By PAUL GOTHAM
While Rochester and the rest of the northeast of the United States brace for a major winter storm, the Monroe Community College baseball team gets ready to absorb a regular season schedule which may make double-digit snowfall amounts look easy.
As they have for the past three years under head coach Dave Brust, the Tribune nine will open its season in Arizona and continue a slate against nationally-ranked contenders.
“For us to truly compete at the national level, our schedule has got to be tough,” Brust said recently. “Every college coach in America knows that. I don’t care what sport it is.”
Starting with a doubleheader against Division I Eastern Arizona College, Monroe will play 10 games in the Cactus State. MCC has a twin bill scheduled with Pima Community College which won 30 games a year ago and a date with the Glendale CC Gauchos who reached the Region I finals last season.
After training indoors for the past two months, the Black and Gold take their game outside against teams which will have already played 20-25 games.
“They certainly will have worked through seeing live pitching,” Brust said of his upcoming opponents. “They don’t have the first-day butterflies. They’ve worked out seeing a fly ball in the Arizona sky.
“At the end of the day, that’s part of the journey. That’s what makes us mentally tough baseball players. We don’t make excuses for losing a ball n the sun or not handling a ball on the grass. It’s a baseball game.”
Monroe plays its home opener against Herkimer CC on March 25th and continues with a doubleheader the following day versus Lackawanna College – a 26-win team in 2016.
MCC also plays four games at Cuyahoga CC (47-14 in 2016) in early April and four at Mercer County Community College in mid-April. Mercer County went 51-10 last season and lost in the fifth round of the NJCAA World Series. The Vikings opened the season ranked No. 5 in the country.
“It doesn’t mean as many wins,” Brust said. “But I’ll take some tough losses and making us better over some hollow wins that were against teams that may not be as challenging.”
Johnny Ricotta (Greece Athena) leads the list of returners for the Tribune lineup. Ricotta paced Monroe with 65 RBI last year. The All-Region performer collected 21 extra-base hits and finished with a slugging percentage of .611.
Ricotta is one of six returners including Ryan Boutelle (Gowanda), Ryan Brown (Brighton), Pat Connor (Geneva), Nick Ficarella (Churchville-Chili), Connor Hurst (John Fraser Secondary) and Colin Johnston (Greece Athena).
Redshirt freshmen Hudsen Haagland (Tilton School/Franklin Pierce), Nick Rubino (Webster-Thomas/Palm Beach State College) and Ricky Sisto (Liverpool/Miami, OH) will join the lineup along with Jake Hewitt (Penfield/Cortland State).
Thirteen other freshmen dot the roster including Tim Brown (Brighton), Justin Bunting (Greece Athena), Alex Canty (Batavia), Jonathan Catapano (McQuaid), Andrew Czubaj (John F. Kennedy), Nick Jackson (Greece Athena), Jordan Kowalski (Canisius HS), Ryan Marketell (Webster-Thomas), Stuart Martin (John F. Ross), Michael Perlo, Frankie Pizzo (Shenendehowa), Brent Turpyn (Hilton) and Matt Wagner (Bishop Smith).
Aaron Beck (Gates-Chili), Henry Buholtz (McQuaid) and Damian Clarke (Watertown District) round out the lineup.
MCC has 11 home dates on the schedule including Region III play against Mercyhurst NE on April 22nd and 23rd.
Ricotta was joined on last year’s All-Region team by Matt Brooks, Luke Brust, Connor Lewis, Anthony Santoro, Collin Stack and Zach Vennaro.
Monroe CC finished 33-16 in 2016. The 2013 Region III champions went on to win the East District title and earn a berth in the NJCAA DII World Series.