Story written by Tom King, Nashua Telegraph / Posted to Rivierathletics.com by Anthony Perry, Rivier University Sports Information Director
NASHUA – The Rivier University baseball coaching staff are using an old newspaper philosophy as they move ahead this season and beyond:
Thus the Raiders are trying to get more New Hampshire players into their program. This year's team has 10 freshmen, four from New Hampshire of which two are from the area – former Nashua South catcher A.J. Mele and former Merrimack pitcher Jake Mainey. The other two are from Salem – outfielder James Desmond and pitcher Corey Cochran.
"It's always great to have local kids," Raiders coach Anthony Perry said. "I'm a little biased as I'm local-ish. But they get it, they know what baseball is like in New England, having to find fields, change practice times, game schedules, etc. But having that local flavor is key, and it's something myself and my associate head coach, Louie Bernardini, set out to do this past year."
Mele, the former Panther, has been a huge plus as all three of Perry's catchers are freshmen. "He's really taken charge," Perry said. "I like having the young catchers, because being a former catcher, I can train them the way I want them to be."
And Mele is holding his own at the plate, hitting .269 at last look. Mainey, meanwhile, has picked up one of the Raiders' three wins in relief, while Cochran has two wins, including a complete game shutout over Baruch College, with a 2.25 earned run average.
"Obviously you're as good as you're pitching," Perry said. "We've got all good arms out there. It's the experience and learning that they need, because of the 12 pitchers we have, seven are freshmen."
Flanagan is one of just four seniors on the Raiders, and one of them, infielder Jorge Martinez out of Methuen, Mass., leads them in hitting at .342 at last look. Meanwhile, starting center fielder Fred Kazalski, a sophomore out of Dracut, Mass., is second in hitting (.311) but leads the team in RBIs with 12.
"I like their approach at the plate," Perry said of the duo. "Jorge is one of our guys that bought in from Day One, and the same with Fred, who hit .310 for us last year."
In fact, Kazalski was hitting leadoff but was moved to third in the order due to his run production. The Raiders were struggling otherwise at the plate at a team average of .202, but Perry says they haven't forgotten about their mission – make opposing pitchers work.
"Our stats don't reflect our approach at the plate," he said. "But we have a state QABs, or quality at bats, and that's what's driving us. It's the ability to make pitchers throw at least six pitches per at-bat. We may strike out, but we'll make them work and get into their bullpen. We've done a good job at that."
It's a young team, and as Perry says, "What we need to get better at is the overall experience." The Raiders did a season opening spring break trip to Fort Meyers, Fla., and in their first game against Thiel College of Greenville, Pa., they got plastered 26-6. But Perry saw something he liked, believe it or not.
"Even though we were getting smoked, we kept working, we kept encouraging each other and supporting each other," Perry said. "And we kept competing, not talking about where we were going to dinner that night, etc.
"The hallmark of a good team is keeping good character and good work ethic. That's what we as a staff have focused on, kids who are here for the right reasons.That's good to see from a coaching perspective."
The Raiders, who hope to get into Holman Stadium when it's ready, have played a few of their games in the region at the New England Baseball Complex in Northborough, Mass. They begin conference play in Providence, R.I.on Saturday at Johnson & Wales. They're one of nine Great Northeast Athletic Conference teams battling for six spots.
"We're hoping to get one of those last spots," Perry said. "All we can do is take care of business, especially against the teams we'll be fighting with for those spots. With such a young team, it's simply one game at a time."