That is the message Mike Carver has conveyed to his players on the Southold High School baseball team.
A season can get away from a team real quickly if it isn’t careful. The First Settlers found that out the hard way.
Last year was supposed to bring a season of promise to the Southolders, whose roster was stocked full of talent — and expectations. Yet, not even a slow start alarmed the First Settlers too much. Slow starts have become something of a team tradition. The only thing was, this slow start extended deep into the season. The First Settlers went through a dreadful stretch of nine games over 33 days without a win. Mike Carver, who is in his 14th year coaching the team, has never experienced a drought of that duration before.
“We got off to a slow start,” junior shortstop Noah Mina said. “We all kept telling ourselves we’re going to speed up, but it never happened.”
Southold finished with a disappointing 4-11 record when some might have predicted something closer to 11-4.
“It was definitely the most underachieving season,” Carver said. “There’s no doubt about it. Nobody thought that season was going to unfold the way it did, but it’s like a good horse race. In a short season you got to be out of the gate quick, and we weren’t.”
Three of Southold’s wins came in a season-ending three-game series against another four-win team, Greenport.
“It was just a disappointing season,” said Alex Poliwoda, a senior who pitches and plays third base. “Towards the end, we started getting things together, but it turned out to be too late.”
What went wrong?
“A lack of mental preparation,” Carver said. “They didn’t come out ready the first day. That’s all I can say. It was mental. It definitely wasn’t physical.”
One might say it was a season to forget, but that isn’t the message Carver wants to deliver to his players as they prepare for the 2015 season. He wants them to remember how all those losses felt, “how it felt last year not to be where we should have been, what could have been.”
The pain of last season makes for good motivation this year. None of the First Settlers want to see a repeat of what they went through in 2014.
“No one who was on the team last year who is on the team now is going to want to finish 4 and 11 again,” said senior center fielder Shayne Johnson.
Once again, the First Settlers have talented players to work with. Poliwoda and Mina were both all-league selections last year. Poliwoda will anchor the starting pitching rotation. “Any game he’s on the mound, I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t win that game,” said Carver.
Carver said the infield doesn’t have a weak spot, with Poliwoda, Pat McFarland, Minah, Sean Moran and Bryan Patchell. The team has two ready-made catchers in Moran and Greg Gehring. Carver said he has a “complete team” that should be of playoff caliber. Perhaps the biggest questions to be addressed during the preseason is finding out who will play in the corner outfield positions.
The motivation factor could play into Southold’s favor.
“The guys that are back are hungry,” Carver said. “These guys, so far, they seem focused and ready to win.”
Players say they have noticed more intensity during preseason practices.
“We’re looking good so far,” Mina said. “We got a solid rotation, our pitching. Our fielders are looking sharp. I think we’re ready to go.”