Taking a look at the Atlantic 10

By Eric Sorenson. Posted on February 3rd, 2010 in Atlantic 10
 

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After unceremonious snubs last season, this conference is primed for a big move in 2010. Forget the glitz and glamour, this trench war will be fought with some well-armed forces and a spot in the post-season will require a little blood on the uniform. That’s okay, the top brass of the A-10 is used to that.

2009 in a Paragraph:
Xavier tied Charlotte for the 2008 regular season crown and then won the tourney title in 2009. That’s strong stuff there X-men. But overall, it was a painful 2009 season for the A-10. First off, getting just one team into the NCAA tournament was a pretty large injustice. The regular season champion, Dayton, didn’t even get a sniff from the committee. And the conference’s best team, Rhode Island, had the anchor effect pull their RPI down too low to give the selection committee a pregnant pause for thought on inviting them to the Big Dance. Yep, the A-10 was a one-bid league, whether it was deserved or not.

Conference RPI: 20

2009 Results:
1- Dayton, 21-6
2- Rhode Island, 19-6
3- Xavier, 18-9
4- Charlotte, 16-11
4- UMass, 16-11
4- Fordham, 16-11
7- St. Louis, 12-13
8- George Washington, 11-15
8- Temple, 11-15
10- Richmond, 11-16
11- St. Bonaventure, 9-17
11- St. Joseph’s, 9-17
13- LaSalle, 8-18
14- Duquesne, 7-19

2010 in a Paragraph:
Truth of the matter is that the Atlantic 10 should only get better this season, in no uncertain terms. The new coaching hirings that were made in the last three or four years are starting to really cultivate some quality baseball here. There is lots of solid, experienced pitching coming back to the fore, especially for the Daytons and Xaviers of the world. That’s why they are in the favorites roles here. Don’t count out URI – oh heavens no – as the Rams will carry as many big sticks back to the battlefield as anyone. If a newbie or two steps up on the mound, the Rams jump back into the favorites role. The old warhorses of the earlier part of the 2000s, Charlotte and Richmond, both look primed to get back into the title conversation with – what else – a lot of pitching back on the hill. To be honest, you could’ve put any number of teams into the “Darkhorse” category below: Charlotte, Richmond, Fordham, Temple, GW, etc. It should be a free-for-all for the A-10 Tournament slots. And dare we say, the A-10 is THISCLOSE to becoming a multi-bid conference. This may be the year.

Favorites: Dayton, Xavier

Contenders: Rhode Island, Charlotte

Darkhorse: Fordham

Can’t-Miss Series of the Year: Xavier at Dayton, April 30-May 2.
Close Second: Xavier at Rhode Island, April 23-25.

URI players watch Xavier receive their A10 championship trophies. You think the Rams will remember this when the two square off in 2010?

URI players watch Xavier receive their A10 championship trophies. You think the Rams will remember this when the two square off in 2010?

Best Non-Conference Series: Xavier at Tennessee, Feb. 19-21.

Hot Coach: Scott Googins, Xavier

Hot Seat Coach: Mike Wilson, Duquesne
(If this guy doesn’t win NOW he won’t have this job next year, I guaran… oh wait.)

The “You Gotta See” Player: P/INF Zac Richard, Xavier.

Three Non-Conference Series A-10 Opponents Better Take Seriously:
1- Xavier at Georgia Tech, Feb. 26-28.
2- Xavier at Missouri, March 12-14.
3- Rhode Island at Mississippi State, Feb. 19-21.

Three Bold Predictions:
1- Xavier, Rhode Island and Fordham will all pull big upsets in the first month of ’10. (And when they do, I guarantee I’ll say “told ya’” – but if they don’t I won’t say a word)
2- Charlotte is sick of this northern incursion and will return to title contention and play for an NCAA bid.
3- Fordham will have a shot at the A-10 title, but inspired Duquesne, in their last-ever weekend of baseball, will pull a shocking series win, knocking Vince Lombardi U. out of contention.

