Rowan Baseball goes into 2023 campaign with NJAC Championship aspirations

Ryan Murphy steps into the batters box. Murphy looks to build off last year's strong season. Sunday, April 10, 2022. - Multimedia Editor / Lee Kotzen

Rowan baseball’s 2022 season was one to remember.

In Head Coach Mike Dickson’s eighth season leading the Profs, he led the team to a 33-10 record, their most wins in a single season since 2018. The brown and gold also boasted a 16-2 record within the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC), capturing their fourth consecutive regular season title.

Additionally, last year’s squad won the NCAA Division III Regionals and came just shy of taking down the eventual Division III champion Eastern Connecticut State in the NCAA Super Regional.

The only thing that is missing from that resume is the NJAC Championship.

“There’s always things to prove if you have a new team,” Coach Dickson said. “I think there’s 15 new players on the team that hasn’t won a conference championship, haven’t won regionals, haven’t been to the College World Series. Year in and year out, each team is different and you have to worry about one game at a time in a sense. Obviously, we have team goals to reach those high aspirations every year, but you gotta win one game at a time.”

This year’s team will be returning a number of veterans that were key contributors to last season’s success, such as Ryan Murphy, Anthony Schooley, Chris Curcio, Tyler Cannon, Mike Shannon and Jason O’Neill, just to name a few. However, the Profs lost two vital players from last year’s team — catcher Ryan Mostrangeli and left-handed ace Eli Atiya.

Coach Dickson has a lengthy list of players whom he expects to step up following the duo’s departure, including some select transfers who have yet to appear in a game for the Profs.

“Right off the bat, I think Zach Grace is a legitimate number one option coming in from Wake Forest. He’s a pro prospect,” Coach Dickson said. “I think our pitching staff is deeper this year with the additions of Matt Choi and Jake Reese as transfers, returning guys in the back-end, between [Christian] Bascunan, [Mike] Shannon, Sean Colbert’s a transfer who I think will help us out and Dylan Maria is set to have a better year than last year both offensively and on the mound.”

Although those are two huge losses, Murphy is ecstatic with the team’s additions in the offseason.

“We got a lot of key guys that came in,” Murphy said. “Zach Grace, for one, from Wake Forest, Phil Sedalids from Salem County. I think we got a lot of key guys coming in that can play their roles, compete and play some ball. We’re ready to go.”

Murphy established himself as a true five-tool player with his play in the 2022 campaign. The senior right fielder from Reading, PA slashed .380/.447/.636 at the plate, adding nine home runs, 51 RBI, 27 walks, 10 doubles, five triples, seven sacrifice flies and eight stolen bases. Murphy also shone in his daily right-field position with a 98.5 fielding percentage, committing just two errors.

Murphy reaped the benefits of those numbers in the offseason, receiving 2023 Preseason All-America Second-Team honors. However, his work as a Prof is nowhere near complete, and the slugger shared his mindset heading into the season.

“It’s a lot about relaxation and preparation,” Murphy said. “The more relaxed and slowed down the game is to you, the easier it becomes. The more you speed it up, the worse it becomes and the worse your head gets. Just slow it down, and make it fun.”

Circling back to the NJAC, Rowan got sent home early in last year’s playoff tournament, suffering two shocking losses to the likes of Ramapo and The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). The Road Runners initially defeated the Profs in a slugfest, 16-13, followed by another stunning performance in a 9-0 loss to the Lions that eliminated the Profs.

Murphy shared his thoughts about how the team will approach the conference playoffs this season in order to avoid another letdown. 

“This year we’re looking to seal up some of those little mishaps and those little areas that throw teams away. I think if we can execute that, we’ll be fine.” Murphy said. “Everybody knows that when you go into NJACs, there’s nerves. It’s a very nerve-wracking thing, and like I said, you slow the game down. If you don’t speed it up and make it fast, it’s a lot easier. I think a lot of last year was speeding it up, especially the first game of the playoffs.”

Heading into the 2023 season, the Profs have been voted NJAC preseason favorites by the 10 head coaches within the conference. Rowan received seven out of 10 first-place votes, with last year’s conference champion William Paterson University finishing in second place with the remaining three first-place votes.

Although they are considered the favorite, Murphy knows the quest for a conference title will be a dogfight.

“The NJAC eats each other, so as long as you’re winning games, and every weekend you go in with the mentality that you’re taking four, because there’s four league games every week, that’s just what you wanna do,” Murphy said. “I would definitely say those four though — Kean, William Paterson, TCNJ, and Ramapo — they all wanna compete, everyone wants to compete. It’s good this year, because I feel like William Paterson has a lot of guys back, so does Kean.”

The team will begin their season on Saturday, March 4, with a trip to Virginia to face Virginia Wesleyan University in a three-game weekend series, followed by nine games in 10 days at the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational.

Coach Dickson believes the opening stretch will be a measuring stick as to where the Profs currently are as a team.

“Obviously, going down to Virginia Wesleyan, they’re already gonna be six or seven games in, they’ve been outside practicing on their field while we’ve been inside, so those matchups are always difficult when you have teams down south who have just been outside,” Coach Dickson said. “And then going down to Florida, trying to manage nine games in ten days is a lot on position players and pitchers day in and day out. Really, the key to that is the guys on the mound giving us quality starts. We’re trying to win as many games as we can down there.”

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