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New baseball coach instills confidence in team ransacked by alcohol sanctions

Second-year pitcher Jeremy McDonald is one of several players on board with new coach Jeff Skelhorne-Gross’ vision for the revamped baseball program.
Second-year pitcher Jeremy McDonald is one of several players on board with new coach Jeff Skelhorne-Gross’ vision for the revamped baseball program.
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The baseball team went 1-17 overall in 2011.
The baseball team went 1-17 overall in 2011.

The baseball team is re-equipped after hitting rock bottom not long ago.

When Queen’s Athletics suspended 11 veteran players in 2010 for a series of alcohol-related incidents, the program came dangerously close to being cut entirely. The team trudged on last year with only six returning players and went 1-16 in the OUA.

Newly-appointed head coach Jeff Skelhorne-Gross played outfield for the Gaels last year, and told the Journal the team was in need of an attitude alteration.

“We had a culture of accepting we were going to lose on any given day,” he said.

As a result, Skelhorne-Gross brings a cup-half-full attitude to a young but capable group. Only three of this year’s 25 players were on the team in 2010. 12 of 25 are rookies.

The Gaels are off to an 0-3 start this fall, but Skelhorne-Gross said this year’s group is noticeably more talented and deeper from last year.

“Facing the reality that we’re going to be down fairly often, we have to galvanize guys when that happens and really push them,” he said.

Two years removed from a self-inflicted blow to the program, Skelhorne-Gross’ positive coaching philosophy is an attempt to instill confidence in a rebuilding team.

“We’re not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, and we’re not going to dump everything and say it was a horrible game,” he said.

When the Brock Badgers crushed the Gaels 23-5 at their season opener at Megaffin Park in Kingston, calling it a horrible game would be an inherent truth for some.

For Skelhorne-Gross, “it was a really positive effort purely on the offensive side of things.”

As for the Badgers’ 23 total runs in seven innings, he attributed the slaughter to a hot team swinging with confidence.

“I’ve never seen an offensive effort like that before, especially at this level,” said Skelhorne-Gross, who played four years at Binghamton University and played with the Gaels while at Queen’s Faculty of Education in 2011.

The top of the fifth inning lasted upwards of half an hour, as the Badgers’ hitters plated 12 runs in a scoring frenzy. Badgers third-baseman Evan Baglieri hit two home runs in that inning.

“Frankly, we ran into a bit of a buzz-saw,” Skelhorne-Gross said.

The baseball team’s history isn’t a losing one, as they won championships in 2004 and 2005 in the Canadian Intercollegiate Baseball Association, before joining the OUA in 2010. Skelhorne-Gross and his coaching staff were dealt a tough hand after the series of player suspensions, but he’s confident the young team can become competitive soon.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we make a playoff push this year or the year after,” he said, “but, ultimately, it’s up to the players to make that happen, not me.”

Three games into their season, the Skelhorne-Gross way has resonated with developing players.

Second-year pitcher Jeremy McDonald is one of several players happy under Skelhorne-Gross. McDonald pitched six scoreless innings in the Gaels’ loss to Waterloo, before giving up three in the seventh.

“He keeps things positive — it’s a great aspect for any coach in any sport,” McDonald said.

McDonald was a rookie in 2011, but his brother Stephen was one of the suspended players in 2010. Like his coach, McDonald said what happened that year isn’t even discussed among a group composed of mostly first- and second-year players.

“From last year alone, we’ve already made huge steps,” McDonald said. “This year, I see us winning at least one game every weekend, which is a huge change.”

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