The Kentucky Wildcats have taught us a thing or two about freshmen. Last year, John Calipari’s team dominated the entire season and won the national championship with three freshmen starting and playing key roles. This season, Calipari’s new group of freshmen was not as successful, as four freshmen starters were ousted in the first round of the NIT. And while talent is important, confidence is the real key for youngsters. That’s what the College’s baseball team’s freshmen have instilled in their heads.
The Lions are 11-11, a number that’s very impressive considering there are 14 freshmen on the 31-man roster. Normally, a team with that kind of youth tends to struggle, but after starting the season 3-7, the College has bounced back and won eight of their past 12 games.
The freshmen have been especially effective throwing the ball, and it starts with pitcher Steven Volpe. Volpe has been the best hurler this season for the Lions, going 3-0 with 12 strikeouts and giving up a grand total of two earned runs in 30 innings pitched. Being the top dog has been something Volpe has embraced, as he embodies the team’s confidence.
“He stepped up and we needed someone to step up and (play) a key role in the rotation,” freshman pitcher Joseph DiLorenzo said. “No one’s a good match for him. He doesn’t even care that he’s a freshman, he just gets up there and he thinks he’s the best and has great confidence in himself.”
DiLorenzo himself has also put together a solid season so far. In 2 2/3 innings, he too has not allowed a run, becoming a trustworthy reliever who gets the job done. Like Volpe, his confidence doesn’t waiver when his name is called.
“I think that I’ve accepted that it’s my time and (the coaching staff) has confidence in me so I don’t feel any pressure,” DiLorenzo said. “I just go in there and do my job.”
Over spring break, the team took their annual trip to Florida, which gave the freshmen a chance to bond on and off the baseball diamond. With the amount of time spent with each other, the freshmen agree that the team got closer and learned from each other.
“Just being with everybody all the time, especially rooming with all of the guys, going out to eat with all of the guys, and spending 20 hours on the bus, you just feel like you’re connected better with everybody,” freshman outfielder Patrick Roberts said.
“It was just the fact that you were with your team,” freshman outfielder Mark Mari added. “We were in the same room as three or four other kids and each room (had) a couple freshmen and a couple upperclassmen. You would get things from the upperclassmen. You would learn from what they’ve done over the past trips so it was really a tradition from the upperclassmen.”
Over the course of the trip, the results showed that the team was improving. After dropping four of their first five and seven of their first nine on the trip, the Lions responded by winning their final two games in Florida, giving them something to build off of. That is a testament to the determination and will of the team.
The freshmen certainly played better as the trip went on, which is something that has to be credited to the older players. Some juniors and seniors might haze freshmen or treat them without respect, but not this team. The upperclassmen have been accepting of the rookies since day one, taking them under the wings and being their mentors.
“The adjustment process from the high school game to college, it’s a lot quicker and there’s a whole lot more going on,” Mari said. “They’ve really helped us out. I know (for) me personally, (senior) Mike Murphy and (junior) Joe Dispoto, as an outfielder they’ve really helped me a lot.”
The bond in the outfield is particularly strong. Aside from Murphy and Dispoto, two of the top hitters on the team, there are four freshmen in the outfield: Mari, Roberts, John Rizzi and Peter Kennedy. Despite the fact that the young guns outweigh the old timers, Murphy and Dispoto have been crucial in the development of the freshmen as they become more comfortable with the game.
“Murphy has set a great example for us especially in practice, helping us get used to all of the drills and what it’s going to be like playing college baseball,” Roberts said.
Like the spring break trip to Florida, the upperclassmen helping the freshmen has led to winning during the regular season. In their April 2 game against Widener, several freshmen played key roles in the team’s dominant 12-4 win. Freshman pitcher Evan Edelman went eight innings, giving up four runs on seven hits and got the W, Roberts clocked his first career home run, and Mari and freshman catcher Garen Turner both collected three hits, spearheading the College’s offense.
This success from the team’s youth is not something easily attainable, but the Lions have been doing something special. Seeing these freshmen grow up in games and at practice is a remarkable thing. Thank the coaches, thank the upperclassmen, and thank the freshmen themselves for all they’ve accomplished.
But don’t forget to thank their confidence. That’s the ace up the sleeve of these freshmen, who fully believe in themselves.