Baseball off to Jonesboro for season opener

The NYIT baseball teams boards a bus on campus Thursday morning, bound for LaGuardia airport and a trip to Arkansas State.
The NYIT baseball teams boards a bus on campus Thursday morning, bound for LaGuardia airport and a trip to Arkansas State.

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. — The spring sports calendar gets underway Friday as the NYIT baseball team opens its 2017 season at Arkansas State.

The Bears departed campus Thursday morning, bound for LaGuardia airport. They will travel through Chicago to Memphis, then bus to Jonesboro, Ark., and a season-opening four-game series against the Red Wolves.

Senior right-hander Frank Valentino will start Friday's 5 p.m. ET series opener opposite Arkansas State right-hander Bryan Ayers. Right-handers Matt Diaz and Elias Martinez will start Saturday's doubleheader for the Bears, followed by left-hander Ben Wright pitching Sunday's series finale.

NYIT went 17-26 in 2016, but opened last season strongly by taking two of three games from Coppin State in Washington D.C.

"The strong suit of our team is our pitching staff," NYIT coach Bob Malvagna said. "Our pitching staff is going to carry our team this year."

Arkansas State went 29-29 in 2016. The Red Wolves are picked by its league's coaches to finish fifth of six teams in the Sun Belt Conference's West Division.

The universities have a strong academic connection. NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine is located in Wilson Hall on the Jonesboro campus of Arkansas State University. It is dedicated to patient-centered, population-based osteopathic medical care. 

The forecast for Jonesboro on Friday is for a high of 66 degrees, with an evening low of 48 degrees and a 50 percent chance of rain. That's still a welcome relief from training in Old Westbury. The Bears were able to work outdoors no more than five days in preparation for the season opener. 

"The challenge is we really don't spend a heck of a lot of time on a full-dimension baseball field," Malvagna said. "So we're a little short on practicing our cutoffs and relays, we're a little short on our situational stuff. And when I say short, I mean really hammering away at them. I mean, have we touched on our bunt situations and our first and thirds? We have. We haven't really drilled very heavily on them." 

Working indoors at nearby Cove Sports Academy, the Bears nonetheless have prepped their pitchers for the season-opening series.

"We started our pitchers early," Malvagna said. "Most of our starters are up to where they need to be. They're probably at 85 or 90 pitches. Our bullpen is in a position where they can throw back-to-back days right now, because we've built them up. We've really built up the pitching staff. And I think the guys, even though we're indoors, got a heck of a lot of swings."