Comets lean on experience and unity as winning formula

Mitchell McMillen | The Chronicle

The Mason baseball team is swinging for the fences this season, led by a large and experienced senior class.

The 29-man varsity roster boasts 17 seniors this year with high hopes for what they can accomplish together. Eight of the seniors were on the 2022 Comets’ team that made the state final four including four starters, providing vital experience of going deep in the postseason.

Senior pitcher Bryce Brannon was on the state roster two years ago as a depth pitcher. He watched standout pitchers Brenden Garula, Noah Samol and Michael Murphy lead the team on a deep playoff run, pitching significant innings. Now as a senior, Brannon has ascended to an ace role just as those three had, and will be counted on as a starting pitcher.

He said the experience gave him the knowledge of what it takes to go far in the playoffs. He hopes to be able to pass the lessons that his former teammates passed on to him to the current roster so they know what is necessary to achieve the team’s goals.

“I think [the experience] will help me and those dudes lead the other guys in what it takes to get to that level,” Brannon said. “Obviously, we want to go past the Final Four, but knowing what it takes to reach that game will help everybody get on the same page to reach the goal together.”

Being like-minded on a specific goal will be pivotal to the Comets’ success. The 17 seniors have been part of the program together for four years, creating a common camaraderie, culture and friendship.

Senior Jake Hanley said he’s noticed the team’s close bond so far this year and hopes it will carry with the team throughout the whole season. Hanley led the GMC in batting average and wins last year while also receiving first-team All-GMC honors. Hanley said that the large senior class has contributed to a unified voice and identity on the team.

“I think there won’t be any cliques on this team,” Hanley said. “This team is pretty cohesive [and] we’re all pretty good with team chemistry up to this point. Throughout the scrimmages, there’s been a lot of positives in terms of dugout banter to being active and staying up throughout the game.”

Hanley said that he’s looking forward to stepping up as a leader. He said that in the past there wasn’t much of an opportunity to be an outspoken leader. He hopes to grow into that role and bring more energy to the team.

“Up until now there wasn’t a role for a younger guy to step up and be a vocal leader,” Hanley said. “So I think this year being more energetic, not being so quiet, showing some passion for the game, and being more outspoken is something to work on and improve.”

The Comets have held a share of the Greater Miami Conference title in the past five seasons, including consecutive sole championships. They will look to defend their title again this year. As of April 5th, the Comets are 3-0 in the GMC and 6-1 overall with their only loss coming against Hamilton Southeastern (Indiana) during a three game road trip in Tennessee.

Brannon said he’s learned a lot about leadership throughout his baseball career at Mason. He said he’s learned it can come in a myriad of varieties, each important in its own way. Brannon said he’s now understanding how leadership also includes being a role model for others to follow.

“I’ve learned [leadership] comes in many forms,” Brannon said. “When I think of a leader I think of somebody that’s in your face and loud and isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said. Obviously, all those things are good, but leadership also comes from setting an example.”

Head Coach Curt Bly said he has high expectations for what the team can accomplish this year. He said he’s excited for the 17 seniors to be together on one team, working together with one mission in mind. 

Bly said that he would like to see the servant-style of leadership out of his seniors. He said he wants the seniors to recognize that just because they are the oldest, doesn’t mean they are entitled to authority in the dugout. Respect and leadership must be earned through actions.

“We always talk about the concept that leaders eat last,” Bly said. “You’re not just a leader positionally, you’re a leader relationally. They have to be willing to serve. That’s always been our focus with our leadership group.”

With the unusually large number of seniors on the roster this year, the team had nine seniors in 2023 and eight in 2022, competition for starting roles and playing time is more intense this year across the entire lineup. The improvement and development of underclassmen have always been a critical part of Mason’s success but will be especially important as the team prepares for significant roster turnover after the current senior class graduates.

Bly said even with seniors making up a large portion of the roster, the commitment to improving the skillset of younger players is still an important part of the process. He said the team has made efforts including expanding the varsity roster to maintain its standard of development.

“We’ve elevated the number of guys that are what called ‘touching the varsity roster’ from 24 or 25 to 29,” Bly said. “There are guys that will be maybe playing more on JV than varsity, but we’re building a varsity experience. Hopefully, that will help them hit the ground running next year.”

Hanley said he hopes to contribute to the development of the younger guys on the team. Although the lineup heavily features seniors and juniors, the team does not want age to determine a player’s role on the field or in the dugout. He said one of the goals he placed on himself this year is to prepare the underclassmen for next year.

“I think the guys that are up on the step to be seniors next year are learning from us,” Hanley said. “They’re asking a lot of questions, which is good, and we’re giving them insight. Our goal is to get them ready for next year and make them the best players they can be.”