Youthful Leopards Poised for 2017 Campaign
EASTON, Pa. - It came down to the final game of the regular season, but the Lafayette baseball team saw its postseason hopes fall short in 2016.
However, a new year brings new opportunity to all of the Patriot League baseball programs as five of the six teams have claimed at least one league title in the past 10 years, including the Leopards in 2007.
"The beauty of the Patriot League is that every team has a realistic shot to achieve their goal of making the conference tournament and competing," head coach Joe Kinney said. "We are certainly using last year's outcome as motivation coming into the season, but we try not to have results be the focal points of what we are doing."
The Leopards' quest for another Patriot League title will commence this weekend as they begin the 2017 campaign in San Antonio, where they will take part in the Irish Alamo Invitational and play four games in three days, beginning with a pair of contests tomorrow against Notre Dame at 11 a.m. and Saint Louis at 3 p.m.
It will be a challenging road for the Leopards, who are faced with an inexperienced roster as 12 new faces have joined the squad that consists of just four seniors. Despite their lack of experience though, there is plenty of youthful talent for the Maroon and White.
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2017 edition of the Lafayette baseball team.
The majority of the experience for the Leopards lies in the infield, featuring a pair of former all-league players.
"In terms of experience and ability, that is the heart of our team," Kinney stated. "This is a group of very experienced guys that are going to be in key spots in the lineup. They are going to be a key part of what we are trying to do."
Anchoring the right side of the infield is Alex Woinski, who is the lone senior starting position player, and junior Steven Cohen. Woinski will be looked at to be a primary run producer with his bat in the lineup, while Cohen has proven that he is an accomplished hitter. Woinski batted .273 a season ago and had seven doubles and 13 RBIs. Cohen is coming off a year where he hit .327 with a team-best 32 RBIs and 14 doubles.
Rich Villa and Ezekiel Berg will be behind Woinski in the depth chart at first. Villa will be vying for time at the position, but will also be serving as a designated hitter and go to bat off the bench throughout the course of the season.
"Spencer had a strong summer and fall and he is really the anchor of our infield defense," Kinney said.
Leckie is a player who started in all 36 games that he appeared in during his rookie campaign and compiled a .288 average at the plate with 20 RBIs and 14 doubles. The Suffield, Conn. native saw most of his time in right field, but got some burn at both second and third towards the end of the season.
"It will be a bit of an adjustment for him," Kinney stated. "He played a lot as a freshman and has kept a very high level of performance for us."
Leckie's versatility allows Kinney the opportunity to shake things up on the defensive end, which would offer sophomore Isaiah Berg some time at third this season as well.
"Isaiah has had a strong fall and is pushing to claim some playing time this year for us," Kinney said.
Junior captain AJ Kloehn will get the starting nod behind the dish for the Leopards this season and after getting 26 starts last year, he is poised for a productive 2017.
"We are looking at AJ for his strong leadership on the field," Kinney stated. "Last year, he matured quite a bit physically and emotionally, and has become a consistent base for the team and pitching staff. To have him involved in the offense and be such an integral part of our pitching staff's success is truly a benefit for our team."
Sophomore John Selsor will serve as the backup catcher, but will also be spending time as the designated hitter. As a freshman, Selsor batted .262 in 61 plate appearances.
"John was playing his best baseball at the end of the season and carried that into the fall," Kinney said. "He has been as consistent of a hitter as we have had. He has been keeping it going both defensively and offensively and that is definitely encouraging."
Kinney has a plethora of options in the outfield starting with junior captain Luke Robinson. Robinson began to pick up it towards the end of his sophomore season, driving in a combined six runs in his last eight games.
"Luke is our most experienced returning outfielder, so he is going to man one of the corner outfield spots," Kinney stated. "He has a lot of experience and is going to be in a key spot in our lineup."
Junior Quentin Bubb and freshman Brandon Posivak have battled it out all offseason for the starting job in center field, and both will have opportunities to see time. Bubb came to College Hill as an infielder, but missed all of last year due to an injury and has since made the transition to the outfield.
"He is in a position to potentially be our starting center fielder," Kinney said. "He showed signs in the fall and has taken a strong jump."
Another player making the adjustment to the outfield is junior Patrick Nelson. After missing most of last year due to injury, he returns and will get some time in one of the corner outfield positions.
"Pat has made the adjustment to the outfield very well," Kinney said. "He is going to get time in left field particularly against right-handed pitching."
The starting rotation took a few big hits once David Bednar was drafted by the San Diego Padres and junior John Cain suffered a season-ending injury over the summer. The two were in place to fill the top two spots in the starting rotation for the Maroon and White in 2017 and led the team in strikeouts a season ago.
Senior captain Trevor Houck will serve as the Leopards' number one starter this season. With eight starts during his junior campaign, he carries the most starting experience on the staff and will be looked upon to provide great leadership to an inexperienced rotation.
"Trevor is really balanced and focus driven," Kinney said. "He is best when leading by example in how he commands his pitches and keeps the ball down in the zone."
Sophomore David Giusti made 17 appearances and two starts as a freshman and is likely to factor in to the number two spot in the rotation. In his first year, Giusti held the opposition to a .266 average at the plate, while racking up 19 strikeouts and three wins.
"David had a strong start to the year last year and has looked really good this preseason," Kinney stated. "We are looking for big things from him this year."
Rounding out the rotation are freshmen Brett Kreyer and Brian Lannino. The pair of lefties both are coming off of accomplished high school careers and will be thrown right into action at the start of the season.
Kinney has several options out of the pen, including sophomore southpaw Kyle Johnson.
"Kyle was probably our most improved guy in the fall in terms of what he showed as a freshman and what he has shown this year," Kinney remarked. "How he pitched in the fall was very encouraging as he commanded the strike zone and effectively changed speeds."
Seniors Rob Ewald and Coleman Strohm will be looked at to provide some veteran leadership to the bullpen and will be counted on to give plenty of quality innings. Ewald made six appearances as a junior and finished with a 2.57 ERA.
Despite being just a sophomore, Connor Jones could see plenty of time on the mound in big spots. During his rookie campaign, Jones made 12 appearances out of the pen and struck out 11 batters.
"Connor got a lot of significant innings last year and acquitted himself very well," Kinney said, "He will certainly be a guy we go to in key spots early."
The 56-game slate for the Maroon and White features 19 games at Kamine Stadium including 12 Patriot League games.
"Our 2017 baseball schedule is quite possibly the most ambitious in my 17 years at Lafayette," Kinney said. "Three in-season tournaments, a series at 2016 NCAA Regional participant William and Mary along with trips to play Georgetown, UNC Greensboro, and Penn State highlight our non-conference schedule. Our student-athletes are definitely excited for this challenging schedule and are confident that they will be prepared for Patriot League play."
The first home game of the year will be on Feb. 21 when the Leopards play host to La Salle before heading back on the road for a 16-game stretch away from Kamine. During that span, the Leopards will make trips south to Williamsburg, Va., Washington, D.C., Port Charlotte, Fla., and Greensboro, N.C.
Lafayette will return to Kamine on Mar. 28 to take part in the Liberty Bell Classic against Penn before opening up the conference slate against Army with a pair of doubleheaders on April 1 and 2.
A matchup with the defending Patriot League Champion, Navy, is slated for April 8 and 9. Following that road series, the Maroon and White will host a four-game set with Lehigh on April 22 and 23.
The Leopards will play 12 of their final 14 games at Kamine and senior day is set for May 7 when Lafayette takes on Niagara to close out the regular season.