Greg King had seen enough. Internal strife had worn down the Thomas College baseball team during a trying 2017 season, so with 2018 on its way, the Terriers coach called his players together — all of them — and delivered a message.

“We sat down with every single kid this year and we said ‘We’re a drama-free team. If you want to start creating drama, then we’re going to look elsewhere. We don’t want you to participate on the team,'” said King, now in his 22nd season as the Thomas coach. “I just set expectations. … We just said ‘We’re going to have zero tolerance for drama, we’re in this together and we’re a team.”

It was a risky approach, but so far, it appears to have been a productive one. The Terriers are more cohesive on the field and tightly-knit off it, and with that increased chemistry has come a confidence that this season can look less like last year, when Thomas sank to a 7-31-1 record, and more like previous seasons, when the Terriers were consistently in the top four of the North Atlantic Conference.

It hasn’t yet translated to the record — Thomas won its first game in Florida Wednesday afternoon to improve to 1-4 — but King said the differences have been clear.

“(It was just) up-front honesty with everyone, saying ‘Hey, this is the way it’s going to be. If you’re not on board, you’ll have to find another place to play baseball,'” he said. “And this year, I can’t believe the turnaround. It’s one of the best groups of guys I’ve had to be around.”

King didn’t specify the troubles the team went through last year, but said they were tied largely to the team’s youth and inexperience. Nineteen of the team’s 39 players were freshmen, and many of the players scuffled and became frustrated as they struggled to adapt to the more rigorous competition and schedule of the college game.

“There’s a huge adjustment in going from high school to trying to compete right away in college,” King said. “You’re playing against men. Some of them didn’t get that picture until the tail end of the season.”

“We were just a young team,” senior pitcher and captain Matt Rutherford said. “If you’re a young team like that there are going to be growing pains, it’s going to be a learning experience. … We were just a little immature. We had to grow up a little bit, and I think we did that in the offseason.”

The off-field matters cleared, but King still wondered if he had enough on the field to turn the record around. Even in losses, he started to get his answer. Out of seemingly nowhere, Thomas, which pitched to a 7.23 rotation last year, got a pitching staff. Cody Cousins allowed one run and struck out nine in seven innings in a 1-0 loss to Farmingdale State, freshman Ryan Scepansky allowed one run in six innings in a 2-1 loss in the nightcap against the Rams, and Thomas Paola, Dylan Copeland and Brandon Hubbard combined for four shutout innings in a 4-3 loss to Knox College.

Even the loss dragging down the team’s ERA, a 13-1 defeat against Hope College, is misleading — Rutherford allowed only two runs in 4 2/3 innings, and the the Flying Dutchmen did most of their work against the Thomas bullpen.

“I was a little bit skeptical about (the pitching),” King said. “Usually it takes a while to get things going, but our guys have come right out, they’re attacking hitters, they’re making quality pitches. I’ve been pleasantly surprised.”

Taking the Hope game out of the equation, Thomas has pitched to a 3.09 collective ERA in its other four games.

“It’s kind of the whole staff. It’s not just one guy that’s pitching well,” Rutherford said. “We’re all pitching well, which is good. We have confidence that when we come out of a game, the next pitcher coming in is going to pick us up, he’s going to get us out of whatever jam we’re in.”

It’s a far cry from last year, and the Terriers were finally rewarded for their new approach and attitude Wednesday when the bats came alive and Thomas came away with a 12-5 win over Bard College.

“We finally broke through,” Rutherford said. “The feeling in the dugout, the feeling on the field and the feeling after, I just told the team ‘Remember this feeling.’ Because that’s what we try to get every day.”

With everyone pulling in the right direction, King feels there will be more of those moments to come.

“It’s a lot easier to go out and compete when you know everybody’s got your back and everybody’s looking out for you than it is when some guy’s wanting you to make some mistakes (so they can) go out there and play,” he said. “Everyone’s in it for the right reasons. After starting out like this, I just think things are going to get better and better.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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