Sports

Eagles happy with chemistry of squad

There was something different in the air, and it wasn't just the sunny skies after a full night of drenching rain.

The delighted yells, echoing off the center field wall. The encouragement for good plays, whether from starters or backups. The hustle, even as the fallout from the rain turned the basepaths into mud clinging to the players' spikes.

Most importantly, the smiles.

"I've played baseball for 18 years, and this team has more chemistry than any one I've ever played on," said senior pitcher Ryan Schwartz. "That's evident in practice, it's evident in the locker room, evident when we hang out together."

Winthrop began team practice Saturday with a quick defensive batting practice, put together after the rain cancelled the planned intersquad game. Even as the session began with overcast skies and a biting wind, there weren't any complaints.

Just maybe a quick trip to the locker room for long sleeves or one of those slick embroidered fleece pullovers. Then it was right back on the field.

"The thing I liked about today is the enthusiasm and the hustle," coach Joe Hudak said. "We talked yesterday about it, and we talked a little bit about it today. We'll probably talk about it on a regular basis, about the expectations people have for us."

It was only the first day and the opening game's still more than two weeks away. After that are 56 regular-season games and something, whether it's the Big South tournament and/or more, afterward.

That's a long time to keep one attitude in place.

Yet there are no worries from the Eagles.

"That's what holds you together," Schwartz said. "You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don't like the people you're hanging out with four hours a day, then you're not going to want to be there.

"I look forward to coming to practice, and I look forward to leaving practice and hanging out with the guys."

Hudak and captains Eddie Tisdale and Billy Froehlich each spoke of the team chemistry of this year's squad at the Eagles' Media Day. They also referred to last year's chemistry -- or lack thereof.

"My personal opinion is, yeah, there was a rift between the team and it was evident in practice, it was evident in everything, and this year, none of that has gone on," Schwartz said.

The splintered atmosphere could have been a big contribution to last year's 33-27 slate and some of the reason Winthrop was picked to finish fourth in this year's Big South preseason poll. Not many were looking at the Eagles' youth-dominated pitching corps and figuring they'd be any good.

But the players know differently. The way they were putting the fun back in the game during the first practice assured a shift in perception.

"We're a bunch of hard-working, blue-collar guys," Hudak said. "This is the most fun I've had coaching in a long time."

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