After ending the 2000 season in second place behind Rennselaer Polytechnic Institute, the baseball team is looking to capture this year?s Upstate Collegiate Athletic Association title and make its first National Collegiate Athletic Association appearance since 1999.

Once again, RPI looks to be UR?s leading challenger.

?We?re looking to knock them off,? coach Dave Palese said. ?We feel we have a good shot.?

Palese is in his first year as head coach.

Already, the Yellowjackets are off to a quick start. Earlier this month in Cocoa Beach, Fla., UR posted an 8-4 record overall, went 4-3 in the UAA league play and upset No. 10 Emory University by a score of 4-3. The four UAA victories tied the 1992 record.

?The Flordia trip showed that the team could compete at a higher level,? said senior co-captain Dan Kernan. ?The biggest question was pitching. They did a fabulous job down [there],? he said.

Junior and left-handed pitcher Brian Schobel led the team with two wins and a 1.75 ERA while sophomore pitcher Justin Davis followed closely with a 2.50 ERA. Both made three appearances at the plate so far this year.

Hitting also came alive during the Florida swing as the Yellowjackets scored seven or more runs in six of the 12 games, including a 20-2 thrashing of Philadelphia Bible College.

Senior catcher Mike McKinsey and junior second baseman Kris Keifer headlined the Yellowjackets offense as they hit .415 and .410 respectively.

McKinsey?s 17 hits were only one more than Keifer?s total.

?I expect a lot from the entire team,? said Palese. ?We hit the ball. It?s a sign of good things to come.?

As a team, UR is averaging .304 at the plate and a 3.22 ERA from the mound, while opponents have been limited to a .263 average and bruised for 4.51 runs per game.

But the Yellowjackets are striving to improve on their early season successes.

?We?re working on the little things in a nutshell,? Palese said. He cited specifically situational hitting and baserunning.

?We left a lot of runners in scoring position,? Kernan said.

?We missed some opportunities. We?ll chalk it up to being the first time out,? Palese said.

To further develop, UR must remain focused and confident and continue to get better physically and mentally.

Although a relatively young team, the success of the 2001 Yellowjackets hinges primarily on the maturation of their large sophomore crop, now standing at nine players.

In terms of pitching, ?We have a very young staff. We want to instill some [confidence] by working on pitch location as well as being aggressive on the mound,? Palese said. ?Our motto is ?get better everyday,?? he said.

One major obstacle facing the team is the two-week hiatus between the Florida and N.Y. games, slated to begin March 27 when the Yellowjackets host SUNY Brockport.

?Hopefully [the 14-day break] will not have any affect,? Palese said. ?It?s just the nature of the beast up here in the northeast.?

Moreover, UR will not face a UCAA team until it travels to Canton, N.Y. to face St. Lawrence University April 21.

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