Spring is right around the corner and that means spring sports are approaching including America’s favorite pastime, baseball.
The Montclair State University baseball team is getting ready for the start of the 2023 season after a nine-month-long offseason. Last year, the Red Hawks finished the season with a record of 31-13 and an appearance in the NCAA tournament for the first time in 14 years. Montclair State entered the NJAC preseason coaches’ poll in fourth place.
Players and coaches are focused on the season ahead starting with their upcoming trip to Aberdeen, Maryland for the Ripken Experience. Whether it’s pitchers like senior Patrick Cuccurullo or like senior utility player Miles Feaster, everyone has done their part in getting ready.
“I think not just me but the entire team has done a really good job preparing,” Cuccurullo said. “Whether it be me throwing on my own time or lifting on my own, everyone has done a really good job staying focused and looking at what’s ahead for us.”
Cucurullo used the offseason to work on his pitching. Pitching coach Casey Gaynor as well as some of Cuccurullo’s teammates have given him advice on things to work on, which he’s always open to hearing.
“I’ve learned a couple of things under [Gaynor] and some teammates that have pointed some things out that I maybe do well or I need to work on and I’m always open to hearing criticism and stuff like that,” Cuccurullo said.
Other players like Feaster focused more on strength and conditioning this offseason rather than the usual fielding and hitting. Being in great shape helps him prepare for the spring and get a feel for his hitting.
“Me personally, I’m not big on a lot of swinging in the offseason, it’s more of a feel thing, so you get here and get the reps in,” Feaster said. “In the offseason, I’m just trying to get in the best shape possible to get myself going in the spring.”
While players in the offseason prepared in their own way, the preseason is what brought them back together and ready to play. Head coach Dave Lorber stressed the importance of a routine and keeping their identity. With a variety of different position players, the coaches have been able to move them around and see who fits best in certain positions.
“Obviously every guy’s an individual so we work with some guys on some things individually,” Lorber said. “Our whole core concepts don’t change and that’s important to us and our identity. You always got to maintain your routines in this game and that’s important.”
Another big part of the offseason is recruitment. This year’s freshman class is already looking good and ready to play some meaningful baseball. One standout player is freshman pitcher Michael Timberlake, who’s already impressed the coaching staff. Lorber labeled Timberlake as a “bright spot of the freshmen arms” and said he could already contribute innings early in his career.
“I think we have some really good baseball players that came in here,” Cuccurullo said. “[Lorber’s] done a great job when it comes to recruiting and the transfer portal. I think a lot of them are going to play meaningful games and help us win. We’re all for that and I’m excited to see them play.”
The younger players have come in ready and have shown their talent. Some standout players could even compete for line-up spots and push their way to start games.
“It’s about those guys coming in and getting assimilated into what we do,” Lorber said. “I think it’s nice that the young guys are pushing some of the older guys to continue to play because some of the younger guys are super talented. Now it’s about matching their baseball acumen with their athletic ability and that’s what’s going to help push them into the lineup.”
Taking it one day at a time seems to be the focus for everyone. A shared goal of winning the NJAC can be achieved by taking it one game at a time.
“We got a really talented team this year and I think we’re going to do some special things,” Cuccurullo said. “Take it one game at a time because it goes fast when the season starts. I’m just trying to enjoy every minute possible.”