Vermont’s College of St. Joseph Heads South to Prepare Title Defense
Bob Godlewski of Vermont’s College of St. Joseph (CSJ) has coached baseball for 42 years. This year his team begins the season as a national champion after going 52-11 and winning the USCAA’s Small College World Series in 2016.
The Fighting Saints turned the trick in just their second season of competitive play after CSJ reinstated baseball in 2015 following an eight-year absence.
This year the Saints have played a talented mix of NAIA and NCAA Division II teams to begin their title defense. All of their games so far have come on the road, as CSJ necessarily headed south to dodge the tail end of a long Vermont winter. Road trips to date have included stops in Louisiana, Virginia, and Florida. CSJ departs for South Carolina this week.
Opponents on the Saints’ southern trips this year have included NAIA national powers St. Thomas (Fla.) and Keiser (Fla.), as well quality programs in Florida Memorial, Ave Maria (Fla.), William Carey (Miss.) and Loyola (La.). Last year, CSJ went 22-3 against NAIA squads.
“Our goal is to play the toughest teams possible earlier in the year to prepare us for the remainder of our schedule,” said Godlewski. “I’m looking for players who, when the going gets tough, aren’t going to go into a shell. They’re going to compete, no matter what the score is.”
CSJ’s head coach does not adhere to one baseball philosophy from year-to-year, but his 2016 Saints’ team did embrace small ball with stellar results.
“Last year, we went more to small ball than ever before in my coaching career, and I think that played a big part in our winning a USCAA national championship,” said Godlewski. That formula for success included aggressive base running, as St. Thomas stole over 100 bases last season.
The Saints combined theft on the base paths with well-honed bunting skills to move base runners into scoring position. “We want to make sure that not only do we bunt, but that we have good bunts that give us the opportunity to get the runner over and maybe get the bunter on at first base.”
Thanks to the college’s athletic facilities, the Saints gets plenty of indoor work to refine the key elements of their offensive and defensive games.
"We have a 12,000 square foot indoor facility that allows us to almost do a full [turf] infield. We have three batting cages and five mounds, so we get a lot of work in,” said Godlewski. "It’s a nice facility and gives us the opportunity to do some things that you can’t do in a gym.”
Godlewski said that his 2017 team is “8-9 pitchers deep” and includes senior Nick Burch, who had a key role in CSJ’s 2016 championship season. Junior Ben Brown is beginning to emerge on the mound after overcoming arm surgery last year.
At the plate, the team returns their leading hitter from 2017, sophomore Jared Morello. Catcher/outfielder Colin McLeod is one of the team’s top hitters and will chase Morello for the team’s top batting average.
CSJ is out of the gate at 6-12 in 2017, a mark that will steadily head north as the team returns to Vermont to host games. They’ll also host the USCAA World Series again this year in Glen Falls, New York. The tournament is comprised of 10 teams and is played over a four-day period.
“It’s our second year hosting it. I thought it went off without a hitch last year. I love the USCAA. It gives small colleges an opportunity to play for a national championship,” said Godlewski.
The Saints resume their push for a second straight title on March 24 against the University of South Carolina-Beaufort.
*Article by Tom Flynn