- Category: Volume 88 (Fall 2016 - Spring 2017)
- Published: 22 February 2017
- Written by JOHN SORCE | SPORTS EDITOR
Coming off a season where they finished 30-27 overall and tied for second in the conference with a 16-8 mark, the baseball team was picked to finished third in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
As they do every year, the team opened up their season with a trip down south. This enables the team to get some games in under their belt while playing some good competition in some good weather.
“We are going to challenge our guys right away,” said Dean Ehehalt, who is entering his 24th year as the team’s head coach. “We’re going to play some teams that have winning traditions and play in some good venues. That is something we have done for a long time. We are behind the eight-ball when it comes to being game-ready, but so is every other team in the northeast. We just go down there and play and see where we are at.”
“It’s great to be outside and play in some warm weather, but this is going to be a test for us,” said senior third baseman Grant Lamberton. “Those guys down south have been practicing outside all winter and we are excited to compete with them.”
Lamberton is one of four players who were named to the Preseason All-MAAC team along with seniors outfielder Dan Shea, first baseman Shaine Hughes and right-handed pitcher Ricky Dennis, who was named the MAAC Pitcher of the Year in 2016. All four players were First Team All-Conference players last season.
“It’s definitely an honor to be recognized by the coaches in the MAAC,” Lamberton said. “Preseason stuff is something to be proud of, but we still need to come out and prove it during the season.”
Having those players back this season will be important, as they will be relied on as a part of a veteran core that the team has coming back.
“I really think our offensive firepower is the strength of our team, based on who we have coming back,” Ehehalt said. “I think we have improved defensively in several areas and I do think that the strength of our team right now is somewhat balanced. Grant, Danny and Shaine really give us a lot of stability at the top of the order, and we have some other guys too who are going to contribute behind them. I think we are going to be very good offensively, we’ll be solid on the defensive side and I really think we are going to get better as the year progresses.”
Ehehalt has developed a winning tradition in West Long Branch. He earned his 600th career victory in 2015 and has won 30 games in a season eight times, including last season.
“Dean is definitely one of the big reasons that I came to this school,” Lamberton said. “He’s been my mentor since I have committed here and I have had some hardships in my career. When I was struggling during my sophomore year, he stuck by me and he has turned me into one of the best players that I can possibly be.”
The blue and white opened their season against Florida Atlantic University (FAU) over the weekend and lost all three games. Dennis got the ball on opening night and threw four innings allowing seven runs (three earned) on six hits while Shea went 3-5 with a homerun and drove in four runs. Freshman shortstop Danny Long became the first true freshman to start a season opener for Monmouth since March 5, 2010, when Danny Avella started at third base at San Diego State.
“Early in the game, we were unable to execute defensively and with pitch execution, and that’s never a good combination,” Ehehalt said. “FAU is way too good to give them additional outs. They took advantage of everything tonight and the score shows that.”
After a 6-1 defeat on Saturday, the offense woke up on Sunday. Monmouth scored 10 runs, including seven in the fourth inning. Long belted his first career home run, a three-run shot to left, to cut the Owls lead to 10-5. Senior outfielder Tom Jakubowski drove in Lamberton with a single to right field and then freshman outfielder John LaRocca drive in Hughes on a ground out to make it a 10-7 game. Senior outfielder Chris Gaetano took a 1-2 pitch and drilled it over the right field fence to cut the deficit to one. Florida Atlantic added two more runs and went onto win 12-10.
Monmouth returns to the field on Friday in Greenville, SC when they take on Furman for the first of a three game series at 4 p.m.
PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth Athletics