By PAUL GOTHAM
On Saturday April 21st the Monroe Community College baseball team dropped to 12-18 on the season. They had lost eight of nine. It was a miserable stretch which saw the Tribunes commit five errors in a 20-11 defeat at the hands of Mercyhurst NE.
Three weeks later, the Black and Gold turned the tables on the Saints, claimed the program’s 26th regional title and punched a ticket to the 2018 NJCAA Division II East District Championship.
The Tribunes take a 15-game winning streak with them this weekend when they head to Groton, Connecticut – the site of this year’s championship.
Coach Dave Brust didn’t sprinkle magic pixie dust sprinkled over the Tribune clubhouse. There hasn’t been a player who returned from an injury. No major shifts to the lineup.
MCC’s success, rather, has been the matter of a young squad growing into roles.
“I attribute it to growth and experience,” Brust said of the recent success. “Their maturation process was during the year as it should be. You usually have that happen over time. These guys had to grow up fast.”
Identifying the solution to the problem is as easy as looking to the far right of the scoreboard at Tribune Field. After the inning by inning runs, and the game totals for runs and hits comes the errors. It is there that the Tribune turnaround started.
Fixing the problem has taken time.
“Every day on my practice plan we have a mini-paragraph on taking care of the baseball,” the fifth-year coach explained. “With that we have regular conversations on good fundamental baseball, positioning, pre-pitch movement. Everything we need to do to avoid four-out innings.”
In their first 30 games, MCC committed 67 errors (2.23 per contest). Over the recent 15-game winning streak, the Tribs have just 14 fielding miscues culminating last weekend in the regional tournament with just one miscue over 18 innings.
“Our defense and our pitching has learned how to perform in close baseball games. I don’t think we’re going to self-destruct. Our defense is going to do well.”
Sobaszek has grown into his role at shortstop. Loew has manned the hot corner at third.
“He was a young shortstop,” Brust said of Sobaszek. “He gets better every day. We worked on him getting s step on the baseball, coming through the baseball and getting rid of the baseball. The first two weeks of the season he had some positioning confusion, had some issues with holding on to the ball too long, sitting on the baseball, patting his mitt.
“It’s been day to day during batting practice. We just coached him up, and he took it.”
With Loew it was a matter of his arm angle on throws across the diamond.
“He wanted to be a sidewinder from third,” Brust explained “You got to throw four-seamers. Every now and again you got to throw your side arm submarines to first base when the situation presents itself, but for the most part you’re releasing up top.”
Fielding the ball has not been the concern with Loew.
“He’s probably got the best sets of hands I’ve seen in my 13 years of coaching. His hands are dynamite.
“Once he became our everyday third baseman. He made Cas’s job at shortstop easier.”
Along the way, sophomore Justin Bunting (Greece Athena) made the transition from backup middle infielder to first baseman.
“He understands the rhythm of the game from the left side of the infield and he provides stability.”
Add to the mix the development of Andrew Czubaj (John F. Kennedy/Buffalo). Brust pointed to the work of assistant coach Cory Brownsten in bringing along the sophomore catcher.
“Every time he catches he gets better. Brownie has made him into an outstanding defender.
“Cory Brownsten has taken the foundations which we started last year with more focus on holding runners. He’s taken it to a new place.”
Monroe (27-18) opens against Westchester Community College (Region 15/28-10). The Tribunes will then play the host UConn-Avery Point (Region 21/28-10-1). Originally scheduled to begin on Saturday, the pending weather forecast has forced organizers to move the tournament to Sunday and Monday.