Ron Maestri believes the biggest thing holding back the 2014 UNO baseball team was timing.
The Privateers finished last season with a 11-38 record, and 2-22 in Southland Conference-play, but 22 of their losses came in games that were decided by two runs or less. While losing that many close games in one year can be disheartening, Maestri said it signifies that his team isn’t far off from being a competitive team in the SLC.
They just have to get hits when the time is right.
“I always said last year, if the game ended in two innings, we would be the national champions,” Maestri said. “ We’d always start off with two or three hits in the first few innings, then we’d end up with four for the game. We’ve talked about it all year, you’ve got to win the war in the beginning, in the middle and at the end.
“To lose 22 games by two runs or less tells you that we’re competing, we just needed to have timely hitting.”
The Privateers open their 2015 season this weekend with a three-game series at South Alabama that begins Friday and ends Sunday.
After a Feb. 18 game at Southern Miss, the Privateers play their home-opener against Alcorn State on Feb. 20. Maestri said playing against a respected program like South Alabama to open the season can be a good way to measure how far the team has come during the offseason.
“They’ve always been a good program historically,” Maestri said. “They have one of the better baseball programs year-in and year-out, so we expect them to be a good ballclub. We’ve got to go in there and put everything together.”
Maestri hopes some of that timely hitting UNO needs this season can start with their star shortstop Sammy Capielano, who was selected as a member of the preseason All-Southland first team. Capielano, who led UNO as a freshman with a .341 batting average, said the Privateers need to have mental fortitude if they are going to come away with more wins in their close games this season.
“It’s all about just being mentally strong,” Capielano said. “It’s a mental game, so we just have to push through mentally as a team and win some of these close games.”
Capielano is the only infielder to return from last season. But despite all of the new faces, Maestri said he believes the additions of University of Louisiana at Lafayette transfer Sam Carriere, LSU-Eunice transfer Ray Veit, junior college transfer Preston Marsh and freshman Jay Robinson can fortify the UNO infield.
Those extra bats will be desperately needed for a lineup that ranked 258th in the country last season with a .247 batting average.
“Our infield is 200 percent better than it was last year,” Maestri said jokingly. “Not only defensively, but offensively as well. We’ve added some speed and a few bats to the lineup, so those guys should help a ton.”
UNO added six pitchers in the offseason to a veteran pitching staff that returns five seniors and a sophomore that combined for 102 appearances last year, and Capielano said that an improved defensive unit and a seasoned pitching group may help UNO with an identity for this season.
“Our defense is going to be very strong this year,” Capielano said. “I think it’s going to be the backbone of our team. We’ve got a bunch of pitchers back this year, so we just want to be a really good defensive team.”