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- CHARLOTTE (33-22, 16-11)
2009 RPI: 154
Starters Returning: 6
Weekend Starters: 3
Mid-Week Starters: 1
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

All Conference Candidates:
RHP Kelly McLain (6-2, 3.03, .232OBA)
RHP Joe Yermal (8-3, 3.01)
C Zane Williams (.329-9-41, 2nd team All A-10)
DH/RHP Ryan Rivers (.313-18-65/0-1, 5.12, .217OBA, 2nd team All A-10)
OF Justin Wilson (.364, 19SBs, 2nd team All A-10)
OF Cory Tilton (.303-5-29)
OF Shane Brown (.355, 10SBs)

The Good News:
Looks like it won’t take long for the 49ers to return to their 40-win ways as a lot of experienced players come back, including five .300+ hitters replenishing the order with plenty of firepower. Rivers and Williams (27HRs combined) provide the bash while Wilson (6.46 in the 60) provides the dash. As those three go, so goes the offense. Rivers is a force not only at the dish, but on the mound too, using his 6’5″ frame for intimidation purposes. While the entire weekend rotation comes back, keep on the look out for Tim Lysaught (3-0, 3.43) and mid-weeker Tyler Pilkington (5-1, 4.38), a pair of lefties in their second year in the program who should show massive improvement.

The Bad News:
That 43-win season from 2008 is getting further and further in the rear view mirror and it’s now-or-never time in turning things around. If that is going to happen then the .959 defense needs to improve. The infield could be shakey with part-timer Justin Roland (.200, 11Es in 16 games) and newcomer Kevin Gillespie on the left side. Incredibly, UNCC plunked 71 batters last season. C’mon Niners, bear down a bit more.

Schedule Note:
More than 33.
The 49ers are probably not going to have too hard of a time surpassing last year’s 33-game win total as they will ease into the season with weekends against High Point, Buffalo, Marist, Austin Peay and Harvard. Not only that, but they’ll have a breezy introduction to A-10 play as well, opening with St. Bonaventure and UMass. But things get serious with Rhode Island and Dayton the next two weekends after that.

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- DAYTON (38-19, 21-6)
2009 RPI: 110
Starters Returning: 5
Weekend Starters: 3
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

All Conference Candidates:
LHP Cameron Hobson (7-1, 3.43)
RHP Eric Wagner (6-1, 3.99)
2B Zach Jacob (.354-11-50)
SS Cole Tyrell (.295-12-60)
3B Jimmy Roesinger (.401, 11SBs)
OF Aaron Dunsmore (.323-11-55, 6triples)

The Good News:
From 21 wins in ’07 to 31 in ’08 to a school record 38 wins and the A-10 title last year, Coach Tony Vittorio has the program pointed the right way. (Understatement, I know.). Offensively, the Flyers hit a smashing .332 with 77 home runs and will be good to go this year, having five .295+ hitters coming back to the team. The arms corps will be solid and should improve on its 5.52 team ERA. They also issued just 167 walks last year. That’s a sweet amount of control there. A pair of sophs will head the crew with Hobson and RHP Mike Hauschild (3-3, 6.08) giving the Blue and Red a promising future on the bump. Also, getting back the services of RHP Burny Mitchem (5-2, 2.06, 4svs in ’08) after sitting out last year will be huge. Tyrell and Jacob supply a hearty dose of sweet gloves and fence-bashing power.

The Bad News:
It’s never good to win your regular season, lose the conference tournament and then miss out on the Big Dance because your RPI was in triple freakin’ digits. “Frustrating” is one F-word that comes to mind. Of course, the Flyers have had to live with that 1-and-2 Atlantic 10 tourney performance for the last eight months of the off-season. Around the infield, Jacob, Tyrell and Roesinger need to play steadier defense behind their experienced mound workers. Speaking of, the pitching staff allowed their opponents to have a lip-licking .312 average. That’s just not good.

