CLICK HERE to read original article - written by Portland Press Herald Staff Writer Steve Craig
STANDISH — Throughout the season an elegant stuffed tiger has been "watching" Saint Joseph's College's baseball team.
Purchased by Coach Will Sanborn, its unblinking gaze is a reminder to be active and focused like a jungle tiger.
"Not like a zoo tiger. A zoo tiger is given everything. Doesn't face any challenges. Jungle tigers always challenged. Has to work to get the prize. That's what we're trying to do. Challenge ourselves to be the jungle tiger," explained sophomore center fielder Hunter Richardson of Monmouth.
The Monks (29-9, 13-3) are hunting for their first Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship since 2014.
In a 10-year span from 2005-2014, St. Joe's won nine conference titles. But the current seniors, who have gone a combined 115-45, do not have a championship. They reached the championship round as freshmen and juniors. As sophomores they were the 31-6 top seed and were eliminated in two straight games.
"It's tough. It leaves you feeling empty. You got so close and thought you had it and it's gone, slipped out of your grasp. It makes you hungry," said Greg Emanuelson, the team's senior catcher who leads the team with six home runs and 46 RBI.
The No. 2 Monks begin their playoff hunt Thursday at Larry Mahaney Diamond, hosting the winner of Tuesday's game between No. 6 Anna Maria (17-23, 6-10) and No. 3 Johnson & Wales (23-13, 12-4) in a second-round game.
The GNAC champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoff.
"It's really a key part of what drives us to get better and obviously we all want to win championships," Noah McDaniel said. "Personally, I do feel like we are the best team (in the GNAC) but it's baseball so anyone can win."
Saint Joseph's has a strong offense, with seven players who have driven in 20 or more runs. The team is batting at a .314 clip and slugging a robust .443.
"It's really a veteran lineup and I think that's given us some good stability and good consistent years from a lot of the guys," Sanborn said.
The top of the order has been electric with senior shortstop Joey Murphy and senior outfielder Jared Gagne both hitting .421 or better. Murphy, the leadoff hitter from Derry, New Hampshire, leads the team in hits (56) and stolen bases (33) while hitting .421 with 10 doubles. Gagne, out of Dover, New Hampshire, bats second and leads the team with a .425 average with 29 steals and enough pop to hit 10 doubles, six triples and a home run.
"Gagne and Murphy, they give us as good a couple of speed guys as anybody in New England. Those guys can fly," Sanborn said.
Emanuelson, Richardson (.316, 4 HR, 27 RBI), junior second baseman Drew Healey of Rochester, New Hampshire (.343, 20 RBI) and senior catcher/DH Anthony DiPrizio, also of Rochester, have provided much of the punch.
McDaniel, the 5-foot-8 first baseman from Eliot, is hitting .296 with nine doubles and 21 RBI.
"You can't look at the offensive stats and really get any kind of measure of what he means to our team," Sanborn said. "He's an outstanding first baseman, probably as good as any I've ever had."
Grayson Jennings, from Hawaii via Bedford, New Hampshire, is the lone senior on the pitching staff. With a 3-1 record in eight starts, he will likely get the start in the playoff opener. Freshmen Johnny Flynn (3-1, 1.25 ERA) and 6-foot-7 Matt Bergeron (6-2, 2.45 ERA) have been quality starters. George Welch and junior Weston Bergeron of Lyman (Massabesic) have been keys in the bullpen. Weston Bergeron (no relation to Matt) has fanned 20 in 13 1/3 innings and has not allowed an extra-base hit.
While St. Joe's as a team got off to a great start, winning its first 11 games, Jennings was up-and-down. He said he was trying to be "too perfect," early in the season. Over his last five appearances he's allowed five earned runs in 24 2/3 innings (1.86 ERA).
"It was about just being consistent. Every outing I just go out there and try to give the team a quality start," Jennings said. "We've got a good enough lineup, as long as I put us in a chance to win, we'll win most games."
Now Jennings is feeling hungry.
"We have a team that's capable of winning," Jennings said. "Coach has been saying all year, the team that's going to win it is going to be the team that is going to be able to execute the most and execute the best. I think we can do that."