. We have a lot of guys that can play ball on our team and we’re finally getting the exposure we deserve.”
For NYIT, they started their season on February 17th at Arkansas State starting a four game series. It didn’t go their way going 0-4 in 6-0, 11-5, 5-2, and 13-5 losses. On opening day, Valentino surrendered only one hit over five innings of work but walked four and hit two batters.
Brandon Alberto followed with two innings of scoreless relief. Coach Malvagna stated, “Frank was not sharp that first inning. Too much adrenaline affected his command. Overall, in key situations we left too many guys on base, and struck out way too much.” The Bears left 10 guys on base and had 15 strikeouts. “Alberto was a big bright spot. Playing more will help.”
In game 2, Freshman Benjamin McNeill produced a three-run double in his first collegiate start, due to Frank Sanacore leaving opening day after suffering a hand injury diving back into second base on a pick off. McNeill commented about his first collegiate RBIs. “As a freshman, you don’t expect anything. Your job is just to be ready when your name is called and I did my best this offseason to be ready for that moment. Driving in my first collegiate RBIs was an incredible feeling, and a moment I’ll never forget thanks to my teammates getting themselves into scoring position for me to knock them in.”
Flame thrower Matt Diaz started game 3 for the Bears. He got thrown around in a four run second inning and Christopher Miller then pitched three no-hit innings in relief. Miller walked three batters and surrendered a run. Coach Malvagna said, “Diaz battled command issues early, leading to a four-run inning. His pitch count forced the move to the bullpen. Miller looked very good, with a stellar breaking ball. We cut the deficit in half, but offensively we’re struggling to put the ball in play. We must cut down on the strikeouts.”
NYIT pitchers walked a total of 10 batters and plunked three other hitters in 14 innings on Saturday. Diaz after his performance had some words for the entire pitching staff: “I’m sure I speak for the whole staff. We need to throw more strikes and just be better overall. I’m confident that it will happen. We just got to find our groove. It’s our first time throwing live outside since the fall. With the staff we have, there’s only one direction to go from here.”
Game 4 wasn’t much different though. The Bears issued a total of 16 walks, including 10 by left-hander Ben Wright in his debut, and also hit a pair of batters in the 13-5 loss. Wright was charged with nine runs, five of them being earned, one hit, 10 walks, a hit batter, and three wild pitches in 3 1/3 innings. The Bears also committed 3 errors in the second inning when the Red Wolves scored 5 runs. NYIT pitchers walked 33 batters and hit 8 other batters in 30 innings in the entire four game series. For them to improve as a unit, they need to cut down the walks, hit batters, errors on defense, and strikeouts on offense.
The Bears then came home to Angelo Lorenzo Memorial Field for a three game series against Sacred Heart. Matt Diaz started for NYIT and took a shutout into the fifth inning when Sacred Heart broke a tie with a three-run inning. Diaz was charged with three runs on seven hits and four walks in five innings. Tim Milligan came in and tossed two scoreless relief innings to earn his first career NYIT win. The Bears scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth when Jake Lebel belted a two-out, two-run double to left-center that scored Joe Fusco and Frank Sanacore.
Trailing 3-2 going into the bottom of the seventh (and final inning) the Bears managed to get a few walks and get the bases loaded with a tie game. That’s when pinch hitter Jeffrey Tabares drew a full-count, walk-off walk with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to score Ben McNeill as the Bears rallied from a three-run deficit to defeat Sacred Heart, 4-3 for their first win of the season. Tabares was overwhelmed by the win and said – “I’m just looking to get my pitch, and he didn’t give it to me, so he walked me. It was amazing. It’s something like you can’t describe. You’re in the moment, and it’s almost like you’re in slow motion. It’s awesome.” He also stated how clutch the Bears first win was. “It’s huge. We broke the ice, and now we’re ready to go.”
In Game 2 of the series, Frank Valentino pitched six scoreless innings to keep the game notched at zero. The Pioneers then scored three runs in the seventh inning, one run in the eighth inning, and another two in the ninth, giving Sacred Heart a 6-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth which was postponed due to darkness and when resumed the next morning before game 3, the Bears could not rally and were held to just three hits all game, dropping the second game of the series.
In the finale, Elias Martinez dominated into the ninth inning when the score was 2-2. After issuing a leadoff walk to Kevin Czapelski and striking out Keith Klebart to open the frame, Miller came in from the bullpen and gave up four runs to give Sacred Heart a late 6-2 lead. In the longest outing by an NYIT starter this season, Martinez was charged with three runs on three hits and two walks while striking out eight in 8.1 innings. He only gave up a two run home run by Klebart in the fourth inning.
Pitching coach Al Sontag commented on Elias’ performance: “He commanded the zone well. He had all of his stuff working. He got ahead of batters. He went to the ninth inning with under 90 pitches, so we wanted to give him a chance to try to get a W. Once he got over 100 pitches, I thought it was time to get him out. He made one bad pitch the whole game, I thought. Other than that he was spot on.”
The spotlight for the Bears on Saturday was freshmen Zach Kleinwaks and Brendan Dowd who each produced their first collegiate homer, a pair of solo shots. The two home runs marked the first two hit by the Bears this season. Brendan Dowd said, “It felt great, a full count and he threw me a fastball. I just tried to put it in play and it carried over the center-field wall.” Kleinwaks then said about his own home run, “I didn’t really expect it to go out. I just knew if I hit it in the air, the wind could take it. As soon as I saw the outfielder go back, I knew it was gone.”
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