Coming off an Atlantic 10 Finals appearance a season ago, the University of Rhode Island baseball Rams are prepared for success in 2016.
Picked to finish third in the conference coaches poll, Rhode Island will return a great many players to their current campaign, but perhaps most importantly their head coach Raphael Cerrato.
Cerrato, who coached URI to a 15-9 conference record last season, improved the team’s overall record from 13-40 to 26-25-1 in his first season. Cerrato’s leadership was plenty good enough to erase the word “interim” from his title, as he was officially announced as the head coach of the program after the conclusion of the spring season.
Besides a certain dose of job security, Cerrato has also been dealt a great many tools by which to thrive. Two of his three weekend starters, 2015 Freshman All-American LHP Tyler Wilson and senior LHP Steve Moyers, both return to one of the most dominant rotations in the A-10.
The duo combined for 24 starts, a 2.89 ERA, 137 strikeouts only 55 walks across 161 2/3 innings of baseball, with a raft of worthy candidates for the third weekend starting spot.
“Everybody’s so close knit,” Wilson said. “All the pitchers are pulling for each other, even the guys who are in competition for that Sunday spot.”
That new addition to the weekend rotation will be redshirt junior Ben Wessel.
After improving significantly over the course of last season, Wessel’s control was able to earn him the weekend starting gig.
“He has probably the best command on the team,” Cerrato said. “He can really sink his fastball, he can throw to both sides of the plate, he’s got a good breaking ball, a good change – he’s a tough kid.”
To this point, the best evidence of Wessel’s command stems from his time in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (NECBL), where the righty allowed only eight earned runs in 41 1/3 innings, good for a 1.74 ERA.
Offensively, the Rams sport an intimidating lineup, with a vast majority of starters returning from the 2015 incarnation of the team. Sophomores Chris Hess and Jordan Powell both hit above .300, with Hess’ OBP nearly eclipsing .400.
Senior OF Ryan Olmo, the final piece of the .300-plus triumvirate and member of last year’s Atlantic 10 All-Championship Team, appeared in 43 games, including 35 starts. Olmo nailed down a starting position in the Rams outfield, finishing the season on a 10-game hitting streak, though his aspirations for 2016 are larger.
“The experience of going to the tournament, having success there, we know we want to go back there,” Olmo said of the A10 Conference Tournament. “Nothing beats experience.”
The key theme among the Rams is high expectations for what constitutes a successful season.
“Finishing first and winning the conference,” WIlson said. “We were picked third (in the coaches poll), and I don’t think we have been picked third. It’s a biased opinion, but I think we should have been picked first,” Wilson added.
The Rams open a three game set and their season at No. 14 Florida State University (National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Poll) on Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.