College baseball

Poise, confidence help Saint Joseph’s earn league title, NCAA regional berth

Posted May 08, 2012, at 6:13 p.m.

STANDISH, Maine — Saint Joseph’s College baseball coach Will Sanborn knows there are many factors that influence what a team achieves on the field.

The Monks from Standish (35-6) have combined their considerable skill with confidence, smarts and level heads this spring to earn another trip to the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship New England Regional.

“They have tremendous poise and composure. They never seem to get rattled,” said Sanborn, who guided Saint Joseph’s to its fourth consecutive 30-win season and its third straight Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament title.

The Monks, ranked No. 2 in New England and second in the NCAA Regional rankings, are gearing up for the regional, which begins May 16 at Willimantic, Conn. They play Bates College of Lewiston on Wednesday to break up the 16 days between their league tourney and the regional opener.

“It’s good to have this little breather between the conference tournament and the regional to make sure we’re healthy and strong,” said Sanborn, whose Saint Joseph’s teams are 539-293-5 (.647) in his 30 seasons.

“We’re playing a lot of intrasquads now, which is extremely important for us to continue to get our pitchers on the mound and get our hitters some at-bats,” he added.

The Monks have performed well in all facets of the game. They feature a .333 team batting average that has accounted for 6.6 runs per game.

Saint Joseph’s has stymied opponents with a strong, deep pitching staff that compiled a 3.04 team earned run average with a nearly 3-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Teams are batting .242 against the Monks.

Among the mound leaders are junior Chad Rafferty, who is 8-0 with a 2.28 ERA, along with sophomores Nick Whittaker (6-0, 1.75 ERA, 1 save) of Yarmouth and Lincoln Sanborn (6-0, 3.45), the coach’s son, who played at Bonny Eagle High School. All are right-handers.

Ten different pitchers have at least one win and six have notched a save. Sanborn has built a versatile staff.

“We’ve kept the innings down,” coach Sanborn said. “Really, what we’ve tried to do is build as deep a staff as we possibly can going into the regional tournament.”

Other mound contributors include freshman Alex Valenti (2-1, 2.51, 3 sv.), juniors Jimmy Kennedy (4-0, 2.22) and Tyler Laverriere (3-1, 2.97), sophomore Joe Gruntkosky (3-1, 3.09), (2-0, 3.92, 2 sv.) and seniors Andrew Devereaux (2-0, 3.92, 2 sv.) and Kyle Neagle (1-1, 3.78, 4 sv.) of Lisbon Falls.

“We’re location guys and we really believe in throwing strikes and these guys do it,” Sanborn said.

Saint Joseph’s has leaned heavily on a group of 10 players to spearhead the offense. Leading the way are freshman catchers Nick Lops of South Portland and Joe Coyne.

Lops, the Monks’ top hitter at .420 with 20 runs batted in, was the GNAC tournament MVP. Coyne is batting .350 with 22 RBIs and a team-best 50 hits.

“Our two freshman catchers have done extremely well,” said Sanborn, who splits the pair between catching and designated hitter duties.

Junior second baseman Brandon Chase of Naples, who struggled in 2011, is batting .347 with a team-leading seven home runs and 38 RBIs.

“We put him in the nine hole [in the batting order] and he’s flourished there and we decided not to move him,” Sanborn said. “He’s like a second cleanup hitter.”

Saint Joseph’s has several other standouts, including senior SS Dan Achorn (.361, 1 HR, 19 RBI), senior 3B Dan Brown of Portland (.345, 8 RBI), sophomore outfielder Alex Lorenc (.339, 5 HR, 27 RBI), junior OF Dan Butts (.328, 1 HR, 18 RBI), sophomore utility man Alex Markakis (.308, 1 HR, 17 RBI), junior 1B Mike Pratt (.305, 6 HR, 34 RBI) and 3B Sanborn (.289, 14 RBI).

“We’ve had a chance to win every day and they’ve found a way to do it most days, so it’s been fun,” coach Sanborn said.

Sanborn praised his team for their intelligence, including a grade point average between 3.2 and 3.3, resilience and unselfishness. The players have made the team’s success their top priority.

That dynamic has been demonstrated through the leadership of senior tricaptains Brown, John Dahms of Gorham, and Neagle.

“They’re not necessarily the guys that get the bulk of the playing time or some of the accolades that some of the underclassmen do, but they’re really key to the kind of chemistry and good team culture that we have,” Sanborn explained.

The Monks head to the regional having won two games last year and three the year before in the NCAAs. Sanborn believes his team has the right stuff to take the next step.

“I’ve always felt the first team to relax has got the best shot to win and I think we’ve got guys who are going to have a relaxed confidence about themselves that hopefully will bode well,” he said.

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