Schedule Note:
Look for a big late-season push.
Dayton has an unusual schedule, like their 15-game homestand that will have them on campus from April 23rd to May 16th, and against some of the weaker teams in the A-10 too (other than Xavier, of course). Look for their A-10 mark to improve late in the season as they push for a second straight conference crown.

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- DUQUESNE (14-41, 7-19)
2009 RPI: 248
Starters Returning: 5
Weekend Starters: 1
Mid-Week Starters: 3
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

All Conference Candidates:
3B?RHP Andrew Heck (.314-5-24/2-3, 3.78)
C Rick Devereaux (.323-4-45)

The Good News:
It is a luxury to have a versatile talent like Heck around in all phases of the game. Heck and Devereaux will wreak havoc on opposing staffs and should hit for better power numbers this season. Gotta like the luxury of having 1B Mark Tracy (.250) who is a four-year guy that hopes to revert to his sophomore form when he hit .297. A host of young arms will get better in their sophomore years, including RHP Brad Duffy (2-1, 7.47, 13apps), RHP Jim Devine (0-2, 8.29) and RHP Michael Pelekanos (2-4, 8.57).

The Bad News:
Okay, in the words of Kenny Loggins, this is IT! There will be no more baseball at Duquesne after this season. Damn Title Nine crap! The Dukes were sent on an A-10 tailspin, going from 3rd place in 2008 to 14th place in 2009. Lots of senior pitchers have moved on from last year’s team, including two weekend starters and ace reliever Danny Brown. This team must find a lockdown arm or two in the ‘pen. The .944 defense was surely a sore point. DU pitchers plunked 89 batters last year as well. That smarts.

Schedule Note:
Another Gamecock choking.
For the second season in a row the Dukes will spend their opening weekend getting their hats handed to them in rude form by playing three games at South Carolina. But the good news is that they’ll play a pretty manageable non-conference schedule from there. And also, they’ll ease into A-10 play with weekends against George Washington, LaSalle and St. Joe’s before the tough series come around.

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- FORDHAM (22-32, 16-11)
2009 RPI: 211
Starters Returning: 7
Weekend Starters: 3
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 1

All Conference Candidates:
1B Ryan McCrann (.318-4-23)
OF Mike Mobbs (.289, 12SBs)
RHP Jordan Grangard (2-2, 4.47, 2svs)
LHP J.P. Mack (6-3, 5.01)

The Good News:
The Rams parlayed a load of experience last season into a 4th place finish in the conference. That’s pretty heady stuff for this program. Five regulars that hit .281 or better return to the order, including rising sophomore infielders Brian Kownacki (.284) and Nick Martinez (.281), who should improve the defense as well. All three weekend starters return to the hill, led by Mack, a crafty, off-speed senior lefty. Righty John Flanagan (6-3, 5.38) could blossom into a shutdown guy even moreso.

The Bad News:
That quick 0-2 exit from the A-10 tourney stings a little since it was such a solid season in-conference. Things will get a lot tougher without the power-hitting Bobby DiNardo (15HRs) and the speed-merchant Danny Leach (team-leading .332 and 29SBs). The arms staff issued an astonishing 307 walks, as opposed to 270 punchouts. A true clampdown closer really needs to be found.

Schedule Note:
A schedule only Vince Lombardi could love.
Unfortunately, unless there is a Bart Starr in the lineup, this Fordham team won’t be winning any Lombardi Awards because the early season schedule is brutal. They’ll start with weekends at Old Dominion, at Duke and at George Mason. The Rams will also play at Miami and against improved Michigan in three games before A-10 play begins.

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- GEORGE WASHINGTON (22-33, 11-15)
2009 RPI: 242
Starters Returning: 6
Weekend Starters: 1
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 0

All Conference Candidates:
RHP Eric Cantrell (5-2, 4.46, .252OBA)
RHP Ryan Lapointe (4-3, 4.69, 2svs)
2B Sean Rockey (.420-10-60, 12SBs)
SS Tom Zebroski (.347-8-30, 17SBs)
1B Curtis Eward (.331-4-17)

The Good News:
You can’t hassle the fact that a beavy of senior leaders should be able to help this program get back to its 30+ win level if it can just keep battling. Cantrell and Lapointe excelled this summer in the Cape Cod and Cal Ripkin leagues this past summer and appear ready to go big time this spring. The double play combo of Rockey and Zebroski – not to mention their wicked, All-American candidate bats – should be a huge boost to a steady season. C Ryan Thomas (.291-7-30) is a block of granite behind the dish.

The Bad News:
From 2002 to 2005 GW won 37 games or more each season, but have hit a downward spiral now, winning 25, 23, 26 and 22 games the last four seasons. More offense must emerge beyond Rockey, Zebroski and Eward, the only .300+ hitters returning from the languid .283 offense. There isn’t much returning depth beyond Cantrell and Lapointe. Pat Lehman, the staff horse and A-10 Pitcher of the Year, has moved on to the Nationals.

Schedule Note:
Rough, easy, easy, easy, easy, easy, easy.
The Colonials will surely get their hats handed to them in the season opening weekend as they visit perennial College World Series participant North Carolina. That should leave a mark. But the good news is that after that, the following six weekends will be more evenly competitive series with Coppin State, USC Upstate, Cleveland State, Georgetown, Duquesne and St. Bonaventure. Get those Ws while you can guys.

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- LASALLE (19-30, 8-18)
2009 RPI: 243
Starters Returning: 7
Weekend Starters: 2
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 3

All Conference Candidates:
LHP Sean Kennedy (4-1, 4.21)
RHP Kevin Fuqua (4-5, 4.52)
OF John Malloy (.329-8-35, 11SBs)
OF Tony Negrin (.374)

The Good News:
Coach Mike Lake should have smoother sailing in this, his third year on the job. LSU had some high points last season, despite the low win totals. For one, the Explorers led the A-10 and were 18th in the nation with a .974 defense. Lots and lots of innings return on the mound this season, which should improve the 5.78 team ERA even more. Malloy and Fuqua are special talents and could become All American types. A huge addition comes back to the team in OF Kevin Jones (.294-5-24 in ’08) who returns after a season on the shelf with injuries.

The Bad News:
The Explorers still haven’t won 20+ games in a season since 2004. A 2-9 finish soured any chance at the post-season last year. The loss of T.J. Chism is a big one as he was their biggest power threat (11HRs) and had seven starts on the mound. Even with the impressive ERA (relatively speaking), the arms corps needs to bear down a bit more after giving up 210BBs and only 284Ks. Soph pithcer Cody Weiss, a 26th round pick of the Dodgers in ’08, needs to improve his 1-7, 11.22 numbers.

Schedule Note:
Too rough for improvement
The Explorers live up to their name… probably too much, in fact. I mean, you go on the road and play teams like N.C. State and Florida to begin the season, more than likely it could become a confidence crusher. More manageable trips to Old Dominion and VMI follow before A-10 play begins.

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- MASSACHUSETTS (27-26, 16-11)
2009 RPI: 183
Starters Returning: 7
Weekend Starters: 1
Mid-Week Starters: 0
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 4

All Conference Candidates:
1B/RHP Mike Gedman (.345-5-25, 10SBs/1-4, 2.42, 5svs)
OF Mike Donato (.336-5-40)
C Tom Conley (.312)
OF Brian Baudinet (.311-8-34)
OF Kyle Maultner (.306-9-30)

The Good News:
Rumors of the UMass baseball program’s untimely death have been greatly over-exagerrated. Despite the buzz that the Minutemen were playing their final season, here we are previewing another upcoming season for the maroon & white… and coming off a winning season at that. Nice. 3B Peter Copa (.278) and SS Matt Gedman (.282) make a strong left side. LHP Nick Serino (5-4, 5.16, 72Ks in 61inns) and relievers Charlie Benson (3-0, 3.19) and Bryan Leight (0-5, 4.07, .265OBA) are good building blocks for the new-look pitching staff.

The Bad News:
The rumors of this program’s demise are still out there, as is the knowledge that the budget for the sport is a measly $180,000 and there are only 2.5 scholarships available. You can’t win like that people. On the field, losing All-A10 pitcher Mitchell Clegg, All-Region OF Jim MacDonald and Adam Tempesta, the 2nd-best hitter in program history, to the pros is a bitter pill to swallow. Three of the four most-used pitchers on the staff have graduated.

Schedule Note:
Where the winds come rushing down the plains…
And where UMass will be slightly outmatched. That’s what the first six games of the season will represent for the maroons when they open the season with four games at Oklahoma State and two games at Oklahoma. If they can pull through that with their dignity intact, the Minutemen will have winnable weekend sets with St. Joe’s, Charlotte and Richmond in the first three weeks of A-10 play.

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- RHODE ISLAND (37-20-1, 19-6)
2009 RPI: 55
Starters Returning: 8
Weekend Starters: 1
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

All Conference Candidates:
INF Oliver Palmer (.342-11-44)
OF Jeff Cammans (.335-4-35, 17SBs)
INF Mike LeBel (.323-7-41, 17SBs)
INF Tom Coulombe (.295, 20SBs)
RHP Tim Boyce (6-2, 5.80)

The Good News:
Rhody had a great (well, almost great) season in 2009, making head coach Jim Foster hot property in the coaching circles. This team should be highly-motivated after last season’s near-miss of the post-season. Seven of the top eight hitters come back from an offense that hit .305, including Palmer, Cammans, LeBel and Rob DeVeney (.275-7-42), who add some good power to the order. Also look for the Rams to keep the pressure on again after stealing 112 bases last season, led by Coulombe’s fleet feet. The mound crew has some quality returning, led by righty senior Dan Rossignol (2-2, 3.43, .244OBA) and junior Kevin Graveline (6-2, 5.01 and a cool name).

The Bad News:
Well duh, that NCAA tournament at-large snub pretty much sucked. Especially for a team that beat Oklahoma State, North Carolina State, Miami and Ohio State. (Really selection committee? Gah!). Lots of losses in the pitching corps, including starters Nick Greenwood and Eric Smith – both in pro ball now. They also lost the services of ace reliever Luke Demko and his 11saves. Shortstop Dan Rhault has gone to the minors and was the heart and soul to the team and energized the offense, defense and dugout.

Schedule Note:
This ain’t for kids.
URI opens the season ready, rocked and loaded to drum some quality wins over the knuckleheads on the NCAA selection committee, opening with a three-game weekend at Mississippi State and following that up with a trip to top 10 Virginia. Not only that, but trips to UNC Wilmington and William & Mary won’t be too bad either. Ten of the last 16 games will be home dates. That late-April home weekend vs. Xavier will be revenge-time.

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- RICHMOND (22-25, 11-16)
2009 RPI: 222
Starters Returning: 8
Weekend Starters: 2
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 2

All Conference Candidates:
2B Adam McConnell (.335, 31SBs)
3B Cameron Brown (..340-11-39)
OF Mike Mergenthaler (.301-6-41)
RHP Anthony Cafagna (3-2, 4.72, .240OBA)
OF/RHP Billy Barber (.278-7-29/5-1, 5.67)

The Good News:
The Spiders would love to rehash their 9-1 start to last season. The pitching staff returns 31 of the 47 starts from last year, led by weekend horse Cafagna. The arms staff also led the A-10 in strikeouts-per-9-innings at 7.72. The multi-talented Barber is joined by Zach Jung (1-1, 5.17) to take on bigger roles and weekend starter Matt Zielinski (2-4, 6.27) should improve and give the Spiders some depth on the hill. The offense should reach a higher plateau since six of the top seven sticks return led by the three .300+ hitters above.

