The Plattsburgh State baseball team returned from action in Florida with an even record, including a close conference series against SUNY Oneonta that featured an extra-innings loss.
The Cardinals (6-6, 1-2) travel next to face a No. 12 SUNY Cortland (9-6, 2-1) team that has not lost a game to Plattsburgh since the 2012 season.
The team’s performance over spring break gives PSUC head coach Kris Doorey confidence entering the series that the losing streak can end.
“I think right now that we can play with any SUNYAC team in a three-game series, and we should win the series,” Doorey said.
That optimism is the product of improved performance, after the Cards went 3-8 in Florida last season. For Doorey, this rise came because of a willingness to fight for results, shown by late comebacks in wins against Skidmore and Wisconsin-Stout and in a loss to Haverford.
“The biggest thing compared to the last three or four years is that this team competed,” Doorey said. “There were a couple games in Florida where teams in the past would have rolled over and we’d lose.”
One player who made a statement on the trip was freshman pitcher Matthew Triola, who was named the program’s first SUNYAC pitcher of the week since 2015 after 12 innings with a 2.25 ERA.
That included an eight-inning appearance against Alfred State that broke a record previously held by current assistant coach Brian Burns for the innings pitched as a reliever. Triola entered in the second inning after starter Justin Adams felt soreness in his arm and then struck out five batters en route to a 6-2 win.
“I got about five warm-up pitches before I got called into the game,” Triola said. “All my pitches were really working. I was keeping it down in the zone on my off-speed, and they had a hard time squaring up the ball.”
A second player who impressed in Florida was junior Jon Craft, who took advantage of an opportunity in the lineup when three team members were disciplined for arriving late to the bus. Craft posted a .970 batting average in 27 at-bats with three walks and four RBIs.
“I’m proud of the way Jon Craft is playing right now,” Doorey said. “Jon is a kid who has seen us at the lowest low. He was one of the best players on a team that went 6-30 [in 2016].”
Other players with standout performances included seniors Noah Clark and Joe Deland, both of whom transferred to PSUC as juniors. Clark hit a .333 batting average while Deland hit .298. Deland paced the team with 14 runs, and both players recorded a team-high 14 hits.
“I’m just trying to see pitches and just battle at the plate every time,” Clark said. “Whether it’s two strikes or not, I’m just trying to put the ball in play.”
In Florida, the Cards faced one conference opponent, SUNY Cortland, on a neutral field. PSUC claimed an 8-4 victory on March 10 before surrendering both ends of a doubleheader the following day.
The last game of the series was played to 12 innings but nearly ended in the 10th when the Red Dragons took a 3-1 lead. A double by sophomore shortstop Stephen Bryant tied the game again and put the Cards in position to win.
“When Stephen hit the double to tie the game, I really thought we were going to win the game on the next batter,” Doorey said. “I thought Kentaro [Mori] would get a hit and were were going to win.”
Mori grounded out to end the inning, and Oneonta claimed the win two innings later, scoring off a wild pitch by Justin Adams.
“It’s a tough way to lose the game, because it was just a bounced curveball,” Doorey said.
Overall, Doorey was pleased with the Cards’ efficiency at bat.
“It’s goofy to say, because we went 6-6, but offensively we did a lot of really good things for the week,” Doorey said.
A 6-6 record with an effective offense leads to questions about the team’s play in the field, and Doorey expressed concern about that.
“We were definitely lackluster defensively,” Doorey said. “I don’t think I’ve seen so many missed fly balls, miscommunication and obviously the routine ground balls we missed.”
One possible explanation was unfamiliarity with the playing surface. The 12 games in Florida were the Cards’ first opportunities to play on a grass field this season. PSUC’s practices during the winter and early spring take place on either the artificial turf of the lacrosse field or inside the Field House gym.
“It was definitely different for some of our guys,” Doorey said. “But obviously a fly ball is a fly ball, and those have to be caught.”
Those issues will need to be resolved before this weekend’s three-game series against No. 12 SUNY Cortland, as the Red Dragons pose a significant challenge to the Cards.
“They have 40 dude who are all the same; They are all really good,” Doorey said. “They are going to bunt, they are going to steal, they are going to run. They are going to execute offensively.”
To beat the Red Dragons, Doorey said that the team will need to be effective on defense, not give up walks to the lead-off batter and get creative offensively.
“You have to find a way to make them make mistakes,” Doorey said. “You have to do something unorthodox. We have done two-out suicide squeezes, we’ve done early steals, we’ve had innings where four batters in a row will bunt. We’re just trying to make them get out of their comfort zone.”
During the preparation for the series, the players echoed Doorey’s confidence about their chances.
“We saw how we played against top-ranked teams down in Florida,” Deland said. “And even last year against Cortland, we lost a one-run game late. We were tied throughout, and we lost it because of one mental mistake.”
For Deland, the Cortland series is a step in a larger goal for the season.
“We’re just looking to prove people wrong this year,” Deland said.
Email Nathanael LePage at email@example.com