Coming off the heels of a disappointing 2017, the NYIT Bears are young and ready to take on the East Coast Conference in their inaugural season. The program struggled last year in Division-I play, going 5-36 on the season and ultimately leading to their relegation to the Division-II East Coast Conference. They move onto a new challenge, with a lot to prove and a lot of quality talent ready to hit the field.
Coming into the season one of the main concerns is the lack of run production. They scored just 128 runs over 42 games, while also hitting .213 and only knocking 17 dingers out of the park. In addition, the Bears reached five plus runs in only four games, three of them ending in a loss.
Aside from the struggles from last season, manager Bob Malvagna is very confident in his group to get back on track.
“We are concentrating on fundamentals, moving runners along,” said Malvagna. “We are working hard on bunting and our approach as well. If we have a two-strike approach, we will make more contact and put the ball in play.”
The lineup coming into this season will certainly have some shakeups. Last season was senor-heavy Louis Mele and Anthony Martelli ranking second and third in plate appearances. Anthony Caradonna and Robert Fiato also logged 93 and 87 at bats respectively. Those guys have graduated, so there’s new holes for young guys to step up.
There are six incoming freshmen, two of them red-shirted. Three of them are pitchers, and three are position players. Malvagna believes EJ Cumbo could be a candidate among the freshmen to play a big role in his first season. Almost comparable to Jose Altuve in size, standing in at just 5’6” 160lbs, he realistically has a chance to compete for a starting role in the outfield.
Shortstop Ben McNeill was a bit of a revelation for the club last season, logging the most at bats and playing in 42 games. He batted just .213 but managed to spray 29 hits, three doubles and two triples while driving in 16 runs, the most on the team.
McNeil can certainly be a catalyst for the offense, as his leadership and durability as a freshman proved to be his best qualities. When asked about him, Malvagna was not shy about his words.
“Ben has all the tools to play at the next level. He’s a sure-handed shortstop and if he gets a little bigger he can become a real good ball player going forth,” said Malvagna.
They will also be counting on powerful catcher Brendan Dowd to provide punch in the middle-of-the-order with the departure of Mele.
On the pitching side, the rotation should see some big changes coming into the new season. Starters Frank Valentino, Matt Diaz and Ben Wright, who logged a total of 30 starts last season, all graduated. Wright was the most successful out of the three, winning two ball games while owning a respectable 3.57 ERA.
The pitching was bumpy for the most part last season, as the Bears finished with a 7.71 ERA while giving up 282 earned runs over 329 innings of work. In comes three new freshmen. Zach White, Matt Boyko and Chris Nappi. Boyko has redshirted following last year’s Tommy John but White and Nappi should get opportunities to prove themselves early.
The starting rotation will look brand new across the board.
“We’re trying to figure it out right now. We have a lot of candidates. Alex Passarella was an All-State pitcher at Xaverian and walked onto the team. He’s probably going to be one of our weekend guys,” said Malvagna. “Christopher Miller might be a possibility. Chris Mott is a bulldog on the mound and our fourth guy we’re still trying to figure out.”
Passarella is currently a sophomore and did not play on the team as a freshman but did log a 3.18 ERA in 33 innings of work in his senior year at Xavierian.
As for the rest of the team, only Brandon Alberto started any games for the club.
The big X-Factor is whether Elias Martinez will be eligible. He suffered a season-ending injury last year and could possibly be granted a medical red-shirt. If healthy, he is their undoubted No. 1 starter and is arguably the best pitcher in the conference outside of Frankie Moscatiello.
Inexperience will certainly be a factor for the Bears throughout the season but at the same time might breed competition. There’s a lot of guys on the ballclub ambitious to go out and seize a starting role, pitcher or not. The Bears will have a lot on their hands being in a new conference, but it should be fun to watch.