By Chase Gorski
The 2016 baseball season featured more success for Salisbury University, including capturing the program’s thirteenth Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) championship followed by their seventeenth-straight trip to the Mid-Atlantic regional.
Despite the continued success, there is one specific memory from last season that fueled the team through the offseason—how it ended. Senior catcher Tom LaBriola recalled how the disappointing season finale has stayed with him and made him eager to get back on the field.
“It feels like it was just yesterday we lost in the regional and got sent home, and now we’re back and ready to go again,” LaBriola said. “The atmosphere on the team around practice and in the locker room is very exciting.”
The team has high expectations for the upcoming season, especially head coach Troy Brohawn. However, coach Brohawn, after claiming the first CAC championship since he took over the program, wants the team to enjoy their success.
“Goals have become expectations . . . when you win the regular season they’re used to it,” Brohawn said.
“We have goals of getting back to defend the CAC championship and we have tradition to keep of trying to get to our eighteenth regional,” Brohawn continued. “So, I would say we have goals but they are also expectations in this program.”
The team also knows where it needs to improve. After coming off another great year offensively, coach Brohawn believes that the team’s offense has the ability to outdo their results from the 2016 season. While the offense can exceed expectations, the main focus is on the pitching staff. Despite lowering the team earned-run-average (ERA) to 6.50, coach Brohawn feels that the pitching staff needs to be even better this year.
“We were young last year—I think they developed a ‘bend, don’t break’ attitude,” coach Brohawn said. “These guys got some experience [so] hopefully they will come back a little bit better and a little bit tougher and carry it into the spring this year.”
The pitching staff will be led by returning starter Pete Grasso, who has taken on a bigger role this season. Last season Grasso logged 15 appearances on the mound and ended the season with a 7-2 record and a team-high 55 strikeouts, while also being one of the team’s top players in the field and at the plate.
“[Pete] realizes, as well as we do, that we need him on the mound as healthy as possible,” coach Brohawn explained, while adding that Grasso will still have appearances as an infielder.
Despite the loss of some key senior starters, coach Brohawn believes that they have returning players as well as new additions who will step up where they are needed. These returning players to watch include sophomore first baseman Jay Perry and senior outfielder Robbie Jones. Transfers Simon Palenchar (infield), Justin Meekins (infield), Kyle Canavan (outfield) and Colby Dean (outfield) are also expected to make an impact.
The offense will be headed by LaBriola, who led the team last year in batting average hitting over .400 in 160 at-bats. When asked what goals he has for this season, LaBriola showed where his focus is.
“I just want to do whatever I can to help the team win; I don’t like to set average standards or homerun standards,” LaBriola said. “If I’m doing something that’s helping the team win, that’s a goal for me.”
Although the Sea Gulls have experienced continued success, there is one aspect of their game that can help to take them to the next level this year.
“We just need to be more consistent,” LaBriola explained. “Sometimes it was hit-or-miss with us . . . if we could just be more consistent and play the baseball we’re always used to, we will have no problem.”
The Sea Gulls have also received various preseason recognitions, including in the CAC coaches poll which voted the defending champions to repeat this upcoming season as conference champs. The team will also begin the 2017 campaign ranked by D3baseball.com as the No. 24 team in the country.
Salisbury continues their season with matchups this week against Virginia Wesleyan and Cortland State. The players and coaches all seem to share the same eagerness and excitement to get back onto the field and compete together. One thing is for sure: there are great things to come from this 2017 Sea Gulls team.