Baseball: Florida Preview, part I

As the Black Knights roll into the Sunshine State this weekend for their annual Spring break trip, they should view the opening portion of the week as a great opportunity to get healthier with the bats and the fielding.

After their first full practice on grass this season on Friday, (all they've done up until this point is play games outdoors), they open with a split doubleheader on Saturday, a single game Sunday, perhaps a practice on Monday, and then a single game on Tuesday.

Saturday's twin bill matches Army up against the Long Island Blackbirds of the Northeast Conference at 1:30 pm. Everything you need to know about LIU can be summed up in a few stats. Last year the Blackbirds were 10-39 with an RPI of 294 of 302 and so far this season are 1-7 with a -4.9 runs per game scoring differential. The nightcap features Army vs. The Akron Zips from a decent Mid-American Conference. Although not nearly as dismal an opponent as LIU, Akron finished last season 18-33 with a 231 RPI ranking. This year, The Zips are off to a more respectable 5-6 start, but only one of those wins comes against an above .500 ball club, in the form of the 7-6 New Mexico State Aggies, who they went 1-3 against. They have been able to muster some decent pitching performances, however their offense is lacking.

Sunday finds the Black Knights squaring off against the Ivy Leagues, Yale Bulldogs. At the time of this writing, the Bulldogs were 2-0 but were going to start their Spring Break trip in Florida. They were able to dial up 18 runs over those two games, but that's mitigated by it being against a weak UMBC opponent. The Bulldogs will be playing 6 games this week, preceding the matchup with Army, so those repetitions could work strongly in Yale's favor.

With no disrespect intended, this weekend's slate should look like spring training exhibitions where the big leaguers come over and play the AA club. The others teams have some ability and plenty of heart, but are at a whole different level of playing ability. That being said, even Goliaths get knocked off and Army should go in hungry for a good feed, not hoping for an easy meal.

Florida has always been viewed as the stretch run into the Patriot League season. Early season games and national attention are nice, but the conference games are where the rubber meets the road. This year, the Patriot League is starting its season one week later than usual. Will that change the coaches approach to his Florida trip? Probably not.

Florida is a time for several things to happen…

1. Set the rotation. Get your top arms 2 good starts each and continue letting them work their pitch counts upward so that they can go deep into conference games.

2. Find your relievers. Because they play 7 games in 9 days, it's all hands on deck usually for innings. The games are all 9 inning affairs this year, so even if 3 starters go 7 innings each of two starts (odds against all of them going that deep), that leaves 21 innings left to be pitched. With Army's 4th starter sucking up 6 of those innings in the midweek start, that still leaves 15 innings to be divvied up. Without a doubt, you'll see the regulars of Steve Cummings, Logan Lee, and Chris Simpkins, but expect Andy Seaman, Chris Rowley and Will Haga to get a good look also.

3. Groove your swing/catch & throw. The reason those two dissimilar skills are under the same subset, is that the requirement to achieve excellence is the same…repetition. There may be a bit of a method to the madness of playing a weak early weekend schedule, that being, relaxation. Are the coaches dumb like a fox? Is this an opportunity for hitting and fielding to relax and not feel the pressure of a game involving top-flight competition? Either way, the fact is, that these players will be provided an opportunity to, "get it together", outside the constraints of top competition. Confidence cannot be over emphasized in baseball.

Tuesdays game vs. Eastern Illinois has really shifted since first previewed in the preseason. With the whole world expecting EIU to dominate their Ohio Valley conference, the Panthers have disappointed so far with their 1-8 start. Last year found Eastern 33-14 with an RPI of 69. With most of their team coming back, it only seemed logical for them to be the odds on favorite to dominate and even improve on that great record.

It looks very much like a trap game for Army. This is a dangerous ball club, and everyone in baseball is waiting to see if the Panthers suddenly explode from the weeds. With that being said, Eastern's eight losses came at the hands of an 11-1 SE Louisiana, 10-1 Belmont, and 6-3 UAB. The fact that they are 1-8 with only a -1.9 run differential tells you that they've been right there for most of those games, just barely coming out on the short end.

Although Army won't see EIU's ace, neither will EIU see Army's. This will be a matchup of No. 4's and bullpens. If you were the umpiring crew, you'd be hoping the home team brings enough baseballs, because they could be flying out all over the place. The reality is, that Army's No. 4 is highly capable and has a greater probability of dominating the game. Regardless of the record of EIU, count on this to be the toughest test of the Spring up to this point.

This first half of the Florida trip could act as the launching pad to the rest of the season. If Army can feast on the first weekend, get their bats going, continue their mound dominance and begin to field more consistently, the team should start warming up like a big diesel engine that begins breathing hard under the strain of shifting into a higher gear. The crest of the first hill comes on Tuesday we'll get a chance to see if there is more to climb or they can begin to pick up steam.

My prediction… it looks like a great beginning of the Florida trip for Army Baseball.

GO ARMY!

BC

ARMY BASEBALL THIS WEEK

Saturday, Mar. 13, 1:30 p.m. vs. Long Island at Lakeland, Fla.
Saturday, Mar. 13, 5:00 p.m. vs. Akron at Lakeland, Fla.
Sunday, Mar. 14, 3:30 p.m. vs. Yale at Winter Haven, Fla.
Tuesday, Mar. 16, 10:00 a.m. vs. Eastern Illinois, at Lakeland, Fla.

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