The Toll Gate baseball team missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007. With nine players graduated from that team, it would seem the Titans have some work to do.
But they won’t be changing their goals one bit.
“The expectations are always the same,” said head coach Dave Hagopian. “Our goal is to make the playoffs and finish as high as possible.”
Despite the graduation losses, the Titans may be in good shape on that quest. They have seven seniors on the roster, and three of them are pitchers who were thrown into the fire as inexperienced juniors last season.
“We’ve got a nice mixture,” Hagopian said. “Even though we lost a lot of seniors, we’ve got quite a few returning players. And we’ve got some new guys who are going to be contributing.”
The goal will be to find some consistency, which eluded the Titans last season. They beat several playoff teams, but had some uncharacteristic losses too. They ultimately rallied for a strong finish but ended up a game shy of qualifying for the playoffs.
One of the reasons for the inconsistency was the pitching staff. While the lineup was dominated by seniors, the rotation was filled with juniors who had their ups and downs.
That’s the biggest change for this year. Those juniors – Dave Babcock, Evan Stamps and Ryan Charette – flashed their potential last year. They’re now seniors, and they’ve got a full season of varsity innings under their belt.
They’re ready to turn pitching from a question mark into a strength.
“That’s one of the benefits of giving young kids playing time, Hagopian said. “The fact that they’ve been out there and had some success serves the team well. I hope it’s a strength for us. The fact that we have three pitchers with a lot of experience is comforting.”
Junior Rivas, another senior, has also seen some varsity innings on the mound and will be ready to contribute this year. Sophomore James Meizoso, a transfer from Cumberland, is pushing for innings.
“He has some good stuff,” Hagopian said.
While the pitching staff is shaping up as a potential strength, the lineup is more like the pitching staff was last year – there are some unknowns.
Rivas and fellow seniors Joe Martinez and Ben Mann have the most experience. Rivas has been a starter at various spots and Martinez emerged as a key player midway through last season. Mann battled illness and injury the last two years but has flashed star potential when healthy. He’s played both shortstop and catcher.
The rest of the players in the mix are much lighter on varsity experience. The juniors class includes Zach Bacon, Alex Lefebvre, Jesse Cardiff, Chase Uglialoro, Timothy Warner and Zack Azeredo. Sophomores Steven Foster, Dakota DelSignore, Nicholas Lemioe, Adam Brice and Sean Vann are also on the roster, along with freshmen Brendan Aunchman, Ryan Viti, Kyle McGuire and Zachary Eldridge.
“We’ll have a whole new lineup,” Hagopian said. “We’re going to need a lot of guys to step up because we were loaded with seniors last year. All of them are getting equal time right now. We’re figuring out where everybody fits.”
Regardless of how it shakes out, the Titans will be focused on doing whatever it takes to score runs. With a solid pitching staff, they figure to be in a lot of games if they can make a dent on the scoreboard.
“You’ve got to be able to score runs,” Hagopian said. “We’ve got to put the ball in play, bunt, run – we have to find a way.”
The Titans hope they can make that happen, and their seniors have embraced the quest. While last year’s squad had more of a veteran flavor, the seven seniors on this year’s team want to make their mark.
“I had a talk with the seniors a couple of days ago,” Hagopian said. “My hope is that they have the best season they’ve had so far as seniors.”
They’re ready to chase it.
“Playoffs is the expectation,” Hagopian said. “If we all play together and fulfill our roles, I expect to have success.”
The Titans will play an Injury Fund game on Saturday at 11 a.m. against Wheeler at Mickey Stevens. The regular season opens Monday with a 4 p.m. game at Moses Brown.