By Shawn Russell, Staff Writer

UMF Baseball (photo courtesy of UMF Athletics)

UMF Pitcher Kyle Peterson (photo courtesy of UMF Athletics)

The UMF baseball team is taking a spring trip to Florida to participate in the RussMatt invitational. The team will be playing a total five games against four teams while on the trip.

The trip is from March 11-17th and they’ll be kicking their season off against Medaille College on March 13. They’ll then play Alfred State, Colby Sawyer and Fredonia State on the 14, 15 and 16.  The team will be staying at a hotel in Lakeland, and their games will be played in Winter Haven.

The Beavers were picked to finish third in the conference by the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) baseball preseason poll, which is the highest the team has been projected in years.  “We will be one of the top contenders in our conference,” said Ben Keene, a junior first baseman for the squad. “The goal is to be number one and I know we have the talent to be there.” Keene, who hit .324 in 2014, led the Beavers with 16 Runs Batted In (RBIs), and hopes to continue last year’s success into the 2015 season.

“We have the talent this year to do great things,” said Tom Grady, a junior outfielder for the team.  The Beavers are only losing one senior from last year, Brett Wallingford, and are returning 19 players, eight of which are starters from last season.  Along with the addition of nine freshmen, the team looks to be a top contender.

Going into his fifth season, Coach Chris Bessey also has high expectations for the season. “I think we were able to sneak up on some teams last year, this year coming into the season the expectations are higher and obviously teams respect the work we did last year,” said Bessey. “The game isn’t played on paper, so a pre-season ranking doesn’t guarantee wins.  We need to pitch, hit, and catch the ball still.  Or goal isn’t to just make the playoffs but to win the conference, until we do that our goal hasn’t been met.”

During their trip to Florida, the Beavers will play two conference games in a double header against Colby Sawyer. “[The] double header against Colby Sawyer will be huge,” said Grady.  Last season, the team beat Colby Sawyer in all four games that the teams played.

The Beavers will arrive in Florida on the night of March 11. “The second day we get there is the only day we don’t have a game, so it’d be cool if we could catch a Red Sox spring training game,” said Keene. “If not, maybe a round of golf so we can enjoy the sunshine.”

The spring trip is something the players look forward to. It’s the first opportunity the team gets to play outside, and it gives the team a chance to look at the newcomers.  “It was one of the funnest trips I have ever been on and can’t wait to get down there again,” said Keene. With a rather-large freshman class of nine players, the five games will give Coach Bessey an ample showing of the freshmen’s talent.

“All Northeast teams are at a liability due to the weather, so to be able to get out of your gym gives you that head start and a good look at what kind of team we can be this year,” said Bessy. In addition to playing outside, the spring trip has other benefits to the team as well. “Its great for team building and building chemistry, said Bessey. “The players get to experience something together, some have never flown before and to be able to that with teammates builds the trust that you need for team to truly succeed.”

When the Beavers return to Maine, their next opponents will be Fisher College on the weekend of the 21st and 22nd, and their first home game is scheduled for the 28th of March against Lyndon State.