PURCHASE, N.Y. Rocky Pasquale is in his 11th year as coach of Keio Academys baseball team. This season might be his most unique and challenging yet.
For starters, Keio only has 11 players on its roster, only four of whom are returning starters. Four other starters will more than likely be freshmen, and one will be a sophomore.
Keio was moved up to Class B for the first time last season and finished 14-6, with a loss in the quarterfinals of the sectional playoffs. As a member of Class C, Keio Academy of New York regularly made appearances in the state and regional championships.
The Unicorns would have to win four games to win the section championship in Class B, as opposed to two in Class C.
So its no wonder that Pasquale said this will be his most challenging, unique season yet. The coach said the program was in a rebuilding stage when he arrived at Keio. He described the teams current status in a similar way, but added that the usual cycle of success followed by a year or so of struggling just happens to be occurring at the same time as the move to Class B.
Its going to be tough. Weve got our work cut out for us, Pasquale said. Weve got kind of a double whammy. Were hitting that cycle, that natural cycle, but were also up in the B.
Pasquale cannot coach experience. That is something his young players will only acquire with time. But he can help prepare them for the season through a lot of repetition and a lot of teaching, particularly with the pleasant weather that has let them get out onto the field so early in the year.
I can talk about putting the ball in play hard, but when youre inside in the (batting) cage everything looks like a nice line drive, Pasquale said. You go do on-field (batting practice), and you can see that ball dies. If you dont hit the ball well, its going to die at a certain point, and they need to see that in order to make the adjustments.
Pasquale expects the inexperience to make hitting a difficult task for his players. The one advantage he feels they have is that the change to BBCOR bats, which is already in place in college baseball and was mandated by the National Federation of State High School Associations for this season, will not affect his team so much.
The BBCOR bats reduce the speed with which a baseball comes off the bat and lessen the distance the ball travels. The result in college baseball has been a reduction in home runs and runs scored.
I dont think its going to affect us as much as its going to affect some of the other teams, because were used to playing small ball, Pasquale said. We do a lot of hit-and-running and bunting and things like that. Were used to that. Other teams arent, so I think theyre going to feel the effects of it more. We dont hit the ball hard to begin with, so its also going to affect the way we hit the ball, too.
Keio does have some experience on the roster, as the Unicorns return the top two pitchers in the rotation in left-handed, two-time All-Section senior Kento Suga and junior Takumi Yokoyama.
As for the schedule, Pasquale said the games against Valhalla and Rye Neck will likely be the main rivalry games, though he added that his players will be fired up for each opponent.
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