Major League pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training this past week throughout the country, which can only mean that baseball season is right around the corner. Winter Storm ‘Nemo’ didn’t scare away Keene State College baseball players as they too have begun training for their 2013 campaign.
The Owls look forward to another successful season after finishing with a 32-15 record and earning a berth in the NCAA Division III Regional tournament in 2012. However, KSC will have their work cut out for them this upcoming season after losing nearly ten players to graduation.
Owls skipper, Ken Howe is set for his twenty-seventh season as head coach. Howe said he isn’t worried about losing such a core group of players from last season. “It’s hard to replace guys right away but we fill those spots with 30 other guys,” Howe said. “We’re very excited about our freshman class that we’ve brought in. We’re going to need to rely on some of the younger kids who are good, but how are they going to make that jump to the college level and that much quicker of a game.”
This upcoming season, in addition to the varsity program, the Owls plan to have a junior varsity squad to help build for the future. “Some of those guys [freshman] will have the opportunity to play and help us out right away,” Howe said. “Some of the guys may be a year away.”
According to Howe the JV team is expected to play 10 to 14 games this season. “With some of the freshmen that we brought in, instead of having them sit around and watch 40 games this year they will have an opportunity to play,” Howe said. “They have the opportunity not to just practice but play and get better that way.”
Fortunately for the Owls, there are some key returners on this year’s squad with sights set on returning to the NCAA tournament. Junior right-handed pitcher, Shawn Egan is coming off of a solid season on the mound posting a 1.86 earned run average in 13 appearances.
Egan said that the younger players need to fill those vacant spots but as a team they need to play together to win. “Expectations as a team are to win as many games as possible and make it back to regional’s,” Egan said. “Ultimately we’d like to make it to Wisconsin to that championship.”
Keene State College welcomes back junior infielder Nick Vita. Vita hit .301 at the plate last season and started 39 games for the Owls. “We lost a lot of power hitters – [Larry] Longo, [Peter] Burgio, [Erik] Bergstrom – but we’ll have a good team,” Vita said. “We’ve got a lot of new, young talent that can come in and be effective right away.”
Other key returners for the Owls include Little East Conference All-Star infielder Greg Bates who hit .361 last season and led the team in hits and runs scored. Also, senior starting pitcher Chris Crutcher will return on the hill for the Owls. Keene is expected to have fully rehabilitated seniors Eric Perrault, Spencer Hutchinson and Kyle Underwood in the throwing rotation as well.
Historically, the Owls compete against powerhouse programs in the Northeast region both in and out of conference. Keene finished 10-4 in the Little East Conference last season and was selected tied for second with Eastern Connecticut State University in the LEC preseason coaches’ poll. University of Southern Maine received the top ranking for the seventh time since 2001. Last year KSC played a difficult regional schedule including a pair of games against Division III runner-up, Wheaton College in Mass. The Owls were able to salvage a season split with the Lyons after winning in stellar fashion at home late last season. Coach Howe prepares his program year-in and year-out with difficult scheduled competition. “About six years ago, I really started going to the teams who made it to regionals and started adding them to our schedule,”
Howe said. “Knowing the quality and depth of the Little East [Conference], wanting to play the best out of the conference helps the strength of schedule in the conference. It’s all done obviously for the better of us but the conference as well.”
The Owls will practice indoors until they have capabilities to get outside. Keene will open their annual season on Long Island, NY, when they play four games in three days starting March 2. Shortly after, the Owls will travel further south to Winter Haven, Fla., where they play 11 games in eight days. “I’d like to get rid of three feet of snow and get back outside,” Howe said. “We’re looking forward to Long Island if they’ve dug out by then, Florida after that and gettin’ it [the season] going.”
Brian Schnee can be contacted at