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Ksiazek, Walsh, McCreary Prepping For Monmouth Baseball Season

February 12, 2019 GMT

Not too long from now, Tyler Ksiazek knows he’s going to walk off a baseball diamond for the last time as a player. Unlace the cleats. Take off the uniform. Pack away the hat and glove. It’s a moment that’s been building since he was 4 years old and a moment that could arrive in 55 games. He’s bracing for it — Ksiazek said he’s not ashamed to admit there will some tears whenever that day comes — but he’s also ready for it. “After this year, it’s get ready for real life,” Ksiazek said. The 2015 Abington Heights graduate kicks off his senior season at Monmouth University on Friday, when the Hawks travel to Cary, North Carolina, for a three-game slate against Penn State. Ksiazek figures he will slot into the starting rotation somewhere, and there’s a decent chance that, when he takes the mound this year, he’ll be backed up by a pair of former Lackawanna League outfielders: North Pocono’s JP Walsh and fellow Abington Heights alum Colin McCreary. “I’ve been blessed to be able to stay a kid for four more years after high school and be able to play a game that I love and have grown up playing,” Ksiazek said. “But it does have to come to an end. I can’t play this game for the rest of my life. “Maybe it’s because I’m older, and because it’s kind of hit me a little bit, that I’m kind of ready for it. I’m ready for the next step in life, as scary as it is. This year is going to fly by, and unfortunately — I wish I could stay in this year forever. I’m excited. It’s bittersweet.” Monmouth’s baseball team has featured a Northeast Pennsylvania flavor for a while. Scranton Prep outfielder Chris Gaetano arrived there in 2014, Ksiazek and Dallas’ Jordan McCrum joined him in 2016, Walsh followed in 2017 and McCreary came along in 2018. Ksiazek, who was The Times-Tribune All-Region Player of the Year as a senior, has appeared in 40 games at Monmouth and started 25. He earned his first collegiate win as a freshman with a relief appearance against UNC Asheville on Feb. 26, 2016, and fired seven innings of one-run ball against Rutgers a little more than one month after that. He started a career-high 12 games as a sophomore, when he led Monmouth in innings pitched. Last season, he struck out nine in a complete-game victory against Hofstra, got the start in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game and ultimately wrapped up his junior year with career-best marks in ERA, runs, hits, walks and opponent batting average. “It’s been fun. It’s been a great time,” Ksiazek said. “I can’t picture myself being anywhere else for three years. We’ve definitely had our shares of ups and downs, but I’ve experienced a lot of good baseball, played a lot of good teams, we’ve beat a lot of good teams, we’ve won a lot of games.” This year should be pretty good, too. The MAAC coaches picked Monmouth as the co-preseason favorite along with Canisius, with both teams getting two more poll points than third-ranked Marist. If all goes well, Ksiazek will have more than just those 55 games left. With only three true outfielders listed on the Hawks roster, Walsh and McCreary appear to be in line for significant roles. “We’re returning a lot of veteran guys,” said Walsh, a junior. “Our defense is really good and our pitching looks really strong, so I think we should be winning a bunch of games.” As a freshman, Walsh started just six games and had to learn to adjust from a starring role in high school to one mostly on the bench in college. “Obviously, you get put in some tough situations when you’re not warm and stuff, he said. “But I think watching the game from a different perspective helped me learn a lot.” Walsh became a key part of the lineup last season, playing in 44 games and starting 29. He batted .287, slugged .376 and got on-base at a .407 clip. “I’m never really content; want to hit better every year, he said. “But I think I’m coming off a pretty solid year.” McCreary got into 19 games as a freshman and went 3 for 8 with two doubles in his limited action. He’s already been plenty busy this year, though. After redshirting in 2017-18, McCreary became the starting punter for Monmouth’s football team in the fall. His boots averaged 38.1 yards, 13 of the 49 landed inside the 20-yard line and seven went for more than 50 yards. “Definitely not tired of (playing both sports) yet. It’s a grind but I love it,” McCreary said. “I just flip the switch, go to the next sport and new season.” Each sport has its own season, but no Division I program truly hits a pause button. Sometimes it’s tough not to be around the football team in the spring or the baseball team in the fall, but McCreary makes sure his focus is always on the sport at hand. “At this level, it’s such a grind where you have to be committed to each sport,” he said. “I find time and find ways to get my work in on the side during each offseason. I’m able to manage it and, right now, it’s working out pretty great.” Since his collegiate baseball experience is still pretty limited, McCreary likely has the most work ahead of him to land one of the starting spots in the outfield. If he does, it’s possible Ksiazek could turn around on the mound and see his high school teammate and a kid they played against back then patrolling his outfield in a Division I game. “I think it just gives us that extra chemistry boost when you play with guys like Shaz and McCreary who have known each other for years,” Walsh said. “I think it just allows us to connect more and I think it allows the whole team, they see how we connect and all of our teammates kind of feed off of it.” Ksiazek pitched in a high school state championship and a college conference championship, but neither time did his team come away a winner. Before he hangs ’em up and works toward becoming a physician’s assistant, he wants a ring. McCreary and Walsh do, too. “Being a part of this program has given me friends and teammates and brothers that I will have forever,” Ksiazek said. “That’s something, along with just the experience of being able to play at this level, (that) has given me an experience that I could never have imagined myself having if you asked me this freshman year of high school. “Just playing here, the impact on my life has been — I can’t really put it into words. It’s been amazing and it’s definitely been life changing in a lot of different ways. It’s definitely something I would never replace for anything.” Contact the writer: cfoley@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9125; @RailRidersTT on Twitter