Sophomore starting pitcher, Denny Brady, made his Mercer debut on Sunday, February 19 when the Vikings won in the season opener against the Dukes of Cumberland, 9-6. Brady, a transfer from South Carolina, made it through four solid innings giving up one earned run and five strikeouts.
Brady’s only earned run of the day came in the first inning on an RBI double by Cumberland third baseman, Mitch Walker. But the the Viking offense took over the game, putting up 9 runs off 16 hits giving their transfer pitcher solid run support in his first outing.
When asked for comment about the winning game, Brady said, “As soon as the run scored I said to myself that’s the last one they’re gonna score. I feel like that’s really the mentality you have to have especially when you get to college baseball, because if you worry about that run then they’re gonna take advantage of it.”
“I wouldn’t say I had my best stuff… but the guys behind me are great guys and they’re always pushing me, and it’s hard to throw bad when you got a team of guys on your back.” Brady said.
Cumberland would come back to tie the game 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, but a solo home run by freshman infielder, Osvaldo “Ozzie” Millet, put the Vikings back on top heading into the seventh inning stretch.
“I was looking for a good pitch middle-in that I could do some damage with,” Millet said. “I worked myself into a two strike count, so I was just trying to put the ball into play. The pitcher left his fastball high, I put a good swing to it and the ball left the yard.”
Millet’s home run would spearhead a rally that put the Vikings ahead late for an assuring 9-6 opening day win.
Looking ahead, sixth year head coach, Kevin Kerins will be leading a team with some lofty expectations in 2017 as they try to get back in the NJCAA World Series for the second straight year. According to a poll on NJCAA.org, The Vikings are the third ranked team in Division II.
“We are counting on our sophomores and top end pitching to lead us, the expectations have never been higher and with those expectations comes pressure, how we respond to positives and negatives that come our way throughout the season will determine our success.” Coach Kerins told The VOICE.
Kerins says he believes the key to his team’s success lies in the maturity and experience of his players. With much of the team’s roster having already played deep into the tournament a season ago, the pressure of a big spot is a distant memory.
Sophomore outfielder, Anthony Boselli, agrees with this, saying: “The strength of our lineup I would say is that we just have a lot of experience, and a lot of [offensive] power.”
Roster turnover has been kind to the Vikings this offseason with most of last years starting lineup returning. The team will however have a hole at catcher with Rob Boselli transferring to St. John’s this past fall.
“I think our biggest loss from last year would be Austin Constantini and Rob Boselli, both were captains and tremendous performers under pressure and in post season. Austin is now playing at LaSalle and Rob is playing at St. John’s.” Coach Kerins says.
Defensively the pitching staff will be led by top starters, Brady and sophomore, Andrew DiPiazza.
According to NJCAA.org, DiPiazzi pitched to a tune of a 12-1 record as a starter last year with 109 strikeouts and an ERA of only 1.50. As it stands DiPiazza would be the Vikings opening day starter.
Brady, a transfer from Coastal Carolina, is already committed to playing at Old Dominion in 2018, but will lend his arm to the Vikings in their 2017 campaign.
Coach Kerins say, “We are counting on Andrew Dipiazza, Denny Brady, Anthony Peroni, Erik Bowren, Vinny Vaccone and Jordan Gonzales to be emotional and on-field leaders for us.”
According to NJCAA.org, the team is coming off of a school record 51 win season in 2016, and fell a game away from reaching the championship bracket.
“We all just want to win,” Boselli says. “Last year we finished third in the country, this year we’re all just trying to get back to the World Series and win it.”
But the team still has the rest of the regular season ahead of them before they get that opportunity. They will be tested by a demanding 54 game schedule that features a high degree of competition.
“As a coaching staff we make an effort to play the best teams around the country and also travel and challenge our team. We put an emphasis on our regional/conference games as they get us the opportunity to play in the postseason. Our non region schedule is loaded against talented teams and many of which played in College World Series or Regionals last year,” Kerins says.