By Kirti Chakote
It was just a matter of things coming together at the right time. The Union Baseball team had an historic season, finishing 27-12 (20-6 conference) and setting the record for most wins in program history.
With a strong and focused core of 13 upperclassmen, seven seniors and six juniors who have played together for at least two seasons and a coaching staff that has worked into its groove, the team had the leadership and poise to execute throughout the season.
Leading the way this season as captains were left-handed pitcher and outfielder Phil Kemp ‘13, infielder Dylan Katz-Wicks ‘13, outfielder Tyler Heck ‘13, and catcher David Peretti ‘14. Heck had a remarkable senior season, as he finished as Liberty League Player of the Year, while being ranked 18th nationally in steals and setting the tone for the team in several offensive categories, which include batting average (.415), home runs (3), RBI’s (26), walks (15) and on-base percentage (.500).
Kemp also had a solid season, being awarded Liberty League Honorable Mention and registering the most strikeouts on the squad with 46. Peretti was named to the Liberty League second team with a .279 batting average with 24 RBI’s, 14 walks and six stolen bases.
Along with captains, other critical players to the team’s success included Dane O’Neil ‘14, who was named Liberty League Pitcher of the Year with a 6-1 record as a starter and had an ERA of 1.12 while holding opposing batters to a .208 average. Another notable Liberty League second team honoree is Vincent Esposito ‘14, who compiled a .412 average while hitting a pair of home runs and 18 RBI’s in the leadoff spot for the Dutchmen.
Pitcher Seth Roberts ‘13, was named to the Liberty League honorable mention and held the second-lowest earned run average among all the pitchers for Union with an average of 1.42. These Liberty League recognized pitchers, along with catcher Peretti, were the main reason why the pitching staff had one of the lowest ERAs in Division III ball at 2.27.
“I think the difference for our squad this year is that we had a group of guys that were really focused on winning,” said Peretti. “Things clicked, and we were able to go out and just [win games].”
With these remarkable accolades, including coach Paul Mound, who was named Liberty League Coach of the Year, Union headed into the Liberty League tournament for the first time since 2003 as the number one seed.
In a double-elimination style of play, where each team is guaranteed to play at least two games, Union began the tournament against No. 4 Vassar (17-18-1 overall, 12-14 conference) at Siena Field Thursday afternoon.
Union and Vassar headed into extra-innings after Heck tied the game running in the lone score during the fourth inning. Vassar took an early lead of 2-1 into the top of the 10th. Outfielder, Sam Caruso ‘14 led off the bottom of the inning with an infield single.
Third baseman, Joe Bradlee ‘14 bunted him over to second, and second baseman Anders Goetz ‘15 walked. A passed ball put the runners at second and third, setting the stage for Esposito, who singled to right. After Caruso scored to tie the contest, Goetz scored on a close play at the plate to cap the comeback victory. The game developed into a pitching duel, and fortunately for the Dutchmen, O’Neil outlasted the opponent.
In the second day of tournament play, the Dutchmen split its pair of games. In its first contest against No. 2-ranked RPI (25-13 overall, and 16-19 conference), the team struggled.
With the game tied 1-1, the Engineers scored six runs in the top of the fourth inning to take control and chase Kemp from the ballgame. A hit-by-pitch, single and error on a sacrifice by Kemp loaded the bases with no one out to start the inning. The Dutchmen never made a formidable run and lost 8-1.
Union bounced back in its second game against Vassar later that day. With Union leading 3-1 after seven innings, their opponents loaded the bases and there were two outs in the top of the eighth. But Caruso made a diving catch in center field to end the inning and the threat. Roberts improved to 6-1 with a five hit performance in eight innings. He allowed one earned run and struck out three. After the crucial out by Caruso, the team cruised on to win the game 6-1.
Going into the final day of the tournament, only the No. 1 Union and No. 2 RPI remained. On Sunday, if Union had won two against RPI, the team would have captured its first Liberty League tournament title.
“We need to go in tomorrow and win two,” said Heck. “We owe it to ourselves after what an incredible season we had. There is nothing more that I could want than go out my senior year with the Liberty League crown.”
Unfortunately, things went differently for the regular season champs. The Engineers got to freshman pitcher, Jamie Faber ‘16, early in the first inning as they went up 3-0.
Union could not capitalize in the bottom of the third when it had runners in scoring position at second and third bases with Heck at the plate.
Missed opportunities on the offensive and defensive ends, something quite uncharacteristic to the Dutchmen’s dominant season, cost Union the game, and unfortunately, its season as well.
Although the baseball team did not finish in the manner it wanted to, they should not be disappointed by their results.
The team had an historic season, setting new records for the ball club and their future looks bright. Even without the league title, the seven seniors will certainly have great memories from their accomplishments this past season to take with them.