NORTH ANDOVER — The Merrimack baseball team is trying to prove its one of the best in the Northeast-10.
In most seasons, a year like the Warriors have had to this point — they’re 25-15 — would be enough to at least have them in the conversation.
But this season the NE-10 features two of the top teams in the East Region, who are both ranked in the top-10 nationally and are demanding much of the hype as the league playoffs open in just about two weeks.
It just so happens that the Warriors are in the midst of a seven-game stretch where six come against those two teams — Southern New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce — which concludes today with a double-header at Franklin Pierce. The Warriors then conclude the regular season next week with a home game on Tuesday against Bentley (Senior Day) and then hit the road for a three-game set at Stonehill before readying for the NE-10 Tournament.
Merrimack is currently third in the NE-10’s Northeast Division, behind Franklin Pierce and SNHU. Those top-two teams have a combined 76-8 record this season, with both boasting identical 38-4 marks.
Merrimack enters today’s double-header with a 25-15 overall record, including a 15-8 record within the NE-10.
“We started off the year really well in South Carolina,” said senior captain and catcher Pat Florence. The Warriors swept a five-game trip to South Carolina to begin the season in February but returned home and lost three straight in New York against Molloy the next weekend.
“When we came back we had some ups and downs,” Florence said. “But we’ve put ourselves in a position where everything we want is right in front of us. Everything is in our control, where in years past at this time of year we always needed some help towards the end of the year. Now, this year, we know it’s just about us taking care of business.”
Merrimack takes care of business with Florence behind the plate as well. He’s having a career year at the plate, batting .325 with 12 RBI in 26 games. That’s almost double his .169 average from last season.
Behind the plate he helps the pitchers navigate through ballgames. Merrimack is 18-6 when he starts and 6-8 when he doesn’t.
“Part of it I think is just over time, we have gotten comfortable with each other,” Florence said. “I’ve been working with our pitchers for four years now. We’ve really focused on making sure we’re working a hard in the fall as we are now, so I think that’s been a big help. We pride ourselves on being prepared, too. Coach (Nick) Barese does an awesome job with our scouting reports. We’ll go over them before games and the coaches give us a really good game plan for each hitter based on what we’ve seen from them against us in the past or maybe other pitchers in our league. That’s how we try to attack.”
As for his success at the plate, Florence says that’s a little more unexplained.
“Baseball is a funny game,” he said. “I really haven’t changed much in my approach. I had some ups and downs at the plate as a younger player but I always tried to remember off the successful ones, and what I did well there in those situations and then work to do more of that. I don’t focus on the negative. I think it’s paying off for just sticking with the process and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a good year at the plate so far.”
Merrimack has saved its best for last, at least when it comes to strength of schedule. The Warriors were swept by SNHU last weekend, but took the Penmen to extra innings in the second game of the series; only one other team in NE-10 play has done that.
The Warriors responded with an 11-6 win over Assumption this past Wednesday before now playing at Pierce this weekend.
“We try to take it one game at a time,” Florence said. “I would say it helps a little bit to see them later in the year like this. We know these are teams we’re probably going to see in the playoffs. At this point, all of our games are really must-wins. That’s what it’s like at this time of year. The last couple of years we’ve been on the verge but I think this is the team that can put Merrimack over the hump and show we’re one of the best in the conference.”