Manchester University baseball escaped frigid temperatures at home to begin their season in sunny Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
The Spartans started off their season with two tough defeats to Johnson & Wales University before taking the second game of the doubleheader against Manhattanville College. Manchester’s bats caught fire as they scored 14 runs, thanks to 13 hits spread across eight of their batters.
The final outing of the trip saw a narrow defeat against Lehman College in extra innings.
The five games, played from Thursday February 28 to Saturday March 2, served as an opportunity for Manchester to recognize areas of strength and weakness, as well as bond as a team.
“We left for the trip right after classes on Wednesday,” said junior Isaiah Knight-Neraasen.
“The 14-hour bus ride was not very fun, but it was totally worth it once we were there.”
“The schedule was very strenuous and time management was tough too,” Knight-Neraasen continued. “But that’s just part of being a student-athlete. Time management is key.”
The out-of-state visit to Myrtle Beach allowed the players the chance to improve both as players and teammates.
“My personal goal is to be able to help the team the best I can,” said junior Craig Overpeck. “Whether it’s pitching or just bringing up team morale in the dugout. Our team goal is to win the [Heartland Collegiate Athletic] Conferencetournament and be able to advance to regionals.”
Knight-Neraasen echoed his teammates sentiments saying that every year the team’s goal is to “win that conference championship.”
The words of the coaching staff, led by head coach and athletic director Rick Espeset, clearly has had an influence on the players as well.
“Our coach stresses being the most liked on the team and that hits home for me,” Knight-Neraasen explained. “On the field I try to stay as consistent as possible.”
With every new season comes opportunities for underclassmen to stake their claim at playing time. Making the most of their opportunity, the Spartans featured 8 freshmen at various points during the road trip.
“Most of the freshmen got opportunities to play and a lot of them played well,” said Overpeck. “I was very impressed with the younger guys and their ability to step up in the bigger moments”
Despite losses to tough opposition, the trip allowed the student-athletes to settle into a state of baseball bliss with their teammates and friends they soon won’t forget.
“I’ll always remember all of the fun games of Mafiawe played on the bus,” Overpeck continued. “We did a speed round once and it was a ton of fun. Everyone was laughing and had a good time.”
“One lasting memory I will have is walking into the hotel room and going straight to the balcony and looking at the sunrise,” Knight-Neraasen said. “It was an eleventh story beach front view of the sunrise. Knowing you get to start your season off with your best friends two hours after that is no better feeling.”
Immediately following the final game, the team packed their bags to arrive back on campus in time for their Monday morning classes.
The Spartans will be hoping they gleam the positives from their away trip to be prepared for conference rivals. The HCAC Preseason Coaches’ poll, released in early February, predicted Manchester to end the season fifth in the conference. The Black and Gold are coming off a fourth placed finish and a 2018 HCAC Tournament berth.
For a successful season, the Spartans will no doubt rely on the talent of key returners such as first-team all-conference outfielder Tyler LaFollette and honorable mention all-league infielder Braxton Rile