The bright California sun did not give the baseball team the warm welcome it was looking for to start the spring. Ithaca began its 2010 season with seven straight losses — the worst start in program history.
But a poor opening to the season doesn’t have senior ace pitcher Tom Fishback concerned. He said he believes the Bombers are still one of the best teams in the country.
“We came straight out of a gym to competing against top-notch teams who are already 15 to 20 games into the season,” Fishback said. “It’s tough. We were practicing for the first time on a real field when we got out there. We just need to put little things together that will get us on the winning track.”
The squad may have found the winning track following the team’s final west coast game Sunday. After being outscored by a combined 54–21 in the team’s first seven losses, the Ithaca offense finally woke up in the final game of the trip. The Bombers pounded out 11 runs on 12 hits to rout Whittier College 11–1.
Despite starting the season just 1–7, junior David Ahonen said the team made significant strides from the first game to the eighth game.
“Our record doesn’t show that we did that well, but we competed with some of the better teams,” Ahonen said. “The one thing the coaches stressed most was improving every day, and we really improved every game. Now we just have to carry that back to the East Coast.”
For Ahonen, it may mean carrying the responsibilities of a new position. The junior, who was the team’s starting third baseman in his first two seasons, made the transition from third to shortstop following the third game of the season.
Ahonen said the relatively young infield had issues with communication. But having a veteran leader like Ahonen patrolling shortstop may help straighten out mixed signals. However, the junior said the switch has not been simple.
“It’s tough making the transition,” Ahonen said. “There is more footwork, but every game I’m becoming more and more comfortable. I’m trying to take a more vocal leadership role in the infield.”
Ahonen has made four errors in the six games since moving to shortstop, but sophomore infielder Matt Keller said Ahonen’s composure has played an important role in building the team’s confidence.
“He shows real leadership on the field,” Keller said. “Seeing all the players who have been through it before and the way they work hard and handle themselves on the field has helped us get better every day.”
While the Bombers may be back on South Hill, they do not actually return home to Freeman Field until April 10, which is the team’s home opener. Ithaca plays its next eight games on the road. But Fishback and the Bombers are confident after competing against their opponents on the West Coast.
“We are ahead of all the teams on the East Coast after having to play teams that had been seeing live pitching since February,” Fishback said. “Now we get to play teams in similar situations as us.”
The tough competition early in the season is something the college’s baseball program welcomes every year. And as Fishback says, there is nothing better than facing the challenge.
“We knew we had a young team and had to figure things out, but we are a group of winning players who all hate to lose,” he said. “Going out and losing has only made us more competitive.”