Progression is defined as a movement or development toward a destination or a more advanced state, whether gradually or in stages. In its fifth year of existence, the Lesley University baseball team has continually sought after one thing: progression. Starting from the ground floor when it comes to anything is always a difficult endeavor, so introducing a brand new baseball team to a conference (NECC) that has been around for a while is certainly a daunting task. However, between two different head coaches and a handful of exceptional student athletes, the Lesley Lynx baseball program has seen tremendous results in a relatively short amount of time. The journey has been difficult, especially in a league full of talented teams and players, but the Lesley baseball team continues to work towards winning games and remaining competitive.
In the spring of 2011, the first Lesley baseball team took the field under head coach Mike Rocco and assistant coaches Mike Kenneally and Pat Donovan. The team had a 15-man roster, with just enough bodies to make up a starting lineup, as well as some spare bench players. As might be expected, the inexperienced team struggled to a 0-28 overall record, remaining winless both in and out of conference play. But the team never gave up. The following year, the Lynx were able to bring in a solid class of freshmen, increasing their numbers to a respectable 23-man roster. This squad would be the catalyst to spark future success, winning the first game in program history by defeating the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts 3-2. The Lynx would go on to win seven more games that season, four of which were in conference, finishing with an 8-26 overall record.
In 2013, the Lynx made a giant leap by improving to a 13-17 overall record, led by four exceptional players (Plourd, Gosnell, Parson, and Genua) who earned All-Conference honors. Unfortunately, this team would just barely miss the playoffs, due to an unimpressive 6-12 record against teams in conference. But with such obvious improvements in only three years, the Lynx appeared to be on the fast track to imminent success. However, as if the team hadn’t seen enough adversity, the Lynx were left without a head coach in the summer of 2013 after former head coach Mike Rocco took a coaching job at Division 2 Assumption College. The uncertainty of having a new head coach left everyone doubting whether or not the Lesley baseball team could rally to another improved season. In the fall of 2013, previous University of Maine baseball standout Billy Cather took the reigns as the Lesley head coach.
The NECC preseason poll came out soon after, predicting Lesley to come in dead last.
The 2014 season, to the surprise of many, would make history for the school’s baseball program. Although the overall record may not have shown it (10-17), a program best 9-9 conference record gave Lesley baseball its first ever playoff appearance. With the leadership of four senior captains who had been on the team since its pilot season (Genua, Landry, Melo, and Russo), along with strong support from the junior and underclassmen players and the exceptional coaching of Billy Cather, the Lynx would earn the third seed in the NECC conference playoff tournament. This was an incredible achievement for such a brand new program. In a double elimination tournament, the Lynx were unfortunately eliminated in two games, but they did not go down without a fight. Lesley would fall short in an extra inning walk off loss to rival Becker College, losing 13-12 in 11 innings. (The game was brought to extra innings after a five run rally in the 9th inning to tie the game up.) The Lynx couldn’t close the door however, suffering a demoralizing loss. Being deflated from the previous day, Lesley was then ousted by Elms College 8-2, ending the team’s season. But despite this disappointment ending, expectations for the upcoming season were bigger than they had ever been before.
Gaining momentum from the previous season’s success, the 2015 season was primed to be an exceptional year for the Lynx. Returning almost all starters from 2014, Lesley looked to make even more strides than ever before. Unfortunately, injuries and off-field incidents would plague the starting lineup and create even more obstacles. Key role players such as senior first baseman Kevin Hopwood, senior pitcher Ray Cohen, freshman pitcher Nick Iadevaio, and senior outfielder Rob Parson saw time on the bench due to injuries. Their absence from the lineup certainly affected the team chemistry and overall morale, which hurt the season significantly.
Going into the final conference series of the year, a struggling Lesley squad was set to face a strong Becker team whose lineup featured an abundance of all-conference talent, including the eventual NECC Player of the Year, Nico Bedell. At the time, Lesley’s 5-9 conference record made the playoffs seem almost out of reach. On top of this, four starters were ineligible for this series due to an off-the-field incident. Nonetheless, the Lynx persevered and took the first two games from Becker at home on Senior Day. Lesley won 3-2 the first game after senior second baseman Adam Ciampi ended it with a walk off RBI single to right center. A barrage of hits from the entire lineup powered Lesley to a 10-2 victory the next game. Senior pitchers Ray Cohen and Matt O’Donnell started both games respectively and pitched phenomenally, limiting this talented hitting team to only two runs each game. Freshman pitcher Tom Muratore also had an exceptional relief appearance in the second game. In the third game of the series, Lesley came out on top 17-16 in a high scoring, extra innings thriller. Now 8-9, Lesley would need to beat Daniel Webster in their season finale as well as get some help from other teams in the conference in order to get into the playoffs for the second year in a row. To the dismay of many, Lesley earned the third seed in the playoffs after beating Daniel Webster 6-4. Similar to the year before, the team fought valiantly in the conference tournament, only to fall short. Extra innings losses to both Becker and Elms ended the miraculous comeback season for the Lynx.
But there are many encouraging signs. Step by step, Lesley baseball continues to grow and improve as a program. Every single player that has worn a jersey for the team since 2011 has been a piece of the foundation that will forever be a part of the future success of the program. In 2016, fifteen new players will be introduced to the roster, making it the biggest recruiting class yet. Along with this wealth of young talent coming in, an exceptional pitching staff and some key returning position players, the team looks to make some noise in the NECC once again. The 2016 senior captains Casey Blanchard and Kobe Mitchell are confident in taking the Lynx to the conference tournament, and perhaps even further this year. Progression has defined Lesley up until this point, but eventually progression will turn into success, and success into dominance. As Derek Jeter once said, “I love it when people doubt me. It makes me work harder to prove them wrong.”