Spirits are high within the Seton Hall baseball team as the Pirates have begun to recover from their early season slump. After going 1-9 in their opening 10 matches of the new year, the Pirates have progressively pieced their record back together with a 10-4 record since their victory over Bucknell in the Snowbird Classic.
One of the key figures in the team’s resurgence has been junior infielder Matt Toke. After spending half of last year sidelined by a nagging hamstring injury, Toke is now one of Seton Hall’s primary power bats and the anchor of the middle of the order. His efficiency from the tail end of last season has also carried over with his current batting average and offensive statistics nearly mirroring those of 2018.
As an upperclassman, Toke is also beginning to take on more responsibility as a leader amongst his teammates. With new freshmen entering the squad and returning sophomores beginning to see more time on the field, the challenge rests in trying to galvanize everyone for another Big East Championship Final run.
“We know what to expect going in” Toke said. “We made it to the championship game, and we know how to get there. We just have to do our part of leading in order to get us back there.”
Following last year’s loss to St. John’s in the Big East Championship final, Toke admitted that returning to the final will be the team’s biggest challenge this year. His impulse to immediately shift focus onto the team, however, made it apparent that the key to going one further and returning the Big East title to Seton Hall is by delivering solid team performances every game.
The junior was adamant on emphasizing the need to focus on everyone contributing their part whether they be a senior or freshman in order to succeed this year. The hiccups the team encountered at the start of this year were genuine tests of their mentality and comradery, but Toke believes strongly that the team can right the ship by focusing on the challenges at hand as a unit rather than as individuals.
“We’re all just one,” Toke said. “We lead together. There’s not just one person that has all the responsibilities.” Although he feels more responsibility on his shoulders as one of the upperclassmen, Toke knows that the team’s success relies on everyone giving their best efforts both in practice and in each match.
To the Pirates’ advantage, though, the tide is starting to turn in their favor just before they kickoff Big East play against Villanova on April 5. The team’s lack of a genuine home field, however, was also brought up as an unfortunate circumstance that the Pirates will just have to learn to overcome.
Toke attributed the Pirates’ ability to hit - and hit for power - as a reason for their adaptability from ballpark to ballpark.
“It’s a lot easier to hit when the hole lineup is hitting” he added. “When everything’s going right it’s a lot easier to play. You’re not trying to overpower anything or overthink, it just kind of happens.”
Toke’s humble confidence in his team noticeably resonates throughout each player and coach in the way each of them seems ready for the game ahead as they board the team’s bus. Though he will face his own personal challenges throughout 2019, the team’s security and success is always the first priority for Toke regardless of the conditions at hand. Even without a true home, Toke is feeling as comfortable as ever.
Justin Sousa can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @908Sousa.