Zack Penalva, Sports Editor
Head Coach Manny Cervantes wasn’t handed an easy job when he became the baseball coach last year. When he took over last season, the baseball team hadn’t had a winning season since 2011. Last year didn’t break the streak as the Eagles went 11-33 before losing 8-4 and going out in the second round of the KIAC tournament to Indiana University Southeast.
In year two under Cervantes, the Eagles will be looking to dig themselves out of the rut they’ve been stuck in for the past five seasons; in the words of the late hall of famer Yogi Berra, “baseball is 90 percent mental, and the other half is physical.”
It was the mental that really seemed to be the issue for the Eagles. “We couldn’t go deep in games…our mental preparation wasn’t good,” said junior catcher Nate Black. “Literally one inning a game would beat us…we didn’t know how to fight back…we’d lay down and not compete.”
But the culture is changing, and one source comes from the addition of a large freshmen base and new transfer students. Sixteen freshmen will join the Eagles team, the majority from Kentucky, with a handful coming from as far away as Florida and Colorado. “It’ll be an instant impact [on defense] as long as [the new players] can throw strikes and not get rattled,” said Black.
New players are feeling a sense of change. “I don’t know how the culture was the past couple years…but I think new faces have come in and I can see a little optimism,” said junior transfer student Matt Cohick. “I can see more confidence.”
For the most part, the team’s performance will hinge on how returning members of the team play. The offense last year was lead by Andrew Moran. Moran, now a senior, led the team in batting average and hits last year. Fellow senior Dallas Murphy was the teams home run and RBI leader and will also return for his final season.
On defense, sophomore Christian Beckley led the team in innings pitched and had a team-low 5.51 ERA in his three wins.
But the on-field performance will all come back to the mental strength the team has. “No one thought we were going to be good [last year],” said junior Derek Gaines. “[Coach Cervantes] is really trying to make our attitudes better,” said junior Derek Gaines.
Cohick also brought up the sense that time is running out. “It’s getting to that time frame in our lives…where balls running out for us. We don’t really have much time left to play the game that we love, I think it’s a little wake up call for all of us.”
Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not fair to the coach or team to expect a complete turnaround from one year to the next. “That [loss in the semifinal to IUSE] was something to build off of,” said Black.
With the season soon to get underway, fans will have to wait and see how much building will get done.