2019 Baseball Preview
Posted by Marc Allard, Sports Information Director on 4/12/2019
Building a culture
Tryouts had just ended and standing before Woodstock Academy baseball coach Brian Murphy inside the South Campus gym was his 14 varsity players.
He had a warning for them.
Things can change.
He told them he wanted to see all of them up on the railing this season, cheering on their teammates and into the game.
Murphy has seen his team make some progress in his first two years at the helm of the Centaurs.
Woodstock Academy posted nine wins in 2017 and climbed the ladder to 10 last season.
But to go up even more rungs, Murphy realizes he has to instill something else – a baseball mentality.
“We’ve had decent seasons but we don’t seem to have that baseball culture, that winning attitude, but I’m thinking that it’s starting to turn the corner,” Murphy said.
Murphy hopes that attitude adjustment will begin with his three senior captains, Luke Mathewson, Nathan John and Eric Preston.
“That’s very important to our team,” John said of the approach to the game by the team. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem for us at all. We have a lot of dedicated players who want to be here and who want to work hard. When there is energy on the bench, there is more energy on the field and more energy at the plate. You just perform better. If your team is just sitting on the bench, you’re not performing that well.”
Murphy is putting a lot of confidence in the three.
“They’ve been here, they want to leave everything on the field. They want to win every game. That’s the culture we want. We want to play hard and be in every game. We don’t want a culture where it’s ‘We’re going to East Lyme or Fitch and we’re going to get beat today.’ That’s out of the question,” Murphy said.
It’s easy to do.
The Centaurs play in the Eastern Connecticut Conference and there are few tougher conferences in the state in baseball.
“The ECC is very tough. East Lyme, Fitch, Waterford, are all big baseball schools, Montville is too. There are no slouches in the ECC. But it’s time that this program and this school rises to that level and competed. The competition is good. You get better when you play better teams and those are great teams to play,” Murphy said.
The place it all has to start is on the mound.
At the end of last season, due to arm troubles and injury, the Centaurs (10-13) were down to two starting pitchers, Mathewson and Preston, and their exit was rather quick from both the ECC and state tournament.
Murphy thinks the pitching staff is pretty deep this season.
“We have some young pitchers who we can, hopefully, add to our rotation because we were a little short last year, unfortunately, when one of our pitcher’s hurt his arm. He’s coming back so pitching should definitely be better,” Preston said.
Tommy Li, who threw a no-hitter last season at Windham, injured his arm midway through the season and finished with a 2-2 record.
The junior is back as is Mathewson (3-5 record, 79 strikeouts), Preston (3-2) and junior Pete Spada (1-1).
“I think we have enough pitching. We have four for-sure starters and definitely a lot of good arms coming in relief,” Mathewson said.
Mathewson will be headed to Westfield State University in the fall to play baseball at the Division III level.
“Westfield got votes for (Division III) national rankings in the preseason. It got off to a great start this season. I’m looking forward to next year, but I’m focused on this year, my senior year,” Mathewson said.
In addition, Matt Roethlein returns to the team this season and will throw with senior Matthew Moffitt and freshman Jonathan Smith also likely to see time on the mound.
The offense was spotty last season.
Mathewson led the team with a .444 batting average, 10 doubles and 21 runs batted in. Preston hit .303 with four triples while Li hit at a .280 clip and John finished with a .246 average.
The numbers started to dip after that.
“This offense could be great,” John said. “We’re not going to be a power-hitting team (Preston had the only homer last year), we don’t have a lot of big kids on this team but we’re very capable of playing small ball. We can hit-and-run, bunt, move players base-to-base and there are some clean-up kids on this team who can get the RBIs when we need them.”
Murphy said there is one aspect offensively where the Centaurs have to improve.
“We’ve been working hard on situational, especially two-strike, hitting. We struck out too much last year with two strikes. Any good college or pro coach will tell you that 90 percent of the time when you have two strikes, it’s going on the outside corner. We have to do a better job with our two-strike approach this year and put the ball in play,” Murphy said.
Murphy said he feels the team will also be improved defensively especially in the outfield where the team struggled at times a year ago. Murphy recalled a game in Waterford where the Centaurs dropped three fly balls in the first inning and quickly found themselves down, 4-0.
“You can’t have that happen,” Murphy said.
There is a little bonus for the baseball team early on.
As it did two years ago, the Centaurs will travel to Myrtle Beach, S.C. during spring vacation.
“I can’t wait to get to Myrtle Beach, warm weather down there,” Mathewson said with a laugh.
“They love it,” Murphy said. “The first group we took two years ago still talk about it today. They forgot they were 0-for-4 in a game, but they remember the bass they caught. It’s part of the experience that you want to give the kids to play teams from across the country (the Centaurs will play a regular season game versus Westbrook, Maine while there), have a little fun, but it’s also a lot of work.”
The Centaurs are scheduled to begin play at 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 30 at home at the Bentley Athletic Complex against the Capital Prep-Achievement First cooperative.