Baseball laces up for trips to Beckley and Tucson

The Allegheny baseball team will swing their way into the 2023 regular season with road trips to Beckley, West Virginia, and Tucson, Arizona. The Gators will play in a three-game set against John Carroll University on Saturday, Feb. 25, and Sunday, Feb. 26, at Linda K. Epling Stadium. Following the season opening series, they will fly across the country to play at the Kino Sports Complex in Tucson.

The pandemic put strains on the team’s travel ability over the past several years, which meant Tucson — a regular spring break trip for the team — was put on hold. It is the first time they will return since the 2019 season, meaning all team members across the board will experience it for the first time.

“We are definitely excited for it,” said team captain Chase Chodkowski, ’23. “We play in warm weather for the first time in probably four years, but it is another good experience to bond with the guys.”

The Gators will play a variety of opponents, including Minnesota’s Gustavus Adolphus and Bethany Lutheran, California’s Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Ohio’s Otterbein across eight games beginning on Saturday, March 4. The Gators will take a 40-man roster on the trip, exactly half of which are upperclassmen.

Chodkowski wants to soak in the experience after his first two seasons were a whirlwind of disappointment and shortened campaigns.

“One last year with the boys,” Chodkowski said. “We all get to play together, it will be an ‘older guy’ led team, and hopefully we can do some great things.”

Allegheny is ranked third in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference for the preseason rankings this spring. They made their return to PAC in the fall of 2022 after previously leaving to join the North Coast Athletic Conference in 1984, where they remained until the switch back. Last year, Allegheny finished 24-15, narrowly missing the playoffs.

Upon the Gators’ arrival back home from Arizona, they will compete in a non-conference doubleheader matchup against Houghton University on March 18. It will be the first time competing on the newly-renovated Robert Garbark field, which features an infield composed of artificial turf.

“Everything is restarting in a good way,” said center fielder Ryan Dougherty, ’24. “I am excited to see the alumni (who donated to the program) and the success that we think we will have this year.”

Dougherty has started since his first year with the Gators, and was named to the NCAC All-East team in 2021. He has one of the best gloves in all of Division III baseball, as has committed only one error in his career on the field: in a game against Wooster last season the ball took a bad hop off the fence which gave Dougherty trouble with gaining possession. It was the scorer’s decision to credit him with the error when the baserunner advanced to third base due to the bad hop, but the call was controversial at the time.

Nevertheless, Dougherty’s superiority in the outfield comes from his read off of the bat. He said he uses the sound of the contact to determine his path of direction. This helps him gauge whether he should take an immediate step back or come in to make the catch.

“I work on getting a good first step and reading the ball of the bat,” Dougherty said. “(The sound) depends on whether it is a lefty or righty hitter. Whenever you hear a louder sound you know they barrelled it and that you have to run further back. If you hear they do not get all of it, you know it is a ball that will slice away from you, or that you will have to come in.”

During batting practice, Dougherty and the rest of the outfielders — the “O-gang” — will regularly head to the grass and shag fly balls. They take the reps seriously, which allows for more practice and a better simulation of what a game-styled hit would look like as opposed to a ball off of a fungo bat.

Another key element that could make or break the Gators’ season is the flamethrowers. Conor Deasy, ’23, Daniel Morgano, ’23, and Bobby Kusimsky, ’23, are all heading into their final season on the bump after leading the pitching staff for the past three seasons. Chodkowski referred to them as a “three-headed dragon.”

“We all compete, we push each other every day, we are always competing for that title of ‘ace,’” Kusinsky said. “It helps us push each other — push us in practice and push us during the games. Whenever one of us is pitching the other two are right up there on the fence always cheering, encouraging, helping each other out during the games, trying to keep each other level headed.”

Kusinsky held the lowest ERA on the team last year. He was an All-NCAC Honorable Mention, and is a pivotal part of the Gators roster. His elite control and sharp movement on the breaking stuff allows him to make hitters look silly. He has a high spin rate on his fastball, which makes it appear to come in significantly faster than it shows on the gun. Though he sits in the mid- to upper-80s, Kusinsky deceptively brings the heat that can seem like it is in the 90s.

The question remains, who will be the fourth starter for Allegheny this year? Out of the 310.1 total innings pitched last year, 177 of those were soaked up by the three aforementioned arms.
Brent Herrmann, ’24, was next in line with 19.2 innings pitched a year ago. He has been working on the hill as a starter throughout the fall season and could be the guy to fill that role. If Herrmann gets the job, he will also provide the starting rotation with a southpaw arm to mix it up for the Gators.

The team has a lot to prove. They received numerous top-25 votes last year, but never made the official list. In a new conference with a new field, the team hopes to show out and make some noise with first pitch right around the corner.

“Anything short of a PAC Championship (would be disappointing),” Chodkowski said. “ It is very realistic for us and that is what we are setting our eyes on. That is our goal.”