Long Beach coach Jason Zizza views the remainder of the baseball season as a major opportunity for his Marines. While not off to the start they hoped, the coach is focusing on the positives: they are now past the most difficult part of their schedule, they’ve played exceptional defense, and despite it all, a playoff spot is still not out of the question.
Back-to-back series' against top-ranked East Meadow and Port Washington earlier this month left the Marines 0-6 in Conference AA-2. But with nine conference games remaining against Hicksville, Baldwin and Plainview-JFK, the Marines still have control over their own destiny. Of the six teams in their conference, only the bottom two will fail to qualify for the postseason – meaning Long Beach is just one game shy in the win column from contention.
“We knew that going in it was going to be a little bit of a rough start for us,” said Zizza, who has guided the Marines to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. “But we do have players that care, that play really hard. Our focus is to make the playoffs for the third straight year.”
The Marines have lacked pitching depth so far this year, after losing their two best starting pitchers a year ago. Their offense has also failed to string hits together consistently.
“It’s all about the simple formula of pitching better and scoring more runs,” Zizza said. “We are going to dig deep and concentrate on what we can do: pitch better, steal bases, bunt runners over and get key hits.”
Jananda Hamilton, who rotates between catcher, pitcher and first base each series, leads the team with a .300 batting average. He’s a been a bright spot for the team offensively, his coach said, and as a junior with a live arm, has yet to reach his full potential.
Zizza also highlighted junior outfielder Derek Rosario, who has bat leadoff every game despite not being on the coaches’ radar for a starting spot at the beginning of the season. “He fights every at bat,” Zizza said. “He’s given us a super competitive at-bat every time he steps up to the plate.
Having only made four errors in their six conference games, Zizza credited his team’s defensive success to their scrappiness and their pride in playing the game the right way. “It’s a testament to our guys that they play hard every day,” the coach said. “We know we can stay in games if we can play good defense.”
With nine games to go, Zizza said his team is eager to put their slow start behind them and to step up their play as they get set to take on the rest of their conference. Next up is Hicksville, who the Marines began a two-game set against on Tuesday, following a rainout on Monday.
“Our players are pumped and ready to go,” Zizza said. “We’re excited to go out and be more competitive against the next three teams we play, beginning with Hicksville."