Monmouth shuffles, then finds late success

OXFORD – Ask Dean Ehehalt to describe his Monmouth baseball team, and the Hawks’ coach reaches immediately for the abstract.
He doesn’t talk about offense or defense. He talks about intangibles.
“Things certainly haven’t been easy, but we’ve been resilient. We’ve come to play every day,” Ehehalt said.
The Hawks – who lost 12-3 to Pat Harrison’s Ole Miss team at the College Station, Texas Regional in 1999 – were successful on enough days to compile a 32-23 record and win the Northeast Conference tournament and the accompanying automatic bid to the NCAA field of 64.
After losing three of four in the final regular season series against Central Connecticut State, Monmouth showed that resiliency with a three-day run to the title. The resiliency was most visible in the 11th inning in the second round against Sacred Heart. A one-out walk and a strikeout-wild pitch set the table for a game-winning sacrifice fly.
“Last year we had a 37-win team with a lot of seniors. This year we’ve had a lot of kids off that team who used that as a learning experience, and we’ve mixed in some younger kids for a winning formula at the end of the year.”
The formula was less successful in the beginning. Monmouth was swept convincingly at East Carolina, which is now hosting its own regional, to open the season. The Hawks lost three of their next four in Florida, getting a win in three games against Central Florida and losing at Florida Atlantic.
Ultimately a lineup shuffle that moved sophomore Ryan Terry back to third base and inserted freshman Jamie Rosenkranz at shortstop helped the Hawks get going.
“We were searching a little bit, playing some guys at different positions. In early April we made that move, and it’s worked out for us,” Ehehalt said.
Infielder Chris Collazo and outfielder Paul Bottigliero have required less maintenance. They’re seniors who have been around the block and are two of the better offensive players on a team hitting .323 collectively.
Collazo is a contact hitter who leads the team with a .385 average while Bottigliero is a power hitter who leads the team in home runs (17), doubles (16), RBIs (58) and total bases (127).
“Collazo is a really good college baseball player. He won’t wow you when you see him, but he’s very steady. He finds a way to get it done,” Ehehalt said. “Bottigliero didn’t hit with much power last year, but he’s done a good job of keeping his swing simple, and this year it’s worked out.”
Monmouth went 15-11 and tied for fourth in the NEC regular season before beating the top two seeds on the way to the tournament title. Ehehalt knew the Hawks would be a 4 seed somewhere.
“Our pitching hasn’t been as good statistically as it’s been in the past, but we’ve gotten clutch pitching and pitched out of some jams,” he said. “I feel like we’ve played our best baseball down the stretch.”

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal