2008 Baseball Preview
Feb. 19, 2008
EASTON, Pa. - The 2008 Lafayette baseball team is primed to continue the winning tradition head coach Joe Kinney has established at Lafayette. Last spring, the Leopards won a program-record 33 games and advanced to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 1990. Despite losing several key members of that team to graduation, Kinney, the reigning Patriot League Coach of the Year, has assembled another squad that seems poised for more postseason success this spring.
While several key members from last year's Patriot League Championship team graduated, Kinney and his staff enter this spring with a team that possesses the talent and depth that should lead to another winning season. The Leopards return several starters to the lineup, two to the starting rotation and have a veteran bullpen, as well.
"Our entire starting infield is back so that's our defensive strength," Kinney said. "All of the players at those positions are experienced and have performed well for us and we're certainly looking to them for leadership. We also have several key pitchers returning so our pitching staff will be another strength of our team, which is always important in college baseball."
The senior class will be looked upon to lead both on and off the field. Second baseman Tom Hayes and starting pitcher Kevin Reese were selected as captains and are two of eight seniors on the roster. All eight played significant roles last season and will provide leadership and experience to the team's underclassmen. The outfield will have a new look as the team lost its starters from a year ago, including offensive sparkplug James Conrad. Kinney has several capable options, however, and depth should not be an issue. The veteran infield, combined with a talented corps of outfielders, indicates that the lineup should have no problems finding its stride again this season.
The starting rotation will see two starters back on the mound this season in sophomore Jeremy Atkins and Reese. They will be throwing to a new catcher, however, as Dave Drechsel graduated last spring. Senior Tom Ambrosole is ready to step into the starting role with three seasons of experience under his belt. Ambrosole will also be catching a bullpen that should get plenty of attention this season.
"Our bullpen potentially could be as strong as its ever been," Kinney said. "I've never had this experienced a bullpen before."
The pitching staff is expected to yet again be a strength of the team with a solid mix of veterans and youth who have the ability and talent to make an impact this season. It will be a challenge to top the performance of last year's squad that finished the season with a 4.01 earned run average (ERA) but this year's group should be up to the task.
Reese and Atkins are both coming off impressive 2007 campaigns. Reese led the squad with seven wins and a 2.96 ERA while Atkins finished his All-America rookie season with six wins and a 3.50 ERA.
The team will miss the veteran arms of Matt Kamine, Ted Gjeldum, Brian Cope and John Fugett. Kamine finished his career at Lafayette with 14 wins, including seven last season. He logged a team-record 94 innings of work and 214.2 for his career. Gjeldum threw over 78 innings last season and finished his career with 12 wins and a career ERA of 3.84. He has since moved on to play professional baseball.
Cope, meanwhile, contributed four wins last season and boasted an impressive 4.01 ERA. Classmate Fugett made 22 appearances last spring en route to recording a team-high four saves in just over 35 innings of work.
"We did lose some key guys on the mound to graduation but we have some players with experience and some newcomers, including Ryan and Zach," Kinney said. "We think both of them have the ability to do some things for us this season."
Woodfield posted a 3-1 record in 2007 with a 3.97 ERA in 34 innings of work. He had two saves on the season and struck out 28 batters. Morytko also had a solid year, making 23 appearances and pitching over 22 innings. Roberts made five appearances his junior season, pitching a combined eight innings.
Talent and experience abound in the infield this season. The Leopards return four starters from last year's Patriot League championship team in Hayes and juniors Chris Luick, Daniel Bierce and Jeff Butler.
"The infield will anchor our lineup because they're our most experienced players offensively and defensively," Kinney said. "Every guy there figures to be a key player."
Luick, a standout defensive player, will return at first base after a season in which he boasted a .344 batting average with three triples and four home runs. Backing him up at the position will be junior Joe Ezekiel and freshman Adam McMahon, who could also see time in the outfield.
