Loaded on the mound, reloading the lineup
Published 1:02 am, Thursday, April 15, 2010
Hickey and Rickey will lead the way.
After an 18-8 campaign in 2009, the Darien baseball team is trying to get back to the playoffs and carry as much offense with them as it did last year. It wasn't the most potent, but it was rather clutch.
However, should the bats go silent, two college-bound (Division I, at that) lefthanded pitchers will act as safety nets. Rickey Hodges (Virginia Tech) and David Hickey (Yale) will demand the ball in nearly every game, although head coach Mike Scott said he's got four guys available for pitching-only duties.
And Matt Anderson and Jason Gardner will lead the charge. All of this -- the talk of quality pitchers, a deep lineup, a winning attitude -- wasn't the case in Darien until four or five years ago. With Scott's arrival, a culture has been changed.
"We're trying to raise the level for expectations of baseball in the town," he said. "It wasn't too long ago that baseball wasn't a serious sport in town. Tom Nowacki started building a relationship with kids in the youth level. It's about developing young players for the high school level. When they hit their growth spurt, they figure out the intricacies in the game, people to start to take notice. And when three guys sign as pitchers to go D-I, that's a big step."
Hickey and Anderson, the second baseman are the captains. They were chosen by their teammates last year, and neither is a real ra-ra kind of guy. Said Scott of Anderson: "He does everything that you want in a kid to help a team win. He picks his teammates up and approaches the game the right way."
Looking for some separation in the preseason, Scott challenged his guys in the cage and wanted to see who could hit early. With that, Tommy Blankemeier won his spot at the top of the order. Anderson will bat in the middle, maybe the three spot, and John Gardner, the senior first baseman, will clean up.
Other lineup mainstays are junior Justin Prior (left field) and junior Dan Pidgeon, who takes over at shortstop for Chris Bruno, who was an All-FCIAC defender. At third base, senior Brandon Tripodi will keep the spot hear earned last year, so that leaves the catcher position, and as of the time of this preview, Scott couldn't commit to one player getting the full-time work.
On the mound, Andrew Hurn, a right-handed junior, will see time as well. But despite who is throwing the cowhide, it's the big scope of it all, the ability to play against varsity competition. This team does lack the experience factor it had last season.
"It's a lot of new faces at the varsity level," Scott said. "An experienced team in baseball is a dangerous team. This year we don't have the depth we had last year. We had guy we could bring in off the bench and not lose a beat. We're not as deep. Our pitching might have to go a little further, and in our bullpen, we're not as a deep. A lot of that stuff will play a role in how this team compares to last year."
Last year's team wasn't a huge offensive team, but it was clutch. The timely hits propelled it to the state and FCIAC semis. It will take more of that, certainly, but few teams in the conference have the gas on the mound Darien does.
And you know what they say about pitching.