Aggressiveness at the Plate is Key to Baseball Team’s Success

Ryan Thomas

Rhode Island College starting pitchers Eric Thibault and Gary Levesque brought UMass Boston back down to earth last weekend.

The senior-freshman combo turned in back-to-back gems, as Thibault pitched a complete game, 7-0 victory in game one, while Levesque pitched six dominant innings of baseball, eventually leading to a 3-2 Anchormen victory in game two.

Although the two inter-conference losses dropped the Beacons from third place to fifth in the Little East Conference (they are now 3-3), what aggravated Beacons head coach Brendan Eygabroat was his team’s offensive approach at the plate during last Sunday’s brisk, overcast doubleheader in Providence, Rhode Island.

“I felt like we were very passive,” a displeased Eygabroat said. “[We had] way too many backwards K’s and strikeouts with runners in scoring position in both games.” The Beacons were fanned a combined 15 times (six looking) by the Anchormen pitching staff.

“It was frustrating,” said Eygabroat. “It was more the approach. It wasn’t mechanical; it wasn’t like we were all dropping our shoulders and swinging and missing or doing this and that. It was just a matter of not being aggressive.”

UMass Boston’s offense hasn’t been able to put together good, consistent streaks so far this season, especially when they encounter teams within their competitive conference. In their first doubleheader against Little East foe Western Connecticut State University, the Beacons pounded out a combined 17 runs and 26 hits, sweeping the Colonials for the fourth consecutive year.

In the four conference games since Western Connecticut, the Beacons’ offense has only mustered up a combined seven runs, while never scoring more than three in a game and getting shutout once. These games were, however, at the hands of Eastern Connecticut State University and Rhode Island College, both of whom are perennial powerhouses in the Little East.

Beacons first-year hitting coach Craig Kupiec agrees with Eygabroat’s determination that a lack of aggressiveness has been ailing the team’s offense. “It’s been being aggressive in the zone that’s been the biggest problem,” Kupiec said.

“You shouldn’t be surprised, as a hitter at this level, for a ball to be in the zone and hittable. It’s good to be patient, it’s good to make the pitcher work, but there’s only 27 outs, and if you work behind in the count, now you’re guessing at the plate.”

Adversely, Kupiec says that if the Beacons’ hitters work ahead in the count, they’ll have a better idea of what’s coming.

“And when we get to that position, we can’t be hesitant [or] passive; we have to look for the pitch and expect it.”

As a team this season, the Beacons batting average in their six conference games is .220, a combined 45-for-204. The one hitter who has shined, despite the team’s lack of success, is Eric Salvador, a junior catcher and designated hitter.

Salvador, after playing two seasons at Massasoit Community College, transferred to UMass Boston and has especially thrived in conference play. His .428 batting average and six RBI’s in the six conference games are both team bests, and his .428 is actually 36 points higher than his overall batting average.

“I think I hit better pitching better,” Salvador said, admitting the fact that the conference games bring out the best in him as a hitter. “The harder they throw, [the more] it helps me out.”

As someone who has enjoyed success all season for UMass Boston, Salvador lent some insight into why he thinks the team’s offensive approach has become passive. “Sometimes,” the junior said, “we’re looking for one specific pitch in one spot.

“Then we get a pitch that we could hit, but we don’t swing at it, and next thing you know, you got two strikes [on you] and have to be defensive.”

The bottom line, Eygabroat says: “We have to hit the ball better.”

Kupiec understands that Eygabroat is correct in his statement, but his demeanor and outlook for the rest of the season is a positive one. “We have quite a few hitters on this team, and I don’t think we’ve shown what we can do yet.

“I truly think that, in the second half of the season, you’re going to see some big changes; you’re gonna see some much better offensive production.”

UMass Boston’s token lefty, number two starter and David Wells look-alike Mike Andriano also believes that the offense will come to life soon, and when it does, he says, watch out. “I think with the weather we’re going to heat up,” Andriano declared.

“As it gets hotter out, the bats will start moving. I don’t see it, come conference tourney time; I don’t see a lot of teams being able to hold down our line up. We got too good of a line up.”