Second base will be anchored by Hayes, a career .292 hitter. Hayes started 47 games as a junior and tallied 59 RBI to go along with six doubles. Another freshman will serve as the backup to Hayes with Matt Fenster expected to be the first off the bench at the position.
Butler, who batted .349 last season, will start at third and look to improve on what was a highly successful junior campaign. He started all 45 games in which he appeared and finished with a .349 batting average. Sophomore Justin Shepherd will serve as a more than capable backup player. Shepherd made four starts his rookie year and appeared in 12 games.
The shortstop position belongs to Bierce, the only player to start all 53 games last spring. Bierce is a sure-handed infielder who also possesses speed, as he swiped 17 bases in 21 attempts last year. A.J. Pisarri and freshman Casey Ennis are options to fill in at third while Ennis can also backup several other infield positions.
Ambrosole will take over as the Leopards' starting catcher. He started 16 games last season both as a designated hitter and behind the plate. With three years of experience, Ambrosole should have no problem catching the Lafayette pitching staff while also providing the team with another quality bat in the lineup.
Unlike the infield, the outfield positions will be manned entirely by new starters this spring.
"We'll have a whole host of people," Kinney said, "some who have experience and some who don't."
Senior Ryan Roberts, junior Nick Tucker and sophomores Matt Hall and Brad Weiss seem to hold the edge to see the most playing time. Roberts saw significant action last season, starting 19 of the 34 games in which he played.
After spending the majority of his Lafayette career on the mound, Tucker has now made the switch to a full-time position player. Hall and Weiss each saw playing time last spring as Hall had 33 at-bats while Weiss recorded 11 hits in 37 at-bats. Two freshmen--Rob Froio and Alex Bechta--should push for some playing time in the outfield.
There are 52 games on Lafayette's schedule this spring, including 18 home contests. The Leopards will again compete in the Liberty Bell Classic against a group of teams that includes St. Joseph's, Delaware, Penn, La Salle, Villanova, Temple and Lehigh. The championship game, which Lafayette won last season against Lehigh, will be played at the Philadelphia Phillies' Citizens Bank Park.
This season, there are a few rule changes to college baseball, including a national Feb. 22 start date. That will benefit teams in colder climates because for the first time, every team will open the season against squads with the same record, an important factor as Lafayette begins the season with three games at VMI from Feb. 22-24.
"This will be the first time in my coaching history we're going to play a team that has the same record we do," Kinney said. "In the past, when we've played teams from the south we've typically played teams that have already played several games, meaning it was never an entirely level playing field."
A two-game road trip follows the next weekend against Norfolk State on March 1 and 2. The home season opens on March 5 with a game against East Stroudsburg and two against St. Peter's on March 8 and 9.
Lafayette will spend spring break in Bradenton, Fla. with four games against four teams from March 15-18. The team will then play three games against Delaware before returning home to open league play.
"Delaware will be a big weekend for us," Kinney said. "It's a talented team and it's at their place. It will get us in the competitive mode you want to be in heading into conference play."
March 25 marks the first of 12-straight home contests for Lafayette, beginning with a game against Penn as part of the Liberty Bell Classic. Patriot League play opens on March 29 when Navy visits Easton for four games. A brief break from league play takes place on April 1 when the Leopards face either St. Joe's or Delaware in the Liberty Bell Classic. Four games against league opponent Bucknell wrap-up the homestand.
A lengthy, 15-game road trip follows, including four games against archrival Lehigh on April 12-13. Other league opponents the Leopards face during the stretch include Holy Cross and Army with non-league games also scheduled against Monmouth, Villanova and Rutgers.
The regular season concludes with non-league games against Temple, Stony Brook and Rider before the Patriot League Tournament takes place from May 10-18 at the highest seed.
Ultimately, it will be the league portion of the schedule that determines whether the season is a success or not.
"We play 20 league games and it's how you do over that 20-game schedule that dictates whether we're going to be in postseason play which is our primary goal," Kinney said.