As the baseball season approaches, there is a heavy hunger lurking in the air. Last year, USF’s baseball team won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) in the regular season, which is no easy feat. With the CCAC left with just one automatic bid to the postseason after Trinity International’s departure, the Fighting Saints are looking to get back to the National Tournament.
The team lost Eric Maffie (outfield/first base) and Luke Ketchum (outfield), two productive bats, but the line must keep moving. The whole outfield will need to be replaced, while the whole infield is back and ready for a better season. The Fighting Saints have a lot of great players coming back and some newcomers to put on the field.
Coach Brian Michalak shares his thoughts on how the team can replace that much offense from a year ago.
“That remains to be seen. Eric hit 20 home runs. I don’t think we can replace that, but I don’t think we need to. The guys need to get on base for us and, as we say in baseball, keep the line moving. I don’t expect anyone to replace what Eric did last year, but we have a few guys that have been playing for some time now that are ready to step into that role and produce high numbers.”
Coach Michalak explains how every player starts somewhere. Maffie started his career with lower numbers in the 2020 season, hitting just one HR, zero HR in 2021 and five HR in 2022 until he grewto produce 20 HR in 2023.
Despite the unprecedented nature of what it took to win the conference in the regular season last year, Coach Michalak set his expectations highfor the start of the season.
“We have to get off to a better start than we did last year. We got off to a rough start specifically in the conference, and then we got on a roll, winning 16 out of 19 to win the conference. We can’t just rely on that! We need to get off to a better start and play more consistently earlier in the season.”
Mack Malczewski, a pitcher and graduate student at USF, agrees on the importance of focusing on fundamentals for the team to be able to repeat their success.
“It's going to take nine guys on the field playinga game of catch. That’s really what it comes down to: not making those little mistakes. A lot oflosses end up just being a bad throw here and there. That's what separates the good teamsfrom the bad teams.”
There is a lot of confidence in the team thisseason. Malczewski doesn’t doubt his team and believes they have what it takes to repeatas CCAC champions.
“We have more than what it takes. Coach brought in a lot of great guys to the team, and we're bringing back a lot of strong players from last year.I think the guys from last year took advantageof that experience and are hungry for more. The guys that just came in didn't experience it, butthey feed off of that energy.”
They’re hungry for more, and with that much determination, how can USF not stand behind them in support? Malczewski's goals for the team go beyond their regular season.
“I just want to know if the team makes it to the championship. I don't just want to win the regular season this year. It's all about that tournament. We've struggled in [the CCAC tournament] since I've been here, and that's what I want next! It’s that tournament, and I think the team feels the same way. Last year, we got a little taste of what winning feels like, and we want more of it.”
It’s hard to doubt a team that is focused and determined; they went a long way last season and everyone seems to be hungry for more.
Disclaimer: Alex Mielcarz is a member of the USF baseball team and was not involved in the reporting of this article, but was involved in the editing of it.