Johns Hopkins on deck

Division III: After a 34-7 regular season, the Blue Jays are confident they can hold their own in the NCAA tournament that begins for them tomorrow.

College Baseball

May 15, 2002|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

The numbers have been on the side of the Johns Hopkins baseball team all season, and now it's crunch time.

In finishing the regular season with a 34-7 mark, the Blue Jays have won their share of one- and two-run games to go with the more-than-occasional blowout victories, scoring in double digits 15 times.

They've won a game on a passed ball, another on a late-inning balk, many with strong pitching performances and sound defense and a couple with a ton of home runs.

While the more prominent, No. 1-ranked Hopkins men's lacrosse team makes its run toward a Division I crown, the baseball team has comfortably found its niche on the diamond next to Homewood Field.

Going into the NCAA Division III tournament as the top seed in the Mid-Atlantic Region, the Blue Jays are confident they have all the bases covered. They will open at 11 a.m. tomorrow against the College of New Jersey at DeSales University's Bear Stadium in Boyertown, Pa.

"We're in a six-team region with all six having over 30 wins, so it could be the toughest in the country," said Hopkins coach Bob Babb. "You have to go out and play your best. You don't even worry about the other teams. You just try to perform as well as you can and hopefully if you do that, you're going to put yourself in a situation to win."

With nine other tournament-qualifying teams to choose from over his 23 years at the helm, Babb compares this year's club with the 1989 team he guided to a program-best third-place finish in the Division III College World Series. That team posted the same 34-7 record this year's team will take into the tournament.

"Both teams found different ways to win," he said. "One day it might be hitting the ball, the next it might be a pitcher throwing a shutout, another day it might be a bunt and running and that sort of thing."

Depth dominates a roster that features two-time Centennial Conference Pitcher of the Year Yani Rosenberg, a different hitting star each time out and a diverse bunch with representation from 12 states. Babb has gotten contributions from 30 players, 18 hitting at least one home run, with everyone having a good understanding of his respective role.

"It's definitely changed a lot from last year when we pretty much had 10 or 11 guys that played all the time," said Rosenberg, who is 9-0 with a 0.84 ERA. "It's just amazing to see people step up. You see pinch hitters come in and hit home runs or key hits to drive people in. That's just something that everything has come together this year."

In 23 years, Babb, a Hopkins alum who played first base on the Blue Jays' first Division III tournament team back in 1976, has piled up 614 career wins and a total of 15 conference titles (10 in the Middle Atlantic and the last five in the Centennial Conference) with consistent recruiting and keeping the program an attractive option.

Uniforms are replaced each year and, every third season, the team takes a foreign trip to compete. Italy was the site of last season's adventure. The fine education speaks for itself. Success repeats itself with 11 straight 25-plus win seasons.

"A lot of it has to do with the focus of Coach Babb," said senior co-captain Karl Sineath, a second baseman and leadoff hitter who became the progam's all-time leader in runs scored (168) and stolen bases (96). "Every day, no matter what the attitude of the players or how we may feel, he is always setting an example for us by being ready to practice, having energy and having enthusiasm."

Senior outfielder and fellow captain Mike DePalma said the atmosphere makes it difficult not to be successful.

"When I was a freshman, the team was coming off a 36-4 year and the atmosphere is overwhelming," he said. "I remember our freshmen class thinking we can be just as good as that class and it's the same way now. It's a continuing thing."

A question that Babb has continually answered is if he feels his program is overlooked because of the success and popularity of the school's men's lacrosse program.

"No," he said. "I know the lacrosse coaches are out rooting for us and we're always rooting for them. We both hope to be successful and win national titles. They're doing it on one level and we're doing it on another. I don't feel overshadowed - we have a goal that we work for just like they do."

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