The University of Rhode Island’s baseball and softball teams will both be beginning their seasons later this week, with the former looking to retain its position atop the conference, and the latter looks to continue climbing their way back into contention.
It was a historic 2015-16 season for head coach Raphael Cerrato, and the URI baseball team, as they won the Atlantic 10 Championship and went on to appear in their first NCAA Regional since 2005. The team picked up their first-ever NCAA tournament win by upsetting host team South Carolina, 5-4, in the Regional opener.
The Rams have been chosen to repeat as A-10 champs by the conference’s head coaches. The Rams received six of 13 first-place votes. Coach Cerrato believes that, with the roster in place, anything less than A-10 supremacy would fall below their expectations. “We expect to win championships every year and if we don’t it will a disappointment,” Cerrato said.
URI will return 22 players from last year’s squad, including two-time A-10 pitcher of the year, Tyler Wilson. Wilson has earned four preseason All-American awards so far. He is the most decorated player in Rhody history, with eight different All-American awards, two National Player of the Week nods and NCAA All-Regional Team honors. Wilson finished his sophomore season ranked second in the nation in wins (13), third in hits allowed per nine innings (4.66) and fifth in WHIP (0.84).
Wilson is not the only key player returning for the Rams as they welcome back four of the conference’s top prospects in senior Martin Figueroa, and the junior trio of Chris Hess, Jordan Powell and Nick Johnson. Cerrato is thrilled about the proven veteran leadership that will be on the field.
“It means a lot, they are guys who have been through the grind and know how to act on the road,” Cerrato said.
The Most Outstanding Player at the 2016 A-10 Championships, Figueroa finished his junior season with a .327 batting average and led the team in doubles (22), RBI (43), home runs (8), slugging percentage (.543) and walks (20). He also had 21 multiple-hit games and 12 multiple-RBI games, as well as the team’s longest hitting streak (15 games).
The Rams open their 2017 campaign at McNeese State’s Lake Area Classic, Feb. 17-19. Rhody is set to face Missouri State on Friday, McNeese State on Saturday and Stony Brook on Sunday.
Softball will be beginning their season as well, as Coach Bridget Hurlman and the Rams look to build on last year’s positive start to the first season coach staff in 2017. Second-year head coach Hurlman, along with her assistant coaches Mary Holt and Brooke Boening, helped the softball team improve from a total of three wins in the 2015 season to 12 wins in 2016. Both the coaches and the athletes have their sights on a larger goal this season: the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
“We had a good start in the turnaround of the program last year and we’re really excited with how much effort the returners have put in for this season,” Hurlman said.
The Rams are returning five seniors: Marylynn Muldowney, Danielle Gariglio, Ali Summers, Andrea Chiaradio, and Jenna Cubello. Senior catcher Summers was named to the 2016 A-10 All-Conference Second-Team, and sophomore pitcher Becca Rogers made the conference’s all-rookie team following a stellar debut season.
One of Rhody’s key strengths for this season is the overall team depth. The Rams graduated six seniors in the 2016 season, but brought in a total of nine new players this season; seven of whom are freshman, as well as two transfers.
“We have kids who can all compete at a high level, so it’s more like people should look for the whole team to be on the rise, not just individuals,” Hurlman said.
The Rams improved to three wins against A-10 competition, but will look for steady performances in all of their games.
“We need to find the consistency and the routine that works for us because the most consistent teams make it to post-season,” Hurlman said.
The Rams open the season with 5 games in Houston’s Rawlings classic on Friday.
“I know it’s within the hearts of every single person in this program to make it to the A-10 Championship this year,” Hurlman said.