In first year at Columbia, Saugus slugger exceeds expectations
Dario Pizzano batted .374, with a team-high 109 total bases and a .741 slugging percentage. He ranked second on the Columbia University baseball team with 38 runs scored, 55 hits, 12 home runs, and 36 RBIs.
Quite an impressive first season at the plate for the freshman outfielder from Saugus.
Columbia coach Brett Boretti, however, prefers to focus on more than just the offense.
“Those are great numbers to be sure,’’ said Boretti, a Beverly native who this past season, his fifth at the helm, guided Columbia to its most Division 1 wins ever (26) and first winning season (26-21) in 23 years.
“We were familiar with him and knew we were getting a hard-nosed kid and one who could hit. He proved that in the fall. As a result, he forced us to find a spot for him in the lineup. So we moved our regular leftfielder [junior Jason Banos of Lynnfield] to first base. But his biggest improvement overall was defensively.’’
The Globe’s Division 1 Player of the Year as a senior at Malden Catholic, Pizzano handled 72 of 74 chances flawlessly for a .973 fielding percentage. The two errors he made — one a dropped liner and the other a throw to the plate — came in the season finale against Ivy champ Dartmouth.
“We got more than expected from him, offensively and defensively,’’ said Boretti. “Any time a first-year player comes and puts up the numbers he did and plays the field the way he did, when all is said and done, it’s much more than we ever considered. Especially at this level. A lot of first-year kids get off to a good start and then fade.
“They’re not used to a 50-game schedule and practice every day. It eventually takes its toll. But Dario maintained it and actually picked up his game as the season progressed. He learned a lot about himself as a hitter.’’
Pizzano, named the Ivy League’s Rookie of the Year, concentrated on his defense in the off season. “I knew I was a consistent hitter and that if I hit I could work my way into the lineup,’’ he said. “But I didn’t want to be a designated hitter. I wanted to play both ways. So I worked hard on my outfield speed and my pivot.’’
If Pizzano’s name rings a bell, it should. He played for the Saugus Little League team that advanced to the World Series in 2003 and advanced to the US championship game before losing to Boynton Beach, Fla., 9-2. In the semifinal game, often called the “greatest Little League World Series game,’’ he scored the winning run in Saugus’s 14-13 extra inning thriller against Richmond, Texas.
“I still think of that time and those games,’’ he said. “It was one of those experiences that propelled me to succeed.’’
E-mail John Vellante at JohnPVel@aol.com.