Vassar baseball off to best start since 2003

The Miscellany News.

With COVID-19 restrictions on athletics in the rearview mirror, the Matt Righter era at Vassar is finally hitting its long-earned stride. In Righter’s sixth season as Head Coach, the Brewers are 13-7, the baseball program’s best start since 2003, when the team posted the same record through 20 games, according to Vassar Athletics.

This fast start is a welcomed turnaround from last season when the Brewers started 8-12 in their first full season since 2019.

“I felt we were good last year too to be honest. We just didn’t win,” Righter told The Miscellany News through email correspondence. “The pandemic took away opportunities from our senior class which delayed some of their [Class of 2023] development and leadership.”

Now, the Brewers are starting to win. After splitting a two-game road series with Purchase College to open the season and posting a 5-4 record at the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational over spring break, the team has won seven of its last 10 contests, including a series victory over Bard College to open conference play. 

“I think the experience of last year helped and now we’re seeing the fruits of our labor as a team,” said Righter. “At Vassar, you’re not going to just add transfers like other schools to fill holes or add leadership. Development is key in those areas and I think we’re starting to see everything come together like we expected.”

Offensively, the team has been prolific with a complete arsenal of hitters posting impressive averages. Vassar’s nine most commonly used starters are batting .353 as a lineup, with five batters posting an even better average individually. Among the five is Andrew Kanellis ’23, the only Brewer to appear and start in every game this season. Kanellis is hitting .395 with six home runs, 27 runs batted in and 32 hits. His on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) is a staggering 1.244. The only two Brewers with higher batting averages are Daniel Laderman ’25 and Ty Murray ’24, who are batting .486 and .456 respectively. Along with Reid Lapekas ’24, Adam Talwalkar ’23 and Ezra Caspi ’23, Kanellis, Laderman and Murray are among the six Brewers posting an OPS better than 1.000.

Ryan Harris ’23 and Addison Lee ’26 have led the way on the mound for Vassar with two wins each and earned run averages of 3.51 and 5.64 respectively. In the Brewers bullpen, Collin Donnelly ’25, Zach Magee ’23 and Jack Blau ’25 have all earned saves. 

Righter is pleased with his team’s performance to date, but sees potential for growth across the board: We’ve been hitting well as a team but we’ve left some runners on base because of momentary lapses in approach. On the mound, we need to cut down on walks.” 

He continued, “If we can continue to take small steps in each of those areas, I feel like we’ll be hitting our peak at the end of the season when it matters most.” 

With such an experienced coaching staff, progress in all of the aforementioned areas can certainly be expected in the following weeks— and has already been apparent compared to last season. Righter, a two-sport standout at John Hopkins in baseball and basketball, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 21st round of the 2004 MLB draft and played as high as AAA professionally before focusing on coaching, which runs in the family. Rigther’s father is the all-time winningest basketball coach at Clarion University with 402 wins over a 26-year career.

“Coaching at the college level was always one of my dreams,” said Righter. “I grew up as a basketball coach’s son and absolutely loved watching my father on the court with the guys.”

Also leading the Brewers is Associate Head Coach Blayne Fuke, who has been at Vassar since 2014 and was a decorated four-year standout for the University of Rochester, another Liberty League program. Righter called Fuke a pillar of the program: “He’s consistent, hard working, loyal and knows the game inside and out.” 

Righter sees his seniors, whose first collegiate season was canceled after only eight games, as the leaders so crucial to a team, regardless of how effective the coaching is.

“I couldn’t be more proud of this senior class,” he said. “Captains Andrew Kanellis, Ezra Caspi and Adam Talwalkar have led the charge and really helped to transform this team into a winning program. Top to bottom, this class has been fantastic and I’m really fortunate that they stuck it out during some tough years.”

With strong leadership and an encouraging start to the season, Righter has clear ambitions for his squad this season. “Our goals remain at the highest level. Win the conference and make a run at a World Series. In my opinion, we have the talent.”

Righter also recognizes that while seasoned in difficult situations, his team is one that does not have playoff baseball experience. This could be a roadblock but not decidedly a deterrent. As he put it: “If a team is playing with confidence, anything is possible.” 

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