It was back to basics. That is what Day 1 of preseason practice is for.
Toward the end of their first practice on Monday afternoon, Southold High School baseball players ran the bases. First they sprinted past the first-base bag, as if trying to beat out an infield single. Then they worked on taking the appropriate angle so they caught the inside of the first-base bag with their right foot while dashing to second base for a double. And then, perhaps for the fun of it, they were asked to show their home-run trot as they jogged around the bases.
Even a long journey begins with small steps.
The base-running work can be seen as an effort to improve an area that stands room for improvement. In grading himself on his coaching in the base-running department last season, Mike Carver gave himself a “D”, saying he had focused more on the infield. He noted that base-running mistakes cost the First Settlers. Things such as getting picked off first base and not stretching secondary leads made a difference. “That killed us in a couple of games last year,” he said.
Southold went 9-11 with a young team last season, failing to qualify for the playoffs by two games. It was the second straight year in which the First Settlers missed out on the postseason. But they finished the season strong, winning four of their last five games.
The team remains largely intact, with Andrew Conway the only player from last year who has moved on. Not only that, but Carver said the team has improved and he has one of the best infields he has coached in his 11 years with the team.
“Promising, definitely promising,” said senior Kyle Clausen, who can play pitcher, shortstop or catcher. “… I think it will definitely show in the games now that everyone is a little more confident. Hopefully we can [convert] that into wins.”
Smart base running would help.
Although running the bases is a part of the game that is sometimes overlooked, it is important, nonetheless. It can mean the difference between scoring and not scoring, the difference between winning and losing.
“It’s vital,” said Will Fujita, a senior pitcher/outfielder/infielder. “You’re going to go into a game and you’re going to want to get on base no matter what, whether it’s a walk, whether you get hit by a pitch, whether you get a single, a double, whatever. The most important thing about that, though, is just keeping your cool on the base. You’re going to want to be aggressive in certain situations, but you’re also going to want to know when to take your foot off the gas pedal.”
Clausen said: “Base running keeps you in the game, always. Dumb base running can get you out of a game and smart base running can get you back in a game.”
Carver said Southold is faster this year, and with that speed comes options.
In addition to that, Southold seems to have a nice mix of experience and youth. With infielder Luke Hokanson, Clausen and Fujita, it has three seniors who were all-league players last year.
Carver said he is excited about his corps of returning sophomores, which includes Anthony Esposito, Anthony Fedele, Rob Mahony and Matt Stepnoski. “I expect big things from them,” said the coach.
Fedele pitched a one-hitter against Port Jefferson last year, and Mahoney had six runs batted in versus Greenport in the last game of the season. Also back are seniors Chris Bolettieri, Zach Depaulis, Matt Reilly and Alex Sinclair.
They should all help Southold in Suffolk County’s newly formed League IX.
The first steps toward the new season, which will start with a league game at Smithtown Christian on March 22, were taken Monday.
“It’s the beginning of the end” for the seniors, Fujita said. “I want to make it mean something.”
Varsity and junior varsity hopefuls spent a good deal of the practice fielding, catching and running.
“I wanted to see who could field a ground ball and who could catch a fly ball today,” Carver said. “That’s what today was all about.”
Carver said figuring out the lineup and batting order between now and March 22 is one of the big issues he is facing. “I have a good idea who my starters are going to be, but I’m not sure what positions they’re going to play, let’s put it that way,” he said. “There may be a couple of surprises.”