It has recently become too familiar.
Stockton University’s baseball team finished below .500 in each of the past two seasons, including 15-19 in 2017, when the Ospreys fell one win short of qualifying for the New Jersey Athletic Conference Tournament.
“Every team and every season starts with a clean slate. That’s what is so great about it” Stockton coach Scott Baker said Friday. “They have worked really, really hard in the offseason, and we look good at practice.”
The Ospreys lost four, one-run games last season — two against NJAC opponents.
The fourth-year Ospreys coach said that cannot continue this season, which begins Saturday with a doubleheader at home against Albright College.
“We are focused on the process and what we can control,” Baker said. “We can control our efforts and be better than what we did yesterday or today.”
The Ospreys were selected last week to finish ninth in the NJAC this season in the preseason poll of its 10 head coaches.
“I feel like we are sleeping giants,” said J.J. Swentkowski, one of Stockton’s top players. “A lot of people are counting us out. I hope we win the whole thing. That ranking really lights a fire under us.”
Swentkowski led Stockton with a .339 batting average last season. The junior third baseman tied for the team lead with 38 hits and finished second with a .413 on-base percentage.
The Egg Harbor Township High School graduate also was third on the team with 18 RBIs and was an all-NJAC first-team selection.
“J.J. has developed as a player,” Baker said. “Looking forward to improved defense and, if he stays consistent with the bat like last year, he will be fine.”
Swentowski said he tries “to prepare better than anyone. To get that (all-NJAC recognition) again will make me feel like I am doing the best for my team.”
Other key players include pitchers Ray Hughes, Brandon Perna, Rico Viani, outfielder Joe Pipher and second baseman Mike DeSenzo.
Perna had a 3.68 ERA with 49 strikeouts in 582/3 innings last season. He led the team with a 5-2 record and pitched four complete games. The senior is 10th all time at Stockton with a career 3.88 ERA.
Hughes, a junior, had a 3.26 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 492/3 innings and Viani, a sophomore transfer from Wagner College, will add much-needed depth to the pitching rotation.
“We have more consistent pitching and defense than last year,” Baker said. “It’s a tough league, so teams that have that normally win.”
Pipher started all 34 games for the Ospreys in 2017 and led the NJAC with a .569 slugging percentage. He tied for second in the conference with five home runs — Stockton hit only one other. Pipher, a senior this year, batted .309 with 32 RBIs and 38 hits.
In 26 games last season, DeSenzo batted .253 with 21 hits. The sophomore led the team with six steals and had a .319 on-base percentage.
“We just need to focus more,” Swentkowski said. “It’s fun competing in practice, but the boys and I are ready to go.”
The Ospreys have looked more like a well-balanced team with better pitching, transfer students and freshmen additions, but Baker said it is still difficult to predict the season until they start playing.
“I’m always excited to have a new season to dive into,” Baker said. “It’s special to be at games and around the kids. We can’t wait to get started.”