Middle of the Pack Offense Not Getting the Job Done for the Beacons

Ryan Thomas

“To be the best you challenge the best,” Nasir Jones once said in a track called “Rule.” I can’t argue with him.

So far this season, the Beacons baseball team has faced off against the best the Little East Conference has to offer, and so far, UMass Boston’s cream has not risen to the top.

Eight games into their 2008 conference schedule, the Beacons know where they stand in the hierarchy of the Little East: definitely not down in UMass Dartmouth territory, but not up near Keene State University or Rhode Island College, either.

Now, four conference games prior, the tune being played would have sounded different. The Beacons started off their Little East schedule with a two-game power-sweeping of Western Connecticut State, and followed it up with a tidy set of one-run games against Eastern Connecticut State, winning one and losing one.

Let’s stop and draw the line here.

The Beacons’ top arms – Nick Conway, Mike Andriano, Tom Michael and Mike Cain – were collectively lights-out against the Constitution State’s duo. In 28 innings pitched, the team’s earned run average was a close-to-dental-floss-thin 1.75 and their WHIP (walks hits / innings pitched) was just as impressive at 0.94.

What helped the Beacons early on was that their pitching clicked, their offense scored runs (22 in four games) and they played a Western Connecticut team that is currently 3-6 in Little East play (13-17 overall) and an Eastern Connecticut team that is having a sub-par season (according to their standards) because of injuries and other factors.

The last four conference games for the Beacons have been a totally different story than the first four. A night and day change, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, if you will.

Rhode Island College and Keene State University, two of the top three schools in the Little East, have shown UMass Boston who reigns supreme.

Other than Mike Andriano’s bulldog performance in game two of the Rhode Island double header (a 3-2 loss), the Beacons lost the three other games by six, seven and eleven runs, respectively.

There are a few determining factors here.

First off, Keene State and Rhode Island are two teams with great offenses. These teams took the 1.75 ERA and 0.94 WHIP of UMass Boston’s in-conference pitching staff and gave them a talkin’ to.

In those four games, UMB’s team ERA ballooned to 8.50, and their WHIP (2.02) more than doubled. The other problem the Beacons faced in the four-game stretch is an issue that has been hounding them most of the season, both in and out of conference play.

After scoring 22 runs against the Connecticut teams, the Beacons put 12 runs across against Keene State and Rhode Island combined, with six of those coming in the mop-up stages of game two against Keene.

The offensive production has been an issue for the Beacons this season. The team is batting .265 (seventh in the LEC) and, as of April 22, no UMass Boston players were top-five in any of the major hitting categories.

For me, that’s the other determining factor.

What the Anchormen of Rhode Island and the Owls of Keene State have that UMass Boston doesn’t is a lineup that can wear you down, that can beat you up.

A quick peek at the top hitters on each team illustrates the picture clearly.

Keene State, the best offensive team in the LEC, has Tyler DiPrato (.461), Jeff Perkins (.437) and Bobby Dovan (.426) one-two-three atop the conference in hitting.

All three have at least 20 RBI’s and over 40 hits this season.

Rhode Island College has two hitters (Chris O’Conners and Peter Olsen) batting over .400, with Beacon-killer Josh Cardoso not too far behind. The Anchormen have three hitters with 25 or more RBI’s and another three with 19.

Hitting. It’s called a balanced attack.

The Beacons’ top three hitters don’t match up well with the Anchormen’s or the Owls’.

Eric Salvadore’s .360 batting average, 32 hits and 18 RBI’s lead the Beacons. Second, third and fourth are Tim Fontaine (.323 / 31 / 9), Tom Michael (.293 / 27 / 11) and Ryan Walsh (.292 / 28 / 14). The bad news is that those numbers aren’t going to cut it in the offensive-minded Little East, no matter how good your pitching is dealing.

The good news?

Salvador and Michael are juniors, while Fontaine and Walsh are only freshmen. This means that these still young Beacons can get their feet wet in the LEC Tournament this season, improve in the off-season and come back an even better group of hitters.

Eric Salvador’s power ceiling hasn’t been reached yet, Tom Michael’s senior year should be his best offensive season as a Beacon, Tim Fontaine’s swing – which is already beautiful – can only get better with experience and Ryan Walsh’s power and batting average should only go up with a season of college baseball under his belt.

And the wild card in all of this is Danny Areanas. The junior is hitting only .213 this season, but he leads the Beacons in homeruns with four. If Arenas can cut down on the strikeouts (11 in 61 at bats), his senior season could be a monstrous one.

Right now, the Beacons are getting roughed up by the elite teams of the Little East.

It’s quite possible that next season could be payback time.