Mike Cole began answering the question almost before it was finished being asked. Would he have signed on before the season started for the year his Jaspers just had?
“Yeah, I would have signed on for that, definitely,” Cole said. “No question.”
Manhattan was picked to finish 10th in the 11-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference’s preseason poll, but Cole knew his roster had the potential to land one of the six coveted spots in the MAAC tournament, which begins this week.
Although the Jaspers’ season came down to the final pitch in the final inning of the last game of the regular season, Manhattan’s 3-1 loss to Niagara in the regular-season finale last Saturday cost it a trip to the tournament. With the victory, Niagara earned the last bid.
“I told the guys to be proud of what we accomplished,” said Cole, the first-year head coach who spent the past six seasons at MAAC-rival Fairfield. “Obviously we didn’t achieve our goal of getting to the tournament, but we did a lot of good things this year, and it’s definitely something to build on for the future and getting us back to where we want to be.”
Yes, there is plenty to build on for the coming seasons. The Jaspers won 25 games overall this season, including a 13-11 mark in the MAAC.
The 13 wins are the most ever by a team not to qualify for the tournament under its current format. The club also boasted a trio of All-MAAC picks with Fabian Peña, T.J. Stuart and Richie Barrella all earning Second Team nods.
The foundation for his program has now been laid.
“I think from Day One we found out who we are as a program,” Cole said. “We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play tough, and when we take the field, we expect to not just be in every game, but to win every game. I think we had that attitude throughout the year and until the last pitch of the last inning, I think our 35 guys thought we had a chance to win.”
The 25 wins are a seven-game improvement over last year’s record, and with a slew of quality players coming back next season, there is reason for optimism again at Manhattan.
“I think our pitching staff will definitely be our strength next year,” Cole said. “We got a good core of guys coming back who threw a lot of innings with T.J. Stuart being at the forefront.”
Also expected to be back is Logan Muratalla, who was hurt for the first two months of the year but still wound up throwing 10 innings without allowing an earned run. Nick Massa, the Jaspers’ No. 2 starter at the beginning of the year, had his season cut short because of Tommy John surgery in February. Yet, he’s expected back next year as well.
The offense should also be in strong shape with the return of Barrella and a pair of top-shelf freshmen in Matt Padre and Will Trochiano.
“We have Richie Barrella coming back and Will Trochiano, who for the first 25 games of the season, was probably our best player before he got hurt,” Cole said. “And Matt Padre had a great freshman year for us. Padre was our best hitter in the last 30 games of the year.”
Despite the painful ending to the Jaspers’ season, Cole still views his first season in Riverdale as a successful one.
“I definitely thought it was a positive,” Cole said. “Obviously we didn’t finish where we wanted to finish. But I enjoyed this team and I have to give some thanks to the older guys on the team. It’s not always easy when a new coach comes in. I said to them as a coach, ‘All I can ask is that you guys show up to play every day, and play hard every day,’ and they did that. That’s a tribute to their character.”
Cole will still follow the MAAC tourney even though the Jaspers won’t be part of it this season. But he already is looking ahead to better days next season.
“It’s tough because you want to be there,” Cole said. “But as a coach, you want to follow it and see how it shakes out.
“We have 13 kids coming in next year in our recruiting class. We’re losing 10 guys, so we needed a big class to come in. We’ll be young offensively next year, but there is definitely some talent coming in, and some who we expect to have an immediate impact on our team as freshmen.”