No matter where they were going to be sent for the NCAA Tournament, the Jaspers expected to draw a tough opening-round opponent.
“We were talking about it Sunday night and we thought we’d be one of the lower seeds so we’d get one of the top national seeds,” senior pitcher Taylor Sewitt said. “But one of our assistant coaches, Rene Ruiz, was like, ‘Oh, I want to go to South Carolina.’ I think he was kind of kidding around.”
Well, here’s no laughing matter: The Jaspers (33-25) are indeed headed to South Carolina, where they will take on the two-time defending College World Series champion Gamecocks (40-17) on Friday. Talk about a tough draw – but it’s been that type of season for the resilient Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament champs.
“We wanted to raise the bar with Manhattan baseball,” first-year coach Jim Duffy said. “Now our goal is to not just go to a regional and have little, old Manhattan show up in Columbia, S.C., but to go down there and compete with the big boys and win some games.
“That’s our focus.”
A year after playing in a regional with three Florida-based schools, Manhattan is in one that includes Coastal Carolina (41-17) and Clemson (33-26) – three South Carolina-based schools and a bunch of guys from Riverdale, N.Y., in the northwest corner of the Bronx who started out 1-14 and whose home field is a public park that requires the players to maintain it themselves.
“We’re definitely the odd man out, but our program has gotten a lot better the last few years and I feel like we’re not as much of a no-name team,” said Sewitt, a submarine-throwing right-hander. “I’m pretty sure those other teams know about us and don’t want to play us.”
Opponents probably have at least heard about Sewitt by now. He made national headlines last weekend by winning three games in the MAAC Tournament, including throwing 11 scoreless innings of relief in the title game against Canisius. He finished with 22 scoreless innings and 296 pitches thrown. Not bad for a guy who only started pitching regularly midway through last season. Sewitt only broke into the Jaspers’ rotation in April after starting out as a reliever.
Manhattan has a formidable 1-2 punch on the mound with Sewitt (11-1, 2.40 ERA) and fellow righty John Soldinger (6-5, 3.43 with six complete games), and Jacob Marchus (1-1, 1.31, 8 saves) closing out games.
The lineup has some terrific talent, too, with center fielder Anthony Vega (.336, 5 HRs, 31 RBI, 32 SBs), second baseman Nick Camastro (.319, 28 RBI), shortstop Yoandry Galan (.293, 22 RBI) and catcher Ramon Ortega (.274, 7, 51).
“We’re a 30-plus win team, but nothing’s really came that easy for us this year,” Duffy said. “We just worked really hard, strung together some wins and battled back and figured out what worked.”