New head coach pushes Vassar baseball to new heights

Senior captain Mike Koscielniak slides to first base during the a game in the 2016 season. The team will travel to Farmingdale, NY, to take on Plattsburgh State this weekend. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

With the largest roster in Brewer program history, this season’s Vassar College baseball team will strive to make Liberty League playoffs for the first time since 2014. Despite losing multiple influential forces, the players believe that their team of 29 has the depth needed to defeat many of their upcoming rivals.

The resignation of Head Coach Jon Martin is perhaps the most significant loss the squad will experience from last year. After leading the Brewers for 11 straight seasons, Coach Martin will begin his role as the new Head Coach at Bates College in Lewiston, ME. Martin finished his career at Vassar with the most total victories of any baseball coach, accumulating 127 wins during his tenure. Under his lead, the Brewers made their first two Liberty League tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014, in addition to specific individuals accomplishing significant feats. Coach Martin has worked alongside over 30 All-Liberty League selections, including 2014 Liberty League Pitcher of the Year Adam Erkis, who is now partaking in his final senior season for the Brewers.

In Martin’s place, the team now welcomes new Head Coach Matthew Righter, who leaves behind the SUNY New Paltz in order to start his journey with the Brewers. Throughout just three seasons as head coach for the Hawks, Righter impacted the program tremendously, increasing the winning percentage by 200 percent and assisting the team to 20 wins in their last season.

In addition to losing Martin, the team graduated seven influential senior players: Dakota Sagnelli, Brooks English, Connor Cucalon, Nick Johnson, Johnny Mrlik, Cory Wuenschell and Jonathan Hong. This group helped lead Vassar through a monumental season last spring, racking up 18 wins to tie for the second-most overall wins in program history.

“The graduating class was immensely important to us on and off the field,” recalled junior pitcher John Madsen, who threw six shutout innings in his season last year, allowing only one multi-base hit throughout those innings. “They held the team together and were an incredible source of leadership and guidance.”

Although Coach Righter is currently heading the Brewers for the first time, he recognizes the important differences between this year’s roster compared to others. “Our depth separates us from teams in the past,” Head Coach Righter explained. “We have many players that can contribute to the success of our team, which allows me to be creative with our lineup and substitutions. Coach Martin did a nice job recruiting, which sets us up to be a strong offensive team for the next few years.”

A shining aspect of the team is its ten newcomers. This class encompasses a wide range of positions, including five pitchers, two catchers, two infielders and one outfielder. While sad to see his seniors graduate, current senior outfielder and pitcher Mike Koscielniak recognizes the potential of his incoming freshman class. “Losing last year’s seniors is disappointing, like it is every year. But we’re excited about our underclassmen stepping up to fill some of those big roles. We’re a young team this year, bringing in a large freshman class with a lot of talent.”

It seems that freshman infielder Daniel Bonfiglio has already found his nook in the Brewer’s dynamic, starting in four games. So far, the newcomer has posted seven runs, as well as seven hits, in 21 at-bats. In just his third collegiate game, Bonfiglio posted three hits, registering two runs and reaching base four times. Bonfiglio has outstandingly found this success in spite of facing more talented opposition at the collegiate level. “It has definitely been a challenge adjusting to the increased speed and athleticism of my opponents, as well the increased quality and quantity of speed pitches I have to face,” Bonfiglio compared. “But the upperclassmen have done a good job adapting our team, and I am extremely excited to see what we can do this year to help the team overall.”

Returning players will look to fulfill leadership roles, enveloping the freshman in their style of play and sustaining a cohesive team. Koscielniak, along with junior infielder Bobby Kinne and senior pitcher Trent Berg, captain the squad this year. “Our captains this year are great leaders, as well as motivators,” relayed sophomore pitcher Jesse Mulham. “Our team focuses on getting the small jobs done, and our captains really help us enforce this mindset.”

Over spring break, the Brewers flew to Fort Meyers, FL in order to face intense competition before the initiation of Liberty League games. In two weeks, the team played nine games. The players pulled out three victories against Keene State, Cairn University and New York University. Despite falling narrowly to Fredonia, Westfield State University, Plymouth State University and Johns Hopkins University, the team believes this trip was crucial in discovering their combined abilities.

“Our team feels like we had a very successful Florida trip,” Koscielniak stated. “We had the opportunity to play some strong competition, while trying out new players at different positions. We learned a lot about who we were as a team, and came away with some huge team wins throughout the trip.” Regardless of the losses, he believes that these games proved the team’s ability as a whole.

Moving into Liberty League games, Koscielniak’s teammates support this sentiment. “We were able to hang with some really solid competition in Florida,” Madsen agreed. “We now know that we can compete with, and ultimately beat, any team in the Liberty League when we play up to our potential.”

Currently, seven Brewers are batting over .300. Sophomore players Matt Schwartz and Taylor Smach lead this statistic, averaging .438 and .429 respectively. Additionally, the team has posted 44 runs and 78 hits throughout their matches, a bit under their opposition’s 76 runs and 95 hits.

Once entering conference play, the team will look to capitalize on “situational baseball,” focusing on their defensive plays and base-running strategies. “I truly think that team has a lot of potential to do damage this year,” Mulham stated with confidence. “We looked very good this preseason, and I would like to see our team making the playoffs at the end of this season.”

Coach Righter also sees the potential in this group in just his first year at Vassar. “I believe we have been performing well and will continue to do so because of our senior leadership, talented underclassmen and a relentless work ethic.”

With their heads held high, the Brewers will look to defeat the University of Rochester at home in their Liberty League opener on Tuesday, Apr. 4 at 2:30 p.m.

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