There is snow on the field, but the Castleton baseball team is still hard at work in the gym, looking to improve their game any way they can. With the Spartans returning six of their top bats and three of their top arms, the team will hope to repeat their success from a season ago and earn possibly earn their third conference title in the last six years.
Castleton skipper Ted Shipley enters his 14th season at the helm and looks to keep the squad at the top of the North Atlantic Conference. In each of the past eight years, the Spartans have finished with a record of .500 or better, including last season's 28-14 mark. Castleton earned the top seed in the NAC tournament last season with the best regular season conference record, but fell in the tournament championship to Husson. The squad saw its season come to an end in the ECAC quarterfinals against Elms, losing 9-3.
This season Shipley is poised to lead his team back to the NCAA Tournament, where the team has made three appearances (2012, 2010, 2008) in the past six years. "We have high expectations," said the coach, "If we work hard and become closer as a team, we should be in contention for a conference championship and NCAA berth."
Six of the team's top hitters return to the roster this season, led by 2013 All-Conference First-Teamers Connor Hoagland and Matt McNamee. Allen White, Joe Borowski, Macyn Clifford and Tyler Lord all return from last year's starting lineup, with each posting a batting average of .287 or better in at least 85 at-bats last year. The Spartans were tops in the NAC in runs scored, runs batted in, on-base percentage, and stolen bases, and outscored conference opponents 166-79 on their way to a 22-2 mark within the NAC.
Castleton also returns an experienced trio of arms, including NAC First-Team All-Conference selection Adam Greenlese. Greenlese earned a 7-0 record last season and headlined a staff that posted a 2.47 earned run average against conference opponents and held NAC foes to just a .238 batting average. Matt Ravey (3-2, 4.50 ERA, 40.0 IP) and Conner Johnson (3-0, 2.31 ERA, 35.0 IP) also return and will likely join Greenlese in the rotation again this season. In addition to the returners, Shipley has high hopes for right Sam Spencer on the mound this year.
Despite the seasoned veterans returning to the Spartan roster, Shipley has made it clear that every roster spot will be earned this season: "Whatever happened last year is, unfortunately, of no value to us. Right now, there are no certainties for who will play where and what their role might be," said Shipley. "Competition is very wide open and the players are competing daily for those opportunities. Most everyone has looked good so far, but we've only been in the gym. As a coaching staff we're really excited to see our guys working hard for playing time.
The team seems focused on perfecting the basics in order to achieve success in the larger scheme of the season. According to the head coach, the team's goals are to have a fielding percentage above .965, and to lead the conference in slugging percentage and total bases. "We want to prepare to win every game on our schedule," said Shipley.
The Spartans begin their 2014 campaign with a road trip to Texas, beginning on February 23 with a game against Austin College. The squad will play LeTourneau and Louisiana College before returning to the Northeast. Castleton will begin conference play on March 29 when they host Husson for a four-game homestand in a rematch of last season's NAC Championship.