RANDOLPH, NJ- It was unexpected wild ride for first year Head Coach Doug Anderson and the Randolph Rams baseball team in 2015. Anderson inherited a 10-15-1 club from 2014 that was heavy on talent but dramatically underachieved, and righted the ship in 2015 to lead the Rams to a North 1 Group 4 State Sectional title.
The 2015 Randolph Rams Baseball team was also awarded the NJAC team sportsmanship award, and Anderson was named NJAC Coach of the year. Not a bad go around for the first year coach.
“It was an incredible honor being named coach of the year in my first season by my peers. It is something I never expected and I'm extremely lucky and grateful to coach such great kids who are very coachable,” said Rams coach Doug Anderson.
Anderson continued, “I'm extremely proud of the kids. Obviously, other coaches, umpires, parents, fans, and teams noticed how we conduct ourselves on the field. As a coach, it makes you feel like you’re making a difference when your team wins an award like that. It's all about respecting the game, playing "the right way", and being a good person/ teammate.”
After graduating eight seniors, all of whom played significant roles last year, this years’ squad looks to have possibly two seniors starting out of nine positions, meaning many spots will see underclassman in starting roles.
Those underclassmen will need to replace many key cogs in the wheel of last years’ team that were lost to graduation, particularly up the gut as most of the pitching, both middle infield positions, and center field were all vacated.
The infield is solid at the corners where Juniors Jake Barbiere (3B) and Stu Backer (1B) started most of last season, as well as behind the plate, as catcher and team captain Matt Sacco, the only returning senior starter, will be looked at to help steady the young pitching staff.
“Coach (Dan) MacDonald has been emphasizing that our pitchers need to get in a rhythm early on. My job as catcher and captain of this team is to settle down younger guys when things don't go according to plan,” said Sacco. “Not everything will fall into place when they are pitching, they need to learn how to bounce back and find a way to get the next batter out.”
Anderson added, “The pitching rotation will be somewhat of a mystery to start the season with the only two returning arms being Connor Sullivan, and Thomas Ippolito. Those two only have a combined total of 44 innings pitched under their belts at the Varsity level.”
Ippolito pitched primarily in a relief role last season, so while his innings were low, he appeared in multiple games and should be able to draw on that experience.
In the outfield, the Rams hope for significant contributions from rising juniors Chris Flynn, and Jack Carroll, both of whom saw a good amount of playing time last season.
The team will also rely on experience, leadership, and contributions from seniors Steve Schollmeyer (OF), Brian Toscano (P/Util), and Bret Jones (SS), all of whom were named captains along with Sacco.
Anderson will lean on his staff to help his young squad progress, adding “It helps to have the great coaching staff/ assistant coaches I have. (Dan McDonald, and Kenny Anderson) We are always on the same page and have great chemistry. It makes things so much better having them around on a daily basis.”
Although they are young, the core group of sophomores and juniors both achieved success at the start of their high school careers. The Junior class finished their freshman season as league champions with a record of 19-2, while the sophomores ended their freshman campaign last year winning the first ever Morris County Freshman Baseball Championship.
Barbieri explained, “The success of the past two freshmen classes will help contribute greatly to the varsity team this year. We are carrying 24 guys on the roster, and 18 of them are sophomores or juniors. I think that shows the underclassman have a lot of strength and depth that will be valuable to the varsity team this year.”
When asked about the progress of his young team this spring, Anderson stated, “So far I think they have done a good job. Time will ultimately tell, but we have good leadership from the upper classmen which always helps the younger guys adapt faster.
There are a few other key newcomers who Anderson will look to for contributions, including Rob LaPenna -CF, Brendan Lowery - INF, Chris Susini -OF, Chris Doidge -P, and Ryan Mulligan - 2B.
Anderson concluded by stating, “You can't substitute experience, so we will certainly have our bumps in the road throughout the season. However, as long as we keep working hard and keep progressing throughout the season things will turn out fine.”
The Rams open their season Saturday April 2, home against Pequannock at 12 p.m.