Seniors' sendoff dampened by loss

Pitcher Nic Banaugh pitches the last game of his collegiate career during the Gators' senior day against Cal State Stansilaus at Maloney Field Sunday, May 10. Eric Soracco / staff photographer

Wearily throwing his mitt high above his head, senior pitcher Nic Banaugh walked off the Maloney Field mound Sunday afternoon for the last time as an SF State Gator.

In an unfortunate end to the spring 2011 season, the SF State baseball team suffered a shutout loss to the Cal State Stanislaus Warriors, 5-0.

The final loss solidified a 16-34 overall record and its place at the bottom of the conference standings, and was the end of an important chapter in the lives of nine graduating seniors.

“It’s pretty bittersweet, but mostly bitter, to be honest,” said senior outfielder Ben Mielke. “I love baseball and I never really wanted it to end. I knew this day was going to come when I started, but I figured I would enjoy the time I had.”

Mielke was honored at Sunday’s game along with fellow graduating seniors Nic Banaugh, Tyler Overstreet, Drew Andersen, Michael Cala, A.J. Comaskey, Kevin Dultz, Nic Gauldin and Doug Stinson.

Head coach Mike Cummins acknowledged that it was a difficult time for the athletes who would be moving on.

“Every person who has ever played baseball comes to that point where it’s over,” Cummins said. “When you start playing you think that this day will never come. It’s a tough time. It hits them hard, but it’s a part of growing up.”

In what Cummins refers to as a “disappointing season,” the team fell short of ending the regular season on a positive note.

The game remained scoreless until Stanislaus got on the board with four runs in the top of the third inning. Stanislaus’ David Contreras hit a powerful groundball that zipped by third base, scoring first baseman Boomer Donnell.

The Gators found themselves in another tough spot shortly after with the Warriors loading the bases. Stanlislaus’ Bryce Smith drew a walk, scoring John Canepa. Then, David Contreras came home when Vince Hungerford was hit by a misguided pitch. The Warriors scored again in the sixth inning.

Meanwhile, starting pitcher Andrew Stueve stifled the Gators, striking out seven.

Despite the frustration of the team’s inability to score, senior Gators were commended for their efforts with vigorous standing ovations from the home crowd as they exited the game one by one.

“I feel like I worked my ass off, and that’s all I could really do,” Mielke said. “Of course, our record didn’t really show much of a season for us, but I feel like I worked as hard as I could and enjoyed every second of it.”

Banaugh, who Cummins dubbed one of the team’s most consistent pitchers, did his best to make light of his last moments as a Gator.

“It’s super emotional, that’s for sure, and I’m pretty sad,” Banaugh said. “I’m going to miss them all. Everyone’s different, and everyone brings something new to the team. I’m definitely going to miss them and I hope we stay in contact.”

Cummins recognizes that one of the biggest challenges in the upcoming season will be developing the right chemistry to build a successful team.

With nine new spots to fill, Cummins stated the team’s focus in the offseason will shift to recruiting and team bonding.

“We spend a lot of time working on baseball skills, but sometimes the most important thing is having our guys get along better and pull for each other,” Cummins said. “Sometimes I didn’t think our team chemistry was as good as I would’ve liked. That’s something we probably have to work on more as a coaching staff. It’s something the players have to do, but it’s something that we have to facilitate more.”

Cummins also noted that the void left by his graduating seniors will be challenging to fill.

“The seniors have given our team leadership,” Cummins said. “We’re going to miss that group. We just hope that the guys that are coming back have learned some things from them so that we can keep making strides forward.”

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