I hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day Weekend. Unfortunately, this will be the final blog post for Wessel's Words. For those who are unaware, our season came to an abrupt end last Friday, when we were eliminated from the Atlantic 10 tournament in St. Louis. It's tough to just type that sentence out, let alone come to terms with our season being finished.
Our team had high expectations coming into this year. We sat down as a team in the fall and put together a list of goals that included the following:
- Make the A-10 playoffs
- Win the A-10 regular season title and earn the #1 seed for the conference tournament
- Win 40 games over the course of the year
- Repeat as A-10 champions
- Put ourselves in position to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament
- Win an NCAA Regional
Going into our fall ball season, we felt that these goals were attainable. With the guys we had returning, the amount of experience our team gained – not only in Columbia, SC last year, but the experience we gained in the Atlantic 10 tournament – made us feel that we had a significant advantage over any other A-10 competitor. We also had freshman come in during our fall ball season that showed they could make an immediate impact on our team.
Unfortunately though, before our season even started, we faced the injury bug between Tyler Wilson, Taso Stathopoulos, Martin Figueroa, Jordan Powell and me. Not only did we have injuries, there was some off-the-field stuff too. I won't get into specifics, but those who are close to our team know that we overcame quite a bit this season. We faced adversity head on. When I look back at everything this group of guys overcame in the past six months or so, to a degree, I think we exceeded even our own expectations. Of course, none of this shows up on the stat sheet or in the win-loss column, but there is something to be said about truly coming together as a team and conquering the obstacles that are put in your path. Granted we fell short on a lot of our team goals, but at the same time I couldn't be more proud of the things this squad accomplished.
After losing our entire starting rotation from last year's championship team, we had a team ERA and opponent batting average that was top-25 in the country going into the last two weekends of the regular season.
We put up numbers that URI Baseball has never seen before.
Guys like Mike Corin and Matt O'Neil set new milestones for future Rhode Island Rams. Corin shattered the previous single-season home run record – which was 13 – with 19 dingers on the year, while also batting above .300. O'Neil actually matched the previous home run record (13) while also hitting above .300. Never in the history of our program had two guys combined for more than 23 homers in the same season – and here these guys are, with 32 between the two of them!
Both Corin and O'Neil made the A-10 First Team, as well as the All-New England First Team.
Along with Corin and O'Neil, guys like Jordan Powell, Tyler Barss and Chris Hess also earned All-Conference and All-New England accolades. Hess, who joined Corin and O'Neil on the A-10 First Team, was recognized as the New England Player of the Year. Powell was first-team All-New England and second-team All-Conference while Barss earned second team honors from both the A-10 and the NEIBA.
Freshman pitcher Vitaly Jangols, who put together a year comparable to Tyler Wilson's freshman season, earned a spot on the A-10 All-Rookie Team as well as the All-New England Second Team. Finally, Blaise Whitman earned A-10 All-Academic honors, while also posting career numbers for himself out of the bullpen.
We finished the regular season second in the A-10, and had actually put ourselves in position to win the regular season title going into our final weekend of conference play. We had plenty of close games throughout our season – nine that we lost by just one run, and two that were lost in extra-innings, to be exact. Winning some of those close ones definitely would've brought us close to our goal of a 40-win season.
We reached an RPI ranking as high as 40 during the regular season, which would've given us a decent shot at an at-large bid, if not for losing four of the last five games of the regular season.
With the number of injuries and amount of heartbreak we experienced – both on and off the field – no team in our conference, and possibly the country, can say they fought from the fall all the way to the end of May the way our team did. The heartbreak and adversity we went through brought us closer as a team and made it more than a team; we became a family. And although we did not come out successful in our pursuit of an A-10 championship and an NCAA Regional bid, there is so much to be proud of. This is a season I will never forget.
Finally, I would like to say thank you to my teammates, friends, family and Rhode Island Baseball supporters. The past five years have been the greatest years of my young life. Writing blog posts this year – and hearing all the positive feedback about the posts from former teammates, family members of former teammates, followers of the blog and fans of the teams – has been awesome. I would like to personally thank all of you for the kind words and interest in Wessel's Words.
I told my boys I'd do this as well… I'd like to give a shout-out to my roommates last year: Jon Vazquez, Cam Olson, and even former Rhody Baseball player Ryan Olmo, who were the biggest supporters and fans of our team the past couple of years (4 GK for life).
Lastly, I would like to thank my teammates, coaches, athletic administration, and Rhody Nation. I have made lifelong connections here that I could never have dreamed of coming into my freshman year.
To the guys I graduated with a couple weekends ago – Mike Corin, Martin Figueroa, Jesse Lee, Matt O'Neil and Blaise Whitman – I feel confident in saying that we have left our mark on this program, and have paved the way for the future generations of Rhode Island Rams. With so much to be proud of over the course of our respective careers, leaving behind a legacy with you guys is one of the things that means the most to me.
So, once again, thank you all for taking the time to read my blog posts and welcome me into your weekly routine this past year.
And one last time, forever and always… Go Rhody!
- Ben Wessel