Montville's DelaCruz making an impact in first season at Mitchell
New London — Dougie DelaCruz figured the first pitch leading off the eighth inning on Wednesday would be an inside fast ball.
In his previous at-bat, Nichols College reliever Brendan Duffy pounded the outside of the plate.
DelaCruz was right about Duffy's strategy.
A former all-state player at Montville High School, DelaCruz drove that inside pitch over the left field fence for his team-high tying fifth home run of the season, giving Mitchell College a comfortable three-run cushion in the non-conference game.
"I was definitely looking inside fast ball there," DelaCruz said. "If he brought it, I was going to do what I did."
Freshman reliever Justin Lukas closed out the game, pitching 1.2 scoreless innings for his first save in the 5-2 victory at Alumni Field. Senior Brian Ricker (1-0) picked up the win for the Marniers, who broke a 2-2 tie by scoring two runs in the fifth on RBI singles by senior Markus Melendez and junior Steve Cochrane.
The sizzling hot Mariners (23-6) extended their winning streak to nine. They're 19-1 in their last 20 games. It was coach Travis Beausoleil's 200th career win.
DelaCruz, a freshman outfielder, made a substantial contribution on Wednesday, going two-for-three with a walk, scoring two runs and driving in one while batting fourth.
He's provided a jolt to a lethal offensive attack. The Mariners are batting .332 and rank second in the nation in Division III in runs.
"I love it here," DelaCruz said. "It's definitely fun playing here. A lot of trips around the bases, for sure. It's been fun with this lineup."
Entering the season, Beausoleil believed DelaCruz had potential to be an impact player. But he didn't foresee DelaCruz leading the New England Collegiate Conference in RBI (41) while tying for team highs in doubles (eight) and home runs and leading the way in hits (39). DelaCruz also is playing well defensively in left field, making just one error while earning two assists.
"I wasn't sure what we were going to get from him his freshman year," Beausoleil said. "But there's no doubt about it that he's got the ability and the talent. He's given us everything we need and more."
Circumstances contributed to DelaCruz landing at Mitchell. Injuries sidelined him for a good chunk of his sophomore and junior seasons at Montville. He had a breakout senior season, earning Class M all-state honors.
Still, DelaCruz was overlooked by college baseball coaches.
"I had no coaches looking at me," he said.
But he got Beausoleil's attention.
"Central (Connecticut) had seen him and passed on him," Beausoleil said. "We're just thankful for that. There's always a reason why they're here. It's a matter of what they're going to do while they're in-between our white lines and in our dorms. The sky is the limit for him if he continues to grow, develop and get stronger."
DelaCruz admits knowing little about the program and its successful tradition during his high school days. Now he's eager to help the Mariners add another NECC championship and NCAA appearance to their resume.
He's bought into the program's disciplined approach.
"We just stick with what we can do and we don't try to do more than our abilities let us," DelaCruz said.
A big weekend is approaching for the NECC leading Mariners, 7-1 in league play. They visit New England College (18-12, 6-4), which resides in third, for a doubleheader on Friday and host Lesley University (7-19, 5-5) for two games on Saturday.
Beausoleil feels good about the state of his team.
"We're playing really good baseball and our lineup is competing," Beausoleil said. "And the (pitching) staff has been stellar. We're playing really good clean baseball. Maybe some of the best baseball that Mitchell has ever played. And that's saying something."