Respect hasn't come easy for this year's Navy baseball team.
After graduating two of the academy's finest players into service duty last year, Navy has had a tough time convincing opponents that it is a serious contender.
Following the departure of shortstop Mike Mullikin and all-American second baseman Rich Seiler, the Mids' reputation in the Eastern Intercollegiate Conference diminished.
"People just haven't thought very highly of us since Mike and Rich left," said Steven Komlo, one of six seniors on the Mids' young team. "We were playing in their shadows."
Last week, while playing at Yale, tied with Navy at 5-1 atop the Eibl standings, Navy expected to face Ron Darling, one of the nation's brightest pitching prospects.
Instead, Yale started its No. 3 pitcher, electing to save Darling for a game with Princeton later in the week.
"We snickered at that move," said sophomore second baseman Tony Rodgers. "Yeah," Komlo said, "but once we roughed up their other guy (in an 8-3 Navy victory) we got our message across."
The Mids (14-3) sent their message to Villanova yesterday at Forster Memorial Field, routing the Wildcats, 9-2, in a nonleague contest.
Senior Jim Roberts had two doubles, two singles and our RBI and Jim McMurtry pitched a complete game victory. The senior left-hander had a strong curse, giving up six hits.
Navy Coach Joe Duff had expected his 20th season at Annapolis to be a rebuilding one after finishing 22-6 in 1980. But after defeating Yale and Penn State twice, Duff's team has made him a believer.
"This club is young and we aren't all that strong talen-wise," Duff said. "But I'll tell you, they have been quite a pleasant surprise."
Duff, known to stress fundamentals, has brought together a combination of youth and experience (five of six seniors start) and molded it into a splendid team.
Sophomore Andy Loferski, described by Duff as "very intelligent and a good learner" leads the team in hits, runs scored and home runs and is tied with Roberts for the RBI lead.
Junior shortstop Steven Schulte, Rodgers and freshman Bart Rowe form the nucleus of a promising double play combination.
On the mound, but not always the easiest to spot, diminutive Craig Gibson (3-1), a 5-foot-8 sophomore, has given the Mids a big lift. Bob Adrion (4-0) and Gibson likely will start Saturday when Navy hosts league rival Princeton in a doubleheader.
"We're gonna lose some games down the road," continued Duff. "You have to realize these things (losses) can happen with a young club. But I've tried to instill to them that they cannot be intimidated by anyone -- that you lose by making a team beat you."