The Bad News:
Man! You remember when this team was going to regionals on a regular basis? That early 2000s success is long in the rearview mirror now, with losing records now in five of the last six seasons. A 4-8 stretch to end last season ruined the Spider chances of a winning mark. (Or maybe it was a poor 10-game losing streak in late-March/early-April?). Despite all the returnees, the Spiders will have to hit better, going just .283 last year. That’s pretty puny.

Schedule Note:
Florida trips followed by a good A-10 start.
UofR will start off the season with back-to-back trips to the sunshine state in the UNF Tournament against the Ospreys and Ohio State, and the Jacksonville Invitational with the Dolphins and Oklahoma. Things lighten up soon after that with visits to picturesque Pitt Field from snowbirds Lafayette, Columbia and Wagner the next three weekends. Three of the first four weekends of A-10 play will also come at home, look for a good jump on conference play.

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- ST. BONAVENTURE (24-25, 9-17)
2009 RPI: 212
Starters Returning: 5
Weekend Starters: 2
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 3

All Conference Candidates:
SS Jesse Bosnik (.321-4-28, 23SBs)
RHP Cael Johnson (4-5, 4.72)
OF Ryan Skellie (.331)
LHP Sebastian Bellitto (3-3, 4.41)

The Good News:
The Bonnies enter their 25th year under the tutelage of Larry Sudbrook and should show some improvement. The pitching staff improved a lot with a 5.31 team ERA which was 4th in the A-10. Michael Grieco (.250) did a credible job of catching after the injury to Brandon Salerno. He heads a brigade of solid sophomores that will step to the fore along with Skellie and Bellitto. Bosnik is a great table-setter and solid glove, setting the tone for the offense and defense. No word yet on whether he’ll sell popcorn in the stands this year too.

The Bad News:
Streaky team, just begging for more consistency. They’ll enter 2010 without four hitters that went .298 or better last season. There’s almost a complete lack of power as only 24 home runs were hit in 2010 and 16 of those are gone from the roster.The Bonnies really need some clamp-down pitching to emerge – you know, the high-quality kind – because they were outscored 61 to 27 in the 8th and 9th innings. That smarts.

Schedule Note:
Hoping for some unseasonably warm weather.
The Bonnies have home dates scheduled for mid-March against Niagara and late-March games against Buffalo. Hoping for weather that is warm enough in Olean, New York in March is a pretty tall order. They’ll also have five road series in A-10 play, opposed to four home series.

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- ST. JOSEPH’S (16-30-1, 9-17)
2009 RPI: 235
Starters Returning: 7
Weekend Starters: 2
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 3

All Conference Candidates:
OF Dewey Oriente (.403-6-39)
INF David Valesente (.369-5-35)
OF Mike Coleman (.299, 12SBs)
LHP Randy Mower (5-5, 4.80)

The Good News:
If having a senior-heavy lineup is any indication, this could be a very successful season for the Hawks. The top six hitters return to the order and all of them are four-year players. Mower and fellow senior RHP Matt Barnathan (1-1, 4.75, .229OBA) will lead a pitching corps with lots of experience. The Hawks will play their entire home schedule at 6,000-seat/replete-with-all-the-whistles-and-bells Campbell Field in Camden while a new on-campus facility is being built.

The Bad News:
A 2-14 end to the season left momentum on the shelf with hopes that there is no carry-over effect. The St. Joe’s arms brigade will have a lot of returnees, but they barely threw more strikeouts than walks (265 to 253) last season. The defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain either, having a .954 percentage (though the hopes here are a senior-heavy defense will alleviate that). Relievers Ben Wendle and Chris Hildreth accounted for six of the seven saves last season.

