COURTESY PHOTOS FROM HOLY CROSS ATHLETICS
Lynn native Cam O’Neill is batting .251 with nine home-runs this season at Holy Cross.
By HAROLD RIVERA
When the Holy Cross baseball team takes the field Friday night against Bucknell in the first game of the series for the Patriot League Championship, the Crusaders will rely on Lynn native Cam O’Neill’s bat.
That’s because O’Neill, the team’s starting second baseman, has put together a solid season at the plate — a feat that’s become a norm for him.
After his 3-run home-run last weekend in the first of two wins for Holy Cross over Army, O’Neill has amassed nine homers this season with 41 RBI. In 167 at-bats O’Neill has totalled 42 hits, good for a .251 average. He’s started all 46 games for the Crusaders.
Crusaders coach Greg DiCenzo, who’s in his 10th season at the helm, said that although O’Neill saw struggles earlier this season, he’s been able to come around in big situations as of late.
“A lot of our guys are chasing solid batting averages throughout the year,” DiCenzo said. “He has done that too. He struggled a little bit early, but it’s a long year. He has won us a lot of games in-conference. When the game’s on the line, there’s nobody else you want up to bat. He’s a super-competitor and he’s tough.”
O’Neill’s strong junior campaign comes as no surprise, as the Buckingham Browne & Nichols product — who also spent three years playing high school baseball at St. Mary’s — showed his potential in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
As a freshman, O’Neill batted .311 and was named Patriot League Rookie of the Year. The next season, as a sophomore, O’Neill was second on the team with 33 RBI and third in doubles with 14.
“He went from being a Patriot League Rookie of the Year, to having a solid sophomore season,” DiCenzo said. “He’s had some huge at-bats and won us some big games. If we’re in the ninth inning, with runners in scoring position, he’s the guy we want up to bat for sure.”
For the junior second baseman, the successful season is a testament to the work O’Neill dedicated to his craft throughout the offseason.
“As a baseball player this past year I was looking to develop my skillset and my physicality,” O’Neill said. “I was working a lot on my strength this offseason. That’s helped me out a lot this year with my power numbers.”
To say O’Neill has flashed his strength at the plate this season might be an understatement, as his nine home-runs lead the team. That’s a vast improvement from his mark last season, when O’Neill homered once.
“Personally, I wanted to hit more for power,” O’Neill said. “I think I’ve done a decent job at that. I wanted to drive more runs in. I take all my at-bats intensely, especially when guys are in scoring position. I’ve been locking in and trying to get those guys across the plate.”
When he found himself in the middle of an early-season slump, O’Neill decided that the best way to climb out of it was to do what he does best: rely on his work ethic and dedication. Hitting sessions in the batting cages have paid dividends for O’Neill and the rest of his teammates.
“I had a little stretch in the middle of the season where I was struggling,” O’Neill recalled. “Our hitting coach (Jason Falcon, a former North Shore Navigators manager) has been working a lot with me and that’s worked well. We’re creating a culture here where everyone’s going to the batting cages for reps on their own time. Before practice, 80% of the team has already hit the cages. That’s been huge for me and for a lot of other guys.”
And just as it has for O’Neill, the hard work has paid dividends for the rest of the Crusaders too. Holy Cross stands at 21-25 on the season, 12-8 in Patriot League play. This weekend’s series against Bucknell, in which Holy Cross is the home team, will give the Crusaders a chance to win their first Patriot League Championship in program history.
“We’re really excited about that,” O’Neill said. “We just have to continue to play the way we played throughout the season.”
With an experienced roster that carries 13 seniors and a core of underclassmen who aren’t new to pressure situations on the diamond, the Crusaders are right where they hoped they’d be.
“It would mean everything to win the league,” O’Neill said. “All the hard work we’ve put in year-round. We’ve never won a Patriot League Championship before. There’s a lot of pressure this year to win the league with 13 seniors and a heavy load of talent but we’re ready for it. It would mean a ton to this school and the program to take care of business this weekend.”