Baseball team's new 'home run' attitude

UB baseball club team has new mindset after 2017 Division I cuts

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UB’s new baseball club team continues to electrify the diamond after a devastating cut to the Division I baseball team in 2017.

The Buffalo Bulls club team, formed in 2017 after the cut, is composed of 30 student athletes who play at 550 Wheatfield St. in North Tonawanda. 

The Bulls started the 2018 season 1-1, but have since won six straight games to become 7-1 in the National Club Baseball Association as of Oct. 10. The Bulls are a Division II team, but they play tough against D-I club squads like Brockport and Syracuse. In September, the Bulls crushed the Syracuse Orange club team on the road and won all three games against the Orange by seven runs or more.

Players, such as sophomore catcher Ian Unson, said the Bulls want to separate themselves from the pressures of the former D-I squad. 

“The club team has always viewed itself as being a completely separate entity from UB's D-I Varsity program,” said Unson, vice president of the club team. “We just compete to the best of our ability and win as much as we can.”

The Bulls are the only baseball team left on campus after UB Athletics cut four sports, including UB’s D-I baseball, in April 2017. A number of student athletes lost their scholarships after the cuts, while others went off to other schools to pursue their baseball careers.

“The decision stunned everybody. No one expected it. There wasn’t talk about it or anything,” said Ron Torgalski, the Bulls head coach from 2006-17. 

“I don’t think any move when you drop programs is going to help [UB Athletics]. It’s a black eye. They dropped [around] 150 athletes with no warning.”

Torgalski said the decision came at a time when the team had its “best recruiting class coming in.” Athletes and recruits had to find new programs after the cut. 

John Servello, 2018 Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year and an outfielder for the Toledo Rockets, initially committed to UB but, after the cuts, went to Toledo.

Still, in light of the cuts, the Bulls strive to form a refined identity on the field.

Preparation for the 2018-19 season is a lot different from the team’s time as D-I, for instance. In D-I, a coach or trainer prepared players for games but the Bulls club team places the obligation on players to appropriately train for games.

“Most of the freshmen come to us after playing their last season of high school baseball and usually some kind of summer league. Some of the upperclassmen play in summer leagues while others don't,” said Unson, an industrial engineering major.

“It's up to our guys to get in and stay in athletic shape, as we don't have a trainer or a coach to force us into shape. As a team, we practice two to three times a week but that is mostly optional since we understand that the guys have classes that take priority.”

Unson said UB bringing back the D-I team “would be nice” but it isn’t “necessarily a goal” for him.

“I think most of us really enjoy club baseball because it’s the perfect combination of being competitive while being laid back and relaxed,” Unson said.

“If you can't make a practice or a game because of school, no one is gonna fault you for it but at the same time this isn't some men's beer league that's embarrassing to watch.”

The Bulls’ goal is to make it to Kansas, where the D-II Club Baseball World Series is held every year.

“We've come just short the past two seasons winning our divisions only to barely lose a well-fought game in the regional playoffs,” Unson said. “Other than just baseball in general, we all play for the love of the game and all of us love getting out on the diamond to play.”

The club’s leaders are optimistic about the success of the Bulls. 

“Our team is looking pretty good so far, we went 13-1 last season, winning the New Penn North conference and making it to the regional playoff where we defeated number-one-ranked Penn State [University],” said Vincent Alongi, a sophomore aerospace engineering major, outfielder and president of the club team. 

“We lost two key seniors coming into the season, but we added 11 new players and they have fit in perfectly on the team.”

Alongi said he’s looking forward to the Bulls’ return to the playoffs after this upcoming season.

Last season, pitcher Austin Metzger tore his Achilles before the Bulls entered the playoffs in January. Alongi said this attributed to his team’s early exit in the league regional tournament.

“This year we are set to make a deep run because Austin is back, we added a couple big hitters and we have a deeper pitching staff this season,” Alongi said.

“We have a big senior class of about 10 guys who lead the team and I really think we have a good shot at making the NCBA World Series in Kansas this year.”

Fans can see the Bulls play at home against Niagara University on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and Sunday at noon. 

Arsh Issany is a staff writer and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com.