After an impressive New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament run last year that included knocking off both No. 1 Rowan University and No. 2 Montclair State University, the Ramapo men’s baseball team has championships on their minds for their 2023 campaign. Despite an inexperienced roster, the Roadrunners managed to finish one game shy of the NJAC Championship last season after falling to No. 3 William Paterson University.
“Last year, maybe three or four guys had a full college season under their belts,” team captain Brian Baranok said. “Getting that [playoff] experience that a lot of guys needed and getting that play time was big for the program.”
Junior pitcher John Higgins believes the experience they gained in the NJAC tournament will go a long way for the team. “Getting everybody into that fight or flight moment… into those high pressured situations, I think it’ll just calm everybody down this year and let everybody play the ball I know they can.”
Higgins, along with sophomore Nick Danbrowney, were announced by head coach Ryan Rinsky as the team’s two starting pitchers for the Roadrunners’ first matchup of the season — a doubleheader against St. Joseph’s College of Long Island (SJC).
“If we’re gonna have a successful season, these guys are going to have a lot of success themselves,” Rinsky said. “I’m looking forward to the jump these guys are gonna take after last year… There’s of course some other guys as well that we anticipate taking big jumps, but we know that these guys are gonna be leaders for us on and off the field.”
As for Baranok, the head captain is entering his third season for Ramapo and first as leader of the ship.
“He doesn’t put up with anybody’s crap… he’s a very respectable leader,” Danbrowney said of his teammate.
“[Baranok’s] one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever worked with,” Rinsky said. “He has the respect of not only all the coaches but definitely every member of the team, and that’s a big part of [his position], having someone everyone can look to.”
Higgins chimed in on the praise of Baranok, saying “he’s vocal when he needs to be, making sure that everyone’s doing what they have to on and off the field… from the classroom to the weight room, and especially on the field. He’s a great leader to look to whether or not you know what you’re doing, he’s always someone to give you an answer.”
Baranok is coming off an impressive sophomore campaign where he was named to ABCA/Rawlings NCAA Division III Region 4 All-Region Third Team, as well as NJAC First Team All-Conference.
“Hopefully I can repeat [those honors] again,” Baranok said. “Obviously the first goal is to win the NJAC championship, then hopefully a national championship,” he continued.
While on the topic of goals, Higgins mentioned that he’s excited about his position change from reliever to starter and that he’s looking to contribute any way he can. “I have a goal for at least five wins this season,” he said. “I want to be able to support my team in a different way than I did last year.”
Since training began for the 2023 season, the team has spent time connecting and is looking to capitalize on a bond that’s been building for three years.
“Since I’ve been here for the last three years, we’ve had very familiar faces and haven’t graduated many players,” said Higgins. “The years that we’ve been together just meshes us like a family rather than just a baseball team.”
“It’s been awesome so far. We hang out all the time,” Baranok said. “Guys come early and stay late to get extra work in. We just have a brotherhood here and we’ll take that to regionals and hopefully more.”
The Roadrunners enter this season ranked No. 6 in the NJAC Baseball Preseason Poll, the same ranking they held after finishing 17-24-1 last year.
“I think everyone’s taking it a little more seriously this year because we know we’re going to be a lot better,” Danbrowney said. “We just want to win.”
“Since I’ve been here for the last three years, we’ve had very familiar faces and haven’t graduated many players. The years that we’ve been together just meshes us like a family rather than just a baseball team.”
– John Higgins
Ramapo will open their season with two games against SJC on Saturday, Feb. 25, followed by one against Farmingdale State College on Friday, Mar. 3.
“Last year, there were a lot of road bumps and growing pains,” Rinsky said. “This year we return a ton of experience and are looking forward to them taking that next step… especially come playoff time.”
Featured photo courtesy of @rcnj_baseball, Twitter