By Mike McMahon
---- — NORTH ANDOVER —With 17 games still to go in the regular season, Merrimack College has already surpassed its win total from both 2012 and 2011.
At 18-8, and a perfect 4-0 in the Northeast-10, the Warriors, who were picked to finish seventh by the conference coaches, are tied for first in the Northeast Division and hold the second best overall record of any team in the league, behind only undefeated Franklin Pierce.
For the Warriors, their path to success started with fall scrimmages. That’s when the veteran-laden group started winning games, and confidence grew.
The realization that this could be a special season on the diamond motivated the group through the dog days of winter workouts.
“We worked all winter because I think we felt it,” said senior captain and pitcher/DH Joe Mantoni. “There is no question that this is, physically, the best team I’ve been a part of in terms of talent at Merrimack and I think that this might be one of the more talented teams at Merrimack in some time.
“Then mentally we have all bought in and believe in ourselves and each other. We believe in Coach (Jim) Martin’s system. We’re rolling right now and it feels great.”
Senior Casey Cotter leads the Warriors with a .451 batting average and Mantoni leads the team with 28 runs batted in. As a team, Merrimack is batting .313 while opponents have batted just .254 as Merrimack’s pitchers boast a team earned-run average of 3.01, led by junior Alek Morency, who has an ERA of 1.08 through six starts.
For comparison, the Warriors hit .244 as a team last season and just .228 the year before that.
Opposing pitchers have an ERA of 6.23 against the Warriors and Merrimack’s team on-base percentage is an eye-popping .406.
“We’re not allowing the big inning,” Martin said.
“It’s the little things, but we’re making sure we get 18 quality at-bats in a game, getting after pitches in the zone and letting our defense to the job and just making routine plays. We’re taking care of those key areas and it’s been the main components for us. Just our approach of controlling what we can control by being mentally tough.”
While it hasn’t seemed to happen yet, there will be struggles at some point for the Warriors.
As they enter a stretch where they’ll play the iron of the NE-10 in the coming weeks, Merrimack’s philosophy of staying mentally tough will become even more important.
“You’ll have struggles,” Mantoni said. “It’s a long season. The biggest thing we talk about is taking things in stride and having short memories. You can’t get too high with the highs and too low with the lows.”
It’s a long and short season at the same time. The Warriors only have a little over two months to play their regular season. With weather often an issue, it’s not uncommon for Merrimack, or any other team in the Northeast, to play seven or even eight games over the course of a week with multiple double-headers.
“If you’re struggling it’s easy for things to snowball,” Martin said.
“It can be hard to get out of that rut when you have no time off, really. At the same time, if you’re playing well, it’s easy to get on a roll and that’s been part of it with us to start the year, I think. We’re playing well, we’re working hard, and things start to roll in a good way.”
Opposing pitchers have an ERA of 6.23 against the Warriors and Merrimack's team on-base percentage is an eye-popping .406.