Around the Bases: ‘Fairleigh’ Impressive Turnaround Linked to Defensive Improvement plus Others Diamond News

It’s right there on YouTube

Amidst the uploaded videos of crazy cats and rebellious babies, Episode 2 of FDU Knights Baseball Roundup sits in the archives.

It was filmed right before Gary Puccio and Co. left for Davidson where they opened up the 2012 season back on February 25.

Six minutes and a few seconds into the episode, Puccio summed up the Knights’ season before it even started. 

When host Gavin Nevill asked the skipper, who was entering his second season at FDU, what some of his team’s strengths will be, the first words out of Puccio’s mouth were, “I think we’re going to play very good defense. I’ve challenged them to be Top 15 in the country in fielding percentage.

“I believe we are not going to beat ourselves.  We’re going to catch the ball, we’re going to hit the cut-off man, we’re going to do the right things.”

Despite the fact that Puccio’s roster includes 16 freshmen, a number of whom have taken on significant roles, the Knights have spent the first 43 games of the 2012 season making their head coach sound like North Jersey’s version of Nostradamus.

Just as Puccio predicted, Fairleigh Dickinson is playing defense, and playing it as well as any team in the Northeast Conference.

No NEC team has made fewer errors than the Knights (42), who lead the nine-team league in fielding percentage (.973).

The team’s defensive standing contrasts starkly with its standing in previous years, and the same can be said for the team’s win total.

Rp_primary_pooch201

Nostradamus? No, That’s Gary Puccio, whose preseason predicition of an improved Knights’ defense has come to fruition…

Fairleigh Dickinson is in the midst of a breakout season.

Having not qualified for postseason play since 1999, the Knights are on the cusp of ending that drought.  FDU (15-9 NEC) sits in third place and holds a 3.0-game playoff cushion with eight games remaining.

Fairleigh Dickinson has already long surpassed last year’s win totals, both overall and in conference, and is now eyeing record territory.

The Knights’ 21 overall wins are their most since 1999 when they won 22 games, while their 15 NEC wins are the most since the 1994 season when they went 15-6 in conference play.

There are obviously a lot of factors that play into a team’s success, but there is no denying that defense has something to do with this Fairleigh impressive turnaround.

In the two seasons prior to Puccio’s arrival, FDU averaged 1.7 errors per ballgame and had a combined win-loss record of 32-72.  In 2010, the final season before the man known informally as “Pooch” took over, the Knights ranked dead last in the NEC in fielding percentage.

Fast forward to 2012, and the Knights are averaging fewer than one error (0.98/g) per game played.  And while, they are near the top of the standings in terms of wins, they are at the very top in terms of fielding percentage.

Fewer errors and more wins are exactly what the skipper envisioned back in February, and so far his team has made that vision a reality.

Lights-Out Pat
The accolades began pouring in only hours after he recorded his fourth double-digit strikeout game of the season.  Fanning more batters in a single game than any NEC pitcher since 2004, Monmouth’s Pat Light picked up the NEC Pitcher of the Week award on Monday morning.  Then, later in the day, as reported here on Overtime!, Light was named one of five Louisville Slugger National Players of the Week by Collegiate Baseball News.  Now, Light can say he is one of 60 players in the running for the Golden Spikes Award.  USA Baseball added Light’s name to the watch list on Tuesday, May 1, making him an official candidate for the award given to the top amateur baseball player in the country. In 11 starts this season, the Garden State product, who played his high school ball in New Jersey’s Shore Conference, owns a 7-3 record with a 2.69 ERA.  He has struck out 81 batters and walked only 11 over 80.1 innings. His WHIP is a miniscule 0.97. …

For as dominant as Light has been at times this season, the 6-foot-6 righty is, surprisingly, not the NEC leader in ERA. There are actually three men ahead of Monmouth’s ace in that category, two of whom have sub-2.00 ERAs. Wagner righty Ryan Van Spronsen leads the circuit with a 1.73 ERA with Bryant’s Peter Kelich (1.79) only slightly off that pace. Bryant’s Craig Schlitter (2.64) also stands in between Light and the league leader.

Kresky Carries Big Stick
FDU veteran shortstop Ryan Kresky has the inside track on the NEC’s batting title.  The Knights’ co-captain entered the month of May hitting .386 and holding a 30-point lead over second-place occupant John Murphy (Sacred Heart). Kreksy, another product of the fertile grounds of the Garden State (Freehold, NJ), also leads the NEC in on-base percentage (.511) and slugging (.586) while ranking second in runs scored (34).  More importantly, Kresky has played his part in FDU’s defensive renaissance.  Starting every game at short, Kresky has made only eight miscues in 219 chances and has been a part of 25 double plays in 43 games.

Showdown at the Shore
With only two weekends of conference play remaining, the top-two teams in the NEC standings will meet in West Long Branch for a four-game set this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Sitting 1.0 game back of first place, Monmouth will welcome league leader Bryant to the Jersey Shore.  The Hawks, who have won 30 games for the second season in a row, will look to prevent the Bulldogs from reaching the 30-win mark for the third time in three seasons as a NEC member.  Bryant, which went 64-45 over its first two seasons as a league member, are 28-18 this season and is currently on pace to capture its second NEC regular season crown in three years. …

Keep an eye of the LIU Brooklyn-Quinnipiac series as the Blackbirds look to remain alive in the postseason race. LIU, which accounted for a tremendous turnaround in 2011 and made the NEC Tournament as a result, currently sits seventh in the standings and must leap-frog two teams to secure a playoff berth.  The Blackbirds (8-16) will hope to start a late-season run against the Bobcats.

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