Matthew Breault, Assistant Sports Editor
The Utica College baseball team is off to its best start (4-3) since the 2018 season. The start of the Pioneers season has included six of the seven games coming from doubleheaders against Cazenovia, RIT and Houghton.
The Pioneers have split each doubleheader in the same fashion, by winning the first game and losing the second. The doubleheader scheduling format continues on for the Pioneers for the team’s next six games as they are scheduled to face Houghton on March 27 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., and Elmira on April 2 and April 3 at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
After starting the 2020 pandemic-shortened season 1-3, the baseball team is looking forward to a successful 2021 campaign.
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Matt Leviton, a graduate student who is using his last season of eligibility in the outfield for the Pioneers, said he feels very optimistic about his team and what they’re capable of for this season.
“It’s always a great feeling to start off on the right foot, especially in a year like this,” Leviton said. “There are definitely parts of the game we need to continue to improve on, but we have a ton of great guys on our roster this year and I am confident we can make the necessary adjustments to be ready for conference play in the next couple of weeks.”
Another member of the Pioneers who is upbeat because of how the season has started is Senior first baseman Joe Battista. Battista, who is a JUCO transfer from SUNY Adirondack, had to wait for his opportunity to play NCAA Division III baseball with the Pioneers. Battista transferred to Utica College for his junior year, but saw limited action because of the shortened season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After the long wait, Battista finally got his chance and he is making the most of it. After the first seven games, Battista is currently batting .444 with eight hits and eight RBIs. With his personal success and the Pioneers success, he said the team is capable of great things.
“As a whole, I think our team is feeling more confident about our skill and ability to win games more than ever,” Battista said. “We’ve had some great bullpen performances and we have been figuring out ways to generate scoring as well. We’ve had some positives to take away from our games so far, but we also need to clean things up. As the season goes on, I’m very confident that we will be able to sharpen up and be real contenders in the Empire 8.”
As of March 26, the Pioneers are currently second in the Empire 8 standings. With the next doubleheader scheduled against Houghton, who is currently the first seed, it’s possible that the Pioneers can take sole possession of first place in the Empire 8.
“We just have to keep working on things and trying to get better everyday at practice,” Leviton said. “For me personally, at times, it becomes difficult to manage everything, but I have a good relationship with the coaching staff and they know I may have to get my workouts in at different times than the other guys on the team, but they help me work around my schedule.”
Now that the team has experienced recent success, the Pioneers are under pressure to have its first season over .500 since 2015, when they finished 20-16-1. If the Pioneers continue on its current pace, they are projected to beat their 2015 record and finish the season 21-15. Battista understands the pressure he and the team face to continue their winning ways, but he recognizes that the start they’ve had could help push them ahead.
“As a senior hitting cleanup for this team, I’m aware there’s pressure on me to produce offense and I’m happy that I’ve been able to do just that so far,” Battista said. “A good start definitely sets the tone for the rest of the season so myself and the rest of the team will look to continue producing.”