AU’s baseball team will travel to Florida over spring break to compete in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. The Ravens will play in eight games against teams from all around the country.
The annual team trip to Florida provides not only a test of the team’s skill on the diamond, but also gives the players and coaches a chance to bond. Head coach Matt Bair has both of these things in mind as the team prepares to make the week-long trip.
“First and foremost, our spring trip to Florida is a great opportunity for all of us to bond as a team and get to know each other better, as well as compete at a high level with teams throughout the country,” said Bair. “Many of our guys’ greatest memories of their time at AU will come from this spring trip. I would say it provides us a great opportunity to prepare for the upcoming conference season. We are able to play a lot of players throughout the week while in Florida, and we get to mix and match a lot of different lineups and players at different positions.”
Up to this point in the season, the Ravens have played all of their home games at Grand Park in Westfield because of the ongoing renovations at Don Brandon Field. Many games have also been postponed due to inclimate weather. The trip to Florida provides the players with a chance to play in some sunshine and with consistency in the schedule.
The freshmen will be experiencing their first team trip to Florida. Many are excited, but the coaching staff will also get their first good look at some of the new players.
“I believe that this trip will strengthen the tight bonds this team has on and off the field, and it will build the team comradery even more,” said freshman pitcher Parker Lamb. “I’m proud to say that everyone on the team is my brother, and we would do anything for each other. I’m looking forward to playing competitive baseball against some of the best Division-III schools in the country.”
The eight games played over a six-day period will help prepare the Ravens for their conference season, which consists of several back-to-backs and weeks with four or five games. With such a tight schedule, finding depth over the trip will be key.
“It provides us a great stage to evaluate our talent across the board,” said Bair. “It also tells us what lineups and pitching rotations seem to work and compliment each other best. That said, it can be a very challenging week from a ‘staying healthy’ perspective.
“This is typically the first time throughout the year that their bodies will be stress tested across a large number of games over a short period of time. One of our biggest challenges each year is to come out of the Florida trip healthy, and at the same time have made improvements while firing on all cylinders.”
The team currently sits at 3-1 with their only loss coming in the first game of a double header against Calvin College. Most of the Ravens’ runs have come early in games. So far, 19 of the team’s 22 runs have come in the first five innings. Over the break, they will look to build on their offensive consistency while maintaining the high level of pitching they’ve shown through their first month of play.
“The players and coaches have done a great job maintaining energy and focus during our practice time as well as their intensity during our strength and conditioning,” Bair said about the team’s early success. “Like any season, we will have to play well in all phases of the game and not get caught up in who we are competing against.
We have been plagued by a tough winter that has not given us much opportunity outside, and this can really challenge your mental toughness as a team. That said, the games we have been able to play have been promising thus far.
“With the strength of schedule we have put together, the players and our staff will need to continue to perform at a high level as well as reflect a high level maturity. This can always be a big hurdle for a young team, but time and time again these guys prove to me they are ready to handle the task at hand.”
Last season, the Ravens went down to Florida with a 4-4 record. They went 5-5 on the trip, but came alive during the conference season going 11-7 in the HCAC and finishing second in the conference tournament after falling to Franklin in the championship game.
This season, the team makes the trip to Florida with a little less experience on the season. They hope to build on their hot start and carry it into HCAC play.
Five of the teams’ first nine games have been postponed due to the long winter this year. Another game against Butler, which was scheduled to be played last week, was moved to after spring break.
The Ravens were picked to finish second in the conference this year. They currently sit in second place, just one game behind Defiance. The two teams will play to kick off HCAC play at the end of March.