(Photo courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics) “River Hawks player Jacob Humphrey up at bat in 2022.”
Although real winter weather never really showed up this year, spring is right around the corner, as is baseball season. With last year’s loss in the America East championship game still fresh in the minds of the River Hawks, head coach Ken Harring’s team has used the sting of defeat as a catalyst for progress in fall ball and in their four-week winter boot camp. Before they begin their season against the Gamecocks later this week, let’s take a look at the names, stats and storylines heading into the 2023 baseball season.
Before looking ahead, let’s talk about the 2022 campaign, where last year’s River Hawks finished surprisingly at 28-30 overall and 15-15 in conference play. The team had a relentless offense, but was haunted by all too frequent defensive collapses and head-scratching tactical decisions from the top step of the dugout. At the plate, the River Hawks slashed .279/.387/.423, hit 50 home runs and were seventh in the nation with 134 stolen bases; on the mound, they pitched to a staggering 5.69 ERA in 58 games.
Much of last year’s offensive core stayed on this year. Team MVP outfielder Gerry Siracusa returns for his fifth season patrolling the (relatively) cavernous power alleys of LeLacheur Park.
Sophomore outfielder Jacob Humphrey also returns, having been second in the nation in stolen bases with 46 while only getting caught once. Grad student infielder Bobby Gallagher helped the run game as well, swiping 37 bags in 43 attempts.
In the field, junior shortstop Fritz Genther was an absolute black hole last season while also making a solid contribution with the bat, slashing .290/.388/.516.
Starting pitchers LJ Keevan and Joshua Becker return to the rotation, likely working Friday and Saturday games, respectively. Keevan (a sophomore left-handed pitcher) pitched to the tune of a 4.41 ERA in conference play last season, and it’s easy to see why; he added a few clicks to his fastball (sitting 85-88) as well as attacking all parts of the zone with a solid slider and a plus changeup.
Becker was probably the most impressive pitcher for the River Hawks last year, throwing a five-pitch mix that included the only (but still rarely used) cutter on the staff. Last year, he had a 5.32 ERA in 94 ⅔ innings. Coming into his last season in Lowell, he looks as good as ever and will likely lead the charge on the mound.
Most of the losses due to graduation and the transfer portal came from the pitching staff. The setup tandem of pitchers Sal Fusco and Michael Quigley both went out in search of greener pastures at Villanova and UConn, respectively. Key Sunday starting pitcher Ryan Towle finished his time in Lowell last season, throwing 76 innings and posting an ERA of 5.92. The biggest injury loss on the team is midweek starting pitcher Brendan Holland, a sophomore who underwent Tommy John surgery over the winter.
Even with the losses of four key players, the team looks to be in a solid position heading into the season. Offensively, they should be as strong, if not stronger, than they were last year. Pitching wise, the squad looks better than last year, but don’t expect anything spectacular once the starter is pulled. The most impressive thing about the team is their youth; while last year’s group of 14 Division I rookies was hard to beat, much of the team is less than halfway through their eligibility.
Unlike last season, however, the youth is centered within the pitching staff. Freshmen pitchers Brian Foley and Jacob Jette will likely bounce around between the bullpen and the starting rotation. Another addition lies well down the depth chart in the form of 6-foot-6 freshman pitcher Michael Simes. Already throwing well into the mid-to-upper 80s, he could blossom into an extremely effective hurler, either as a late-innings bullpen arm or as a starter.
Following last year’s run to the America East championship, the River Hawks still have a lot to prove, but in many ways have not gotten anywhere close to their ceiling. The team is deep and can make waves once the in-conference schedule rolls around next month. Will they be able to live up to expectations this season? Only time will tell.