2012 Baseball Season Preview
Feb. 24, 2012
EASTON, Pa. - Though residents of College Hill are enjoying an unseasonably warm winter, the Lafayette baseball team heads south to the Virginia Military Institute this weekend to begin the 2012 season. The Leopards return 21 letterwinners, including five starting position players and four starting pitchers, from a club that advanced to the Patriot League Tournament after a third-place finish in 2011.
Joe Kinney is set to begin his 13th season as the Leopards' skipper. Kinney, who led Lafayette to the 2007 Patriot League Championship, has guided three of his last five teams to the postseason. He has coached 45 All-Patriot League selections and three Patriot League Players of the Year. Kinney's entire staff from the 2011 campaign will also be back in the dugout at Kamine Stadium. Gregg Durrah returns for his 13th season, Brandt Godshalk enters his fifth season and Ian Law '06, a former All-Patriot League shortstop under Kinney, is in his second campaign as an assistant coach.
The Leopards' roster includes five catchers this season as Lafayette looks to replace 2011 Patriot League Player of the Year A.J. Miller '11. Senior Kevin McCarville and junior Thomas Dunleavy shared the duties as Miller's backup last spring, combining for eight hits and two runs batted in. Junior Alex Osuchowski and freshmen Parker Hills and Zach Gross add to the depth as backstops. Osuchowski is 2-for-5 in five collegiate at-bats. Hills - also a pitcher - earned two First-Team All-North Carolina nods at East Lincoln High School, while Gross was an All-Catholic League catcher at Don Bosco Prep (N.J.). Several members of the catching corps will also see time at designated hitter.
Three of the Leopards' starting infielders return to the fold. Junior second baseman Kevin Casey hit .262 in 2011 with three home runs and 23 RBI, while senior Brian Davila, who is entering his third year as Lafayette's everyday shortstop, batted .275 and drove in 13 runs with seven stolen bases. Junior third baseman Scott Kelleher took over the hot corner last season and batted .259 with a home run and 22 RBI.
Junior Brad Hopek, who served primarily as a defensive replacement for former First Team All-Patriot League player Matt Fenster '11, will take over the starting role at first base in 2012. Hopek had seven hits and drove in four runs in 40 at-bats last season in addition to his late-inning glove work.
Sophomores Eric Anderson, Jonathan Ho and Brian Sullivan saw limited time as rookies behind the experienced Leopards' infield. Freshmen James McCool and Rob Caliento, both all-league talents in their scholastic careers, will also enter the fold around the horn.
Lafayette baseball has seen just two everyday centerfielders over the past seven seasons: James Conrad '07 and Rob Froio '11. Sophomore Andrew Santomauro, who hit .263 in 57 at-bats as a freshman, will join that list in 2012 as he takes over the heart of the Leopards' outfield.
Senior co-captain Bobby Fargnoli and junior Andrew Ruck will patrol the corners of the outfield. Fargnoli, who was selected to the Patriot League All-Tournament Team last season, batted .232 with two home runs and 23 RBI as the Leopards' starting left fielder. Primarily a designated hitter as a sophomore, Ruck hit .242 with 12 RBI in his first season as a fixture in Lafayette lineup.
A trio of highly-touted freshmen will provide depth in the outfield at Kamine Stadium. Matt Lerner earned national honors in high school as a Rawlings Preseason All-America pick, Brett Thompson claimed a 2011 Atlantic Region Honorable Mention from Perfect Game and Tim Lazor was the Bicentennial Athletic League Most Valuable Player as a senior. Dunleavy will also see time in the outfield when he is not among the Leopards' catching platoon.
Kinney will have six left-handers on his staff. Sophomore Connor Ortolf started four games last season, including a win over Lehigh in his first career start, and will return to the rotation this season. Senior Sean McGrath emerged as one of the Leopards' most reliable relievers in 2011, earning three wins and a save in a team-high 20 appearances. Senior lefty specialist Jack Rems went 1-0 in 15 innings of work, and junior Joe Leo struck out 10 batters in 11.1 innings over seven appearances, including a pair of mid-week starts. Senior Michael Massa pitched 24 innings prior to a season-ending injury last season, most notably tossing 4.2 scoreless frames at Bucknell in his final appearance on April 3. Freshman Toby Schwartz, an All-State hurler from Bergen Catholic (N.J.), could see time out of the bullpen or the starting rotation in his rookie campaign.
For the second straight season, two spots in the starting rotation will be filled by senior right-handers John Gentile and Ethan Perro. Gentile, one of the Leopards' co-captains, made 10 starts and went 2-7 with one save and a 5.50 earned run average in 55.2 innings of work. His two wins were crucial to Lafayette's success in 2011: a complete-game victory at Bucknell and the Patriot League Tournament berth-clinching win at Navy. He also took a no-decision after six innings of one-run ball against Holy Cross and was saddled with a hard-luck loss in which he allowed just one earned run in six innings at Cal State Bakersfield. Perro went 3-4 with a 5.37 ERA in 55.1 innings, bolstered by two outings in which he pitched into the sixth inning without ceding an earned run. Perro also earned a win after scattering six hits and two runs in six innings at Cal State Northridge and was triumphant after working into the eighth frame against Lehigh.
The last three outs will once again belong to senior closer and co-captain Jeff Snell, who heads a roster of nine right-handers in the Leopards' bullpen. Snell went 2-0 with six saves and a 1.67 ERA in 27 innings last spring and then spent his summer with the Brewster Whitecaps of the prestigious Cape Cod League. Senior Chris Boyce racked up 13 strikeouts in 15 innings on the hill, and junior Derek Gussaroff rung up six batters in six innings over seven appearances. Sophomore Ben Meer posted a zero in five of his 10 appearances - in addition to five at-bats as a pinch-hitter - and classmate Robert Tatum made three appearances late in his freshman season, including a scoreless frame against Army. Freshmen Cory Spera, the National District Pitcher of the Year at Hayfield Secondary School in Lorton, Va., and all-state hurler Alex Farina from New Canaan, Conn. will enter the mix as right-handed relievers. Position players Hills and Casey will also make situational appearances on the mound.
After this weekend's series at VMI, the Leopards will play at La Salle on Tuesday and head to James Madison - an NCAA Regional participant last season - for three games on March 2-4. The annual outing at Diamond Nation in Flemington, N.J. against Rider will be held on March 6, and Kamine Stadium opens for the 2012 season on March 9 against Fairleigh Dickinson.