Before last season, the last time Fairfield’s baseball team qualified for the MAAC Tournament, all of the current players were in grammar school, still playing in Little League. But last season changed all that.
In Head Coach Bill Currier’s first year at the helm of the Stags, he led them to a program record 27 wins, good for third in the MAAC and enough to get them to Albany. However, their run in the MAAC Tournament was short-lived, as they were the first team eliminated, losing two games in two days.
As for this season, Currier is looking to see a lot of growth out of a team that he sees as “the youngest team [he’s] ever coached.”
“We got 22 freshmen and sophomores, so we’re teaching a lot, shaping them a lot, trying to get them thinking and doing the right things,” said Currier. “We think in the next couple years we’re going to be pretty good, and that’s really the goal. If we achieve success before that, then we’re ahead of schedule and that’s good too.”
In addition to leading the Stags to their first MAAC Tournament since 2000, Currier also won MAAC Coach of the Year Award for his efforts, which he called a “nice honor.”
“When I came here, they hadn’t made the playoffs in quite a number of years, so to finish third and get that [three] seed, I think it was nice of them to recognize that we are making some in-road progress here,” said Currier.
A major part of that run to the MAAC Tournament, of which only four of the league’s nine teams qualify for every year, was the strength of Fairfield pitching, which was one of the best in the MAAC. That strength will be tested this year, as the vast majority of Fairfield’s pitchers this season will be sophomores and freshmen, which Currier said can be a little “frightening.”
“With the young pitchers, you get a three or four run inning, you get the blow ups, and then they pitch well for four innings. You get that a lot more with the young kids, which we’ve already seen this season,” said Currier. “We have a little more depth this season, but it’s all unproven, so they’re all kind of shooting to show us that they deserve to throw and get the ball when the games are closer. It’s going to be competitive.”
One position that won’t be changing this year or next year (unless he gets drafted sooner) is right field, where Ryan Plourde ’14 has started since his freshman year. Plourde has been at the heart of the Stags’ lineup for each of his first two seasons, where he has won All-MAAC Second Team honors last year, and this year was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Team.
Currier said that he has seen Plourde make tremendous growth as both a player and a person in his time at Fairfield, and that combined with first baseman Anthony Hajjar ‘13, he doesn’t think there is a better third and fourth hitter combination in the conference.
“We’re getting the football mentality and football legs and strength out of him,” said Currier about Plourde, who was the starting quarterback for his high school football team three years ago. “He’s a little leaner, but he’s still strong, he’s running better, training more like a baseball player now. If he keeps up the consistent hitting this year, he’s a real [professional] prospect.”
“If you were to ask me in high school if in two or three years, I would be in this situation, I would have told you ‘No Way,’” said Plourde. “It means a lot to me to get these accolades, that some is out there recognizing my play. I mean, I’m a modest kid, I don’t think of myself too highly, but it means a lot to me knowing that all the hard work is paying off.”
“As much accolades mean a lot, or stats mean a lot, I just want the team to do well, and anything I can do to help the team win and succeed is definitely good with me.”
Plourde says that after the season, he plans to play in the New England Collegiate Baseball League (the first time in his life he will be playing regularly outside of his home state of Connecticut) for New Bedford, but is still focused on the success for himself and this team right now.
“My personal goal is to do well in conference, make the MAAC Tournament, hopefully win the MAAC Tournament,” said Plourde, “And if we can do that and I get good stats out of the deal too, maybe perhaps back up that preseason all-MAAC [selection], that’d be great.”
Plourde also said that he has seen how much work it takes to get to play in the next level, through his former teammates Tucker Nathans, who just signed with the Baltimore Orioles, as well as last year’s draftee Mark Bordonaro, who is still in the Mariners’ organization.
“I really am trying to follow in their footsteps. I love this game, I’ve been doing it for so long, you know, why not give it a shot at the next level,” said Plourde. “What I’ve learned from them is that their work ethic is what really sticks out for me and that is what they emphasize to me. If you work hard, someone is going to give you a look. If you put up numbers, someone is going to give you a look. Having that right demeanor, on and off the field.”
The team this year is predicted to finish fifth in the league this year, but that doesn’t seem to bother Plourde too much.
“We’re underdogs again. I would rather be in the underdog situation, no one expects us. And just to come up and surprise some teams, our coach loves it, we all love it.”