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Optimism sky high for Queens College baseball

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Playing baseball in the Northeast isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Just ask Queens College baseball coach Frank Battaglia, whose team’s first four home games were canceled due to last week’s inclement weather.

“The weather’s pretty much beaten the crap out of us,” said the third-year head coach. “It’s been tough. We’ve been practicing indoors. I’m getting cabin fever … the kids are getting cabin fever.”

The Knights started the season on a high note in Savannah, Ga., rallying from a late 3-1 deficit to beat then No. 2 ranked Armstrong Atlantic State University, 5-3.

But Queens lost its next four games by a combined score of 43-7, including a 17-3 loss to AASU later that day, ending the month of February on a sour note.

Despite the overwhelming losses, Battaglia feels a lot of positive signs can be taken away from his team’s impressive season-opening victory.

“If we play the way we did against Armstrong, we can beat anybody,” he said.

After playing its first league match-up of the season — at Molloy in a game scheduled for Wednesday — the Knights will host Dowling College on Thursday, a game originally scheduled March 17.

Coming off a 13-14 season, including a .500 (10-10) record in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference, the Knights (1-4) will have to replace last season’s No. 1 starter in Keith Hack, who was the staff’s most consistent pitcher, surrendering just 46 hits in 50 innings and striking out a team-leading 44 batters.

That responsibility will be placed upon the right arm of Michael Morris, a Holy Cross grad from College Point who pitched seven-plus innings in the Knights’ lone victory this season.

“We’re expecting him to carry the load as our No. 1 starter. We need him to pitch like that back up here,” Battaglia said, referring to the junior’s stellar outing in Georgia. “I think if he can pitch like he did down there, we’ll be pretty successful in the conference.”

Carlos Cruz, last season’s offensive leader in batting average, runs, hits, home runs and RBIs, will be sorely missed, but Battaglia has faith in this year’s well-balanced offense. Five seniors return, including starting second baseman Vic Pantopoulos, first baseman Vincent Garelick and third baseman Richard Rivara, who Battaglia referred to as “the big power threat that we have.”

It was Rivara’s two-run blast that propelled the Knights in their come from behind, upset win over AASU.

“We don’t have big boppers in our lineup, but we have guys who can put the ball in play consistently,” he added.

The Knights were picked to finish seventh in what Battaglia referred to as a “very competitive conference” in a preseason coaches poll and with the top six teams (as opposed to four last year) advancing to postseason play, he feels this year’s squad has a realistic shot.

“I think we have a chance at making the postseason,” Battaglia said. “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”

Reach contributing writer Joseph Manniello by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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