When Mike Cole took over the Manhattan College baseball program last season, he knew he would have to deal with all the things coaches always have to deal with — lots of travel, long bus rides, and lots of new faces coming through the program.
What he didn’t know, what he couldn’t possibly have anticipated going into his second season with the Jaspers, was the loss of two potential All-Conference players — Will Trochiano and Richie Barrella — to season-ending injuries and a starting lineup that features five and sometimes six freshmen starters.
But that’s the hand Cole and the Jaspers have been dealt this season, and it’s the only one they can play.
“We’re still trying to figure some things out,” Cole said Monday after the Jaspers took two-of-three from the University of Albany over the weekend. “We’re dealing with the injuries to Will and Richie. Those are two All-Conference guys that we’re missing this year.”
Trochiano started 23 games as a freshman last season, hitting .333 before an elbow injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He was expected back at full strength this year until a fluke injury cost him this season as well.
“Will got his arm fixed, they put a little screw in his elbow and then, talk about crazy, but he actually slipped on some ice and tore his triceps,” Cole said. “So he had to have tricep surgery.”
Barrella hit a robust .309 in 51 games last season and was tied for second on the team with 25 RBIs. But Barrella tore his meniscus recently, and underwent surgery this past Monday. He’s also lost for the season.
Talk about a one-two punch to the gut.
But it’s not all storm clouds around the Jaspers this season. Cole believes his pitching staff will be among the tops in the conference and that can carry Manhattan far this season.
“We’re young, but pitching-wise we get two pitchers back in the next few weeks which should help in Nick Massa and Logan Muratalla,” Cole said. “Massa had Tommy John surgery last year. He was our No. 2 last year, and he got hurt at Cal State Northridge. But he’s almost 14 months out (from surgery) now, so he’ll be ready to go.”
He is expected to get at least an inning in this weekend at Canisius.
Muratalla, who didn’t give up an earned run last year, is coming off arm surgery as well.
“But we should have him by the middle of April,” Cole said.
With junior right-hander T.J. Stuart back to head the rotation, along with 6-foot-10 graduate student John Cain, Cole thinks he has the makings of a dominant staff.
With the absence of Trochiano and Barrella, the Jaspers will rely on a grizzled veteran and a new face to carry the offensive load.
“Offensively, I think the middle of our lineup has been pretty good,” Cole said. “Shawn Blake has been pretty good. And one of the freshman, Nick Cimillo, have kind of locked down the middle of the lineup for us. But we’re starting five or six freshmen. We’re so young.”
Blake is hitting .289 with a team-leading eight doubles this season, while Cimillo is batting a team-leading .338 with three homers and 10 RBIs.
“The biggest thing is just staying consistent,” Cole said of his young club. “Obviously we’re going to have some good days and bad days. But I think by the middle of April, those freshmen won’t be freshmen anymore.”
Cole put together an ambitious non-conference schedule to prepare his Jaspers for the rigors of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play, taking on programs like Michigan, George Mason and George Washington this season.
“I think it’s helped us tremendously,” Cole said. “I wanted to test our guys early. Obviously we’re going to make some mistakes and get beat up a little bit early on. But that is setup to test us and get us ready for the MAAC as we move forward here. We’re not playing Michigan next week, we’re playing Canisius. That’s a little different.”
Manhattan opens its MAAC season at Canisius before hosting Iona the first weekend in April.
It’s a time when Cole hopes his young team grows up in a hurry.
“We’re going to have a chance to compete in our conference,” Cole said. “I think our frontline pitching should be very good in conference.”