Schedule Note:
Home for the (Memorial Day) Holidays.
Campbell Field will also be the host site for the A-10 post-season tournament this coming Memorial Day weekend. So at least St. Joe’s will have familiarity on its side. I’m not so sure that early-season trip to New Mexico State and Arizona is such a smart idea. Well, again, at least it will be an experienced team going down there.

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- ST. LOUIS (30-25, 12-13)
2009 RPI: 174
Starters Returning: 6
Weekend Starters: 1
Mid-Week Starters: 1
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 4

All Conference Candidates:
INF/RHP Jerry Mancuso (.293/3-1, 8.01)
1B Danny Brock (.336)
INF Zach Miller (.324-10-61)

The Good News:
Overall, the Billikins made some big strides, winning 30 games in Coach Darin Hendrickson’s second season. And that was with 20 completely new players on that team. This program is on the move, especially if they can harness the energy of that 9-2 finish to last season. To offset some arms exodus, sophs-to-be Marco Mejia (1-0, 4.01. 221OBA) and Garrett Cooper (0-2, 5.72, .282OBA) should step up big time. The infield of Miller, Mancuso and Andrew Guerra (.243-7-32) should make for improved defense. Also, look out for the speed of OFs Cody Cotter (.232, 15SBs) and J.D. Dunn (.220, 14SBs), especially if they can get on base more.

The Bad News:
First off, the loss of mound studs Dave Sever and Scott Turmail are huge losses, as they threw a combined 155 innings last season. The mound crew allowed their opponents to hit .312 on the season, while throwing 46 wild pitches and plunking 43 batters. That’s an “ouch” on many levels. Offensively, three of the five .300+ hitters have moved on from a team that hit just .286 to begin with, including table-setter Ryan Bennett, who has gone after hitting .368 and was the catalyst.

Schedule Note:
Easy through the Natural State. Easier through the A-10.
The Billikens should get off to a solid start considering their first seven games come against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, St. Peter’s, Arkansas-Little Rock and Central Arkansas. It will be pretty manageable until they take on Ohio State in the Buckeye Tournament in Port Charlotte, Florida. And speaking of a welcome mat, SLU will open A-10 play with weekends against St. Joe’s, Temple, Fordham, UMass, St. Bona and LaSalle. This team should be in contention come post-season time.

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- TEMPLE (17-33, 11-15)
2009 RPI: 260
Starters Returning: 4
Weekend Starters: 3
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 5

All Conference Candidates:
2B/3B Tony Jusino (.363)
OF Byron McKoy (.278-8-28)
RHP Ryan Thomas (4-3, 5.03)

The Good News:
Well if success is infectious, maybe the baseball program can get infected by some of the football teams’ headline-making success. With all three weekend starters coming back, there is hope. In addition, two pitchers come back after sitting out with injuries in ’09, Matt Mongiardini (6-5, 3.59) and Steve Nikorak (3-3, 4.58). That’s a huge boost. Some part-timers are going to have to step up, like Dunigan Foster (.391 in 17 games) and Ryan Ferguson (.333 in 13 games) if Bill Cosby U. is going to make a run to the post-season.

The Bad News:
A year after winning 16 A-10 games and making the post-season tournament, the Owls slipped back down the rungs in 2009. The bullpen really needs a stud arm or two, after getting outscored by 31 runs in the last three innings last season. Two HUGE sticking points: the .939 fielding was downright abysmal and a full six .300+ hitters are missing from last year.

Schedule Note:
Easy on the back end.
Temple plays a pretty tough slate, given the talent level, but the end of the season will make up for it, with three of the last four weekends coming at Skip Wilson Field and two of those are winnable series against Duquesne and St. Bonaventure.

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- XAVIER (39-21, 18-9)
2009 RPI: 59
Starters Returning: 6
Weekend Starters: 2
Mid-Week Starters: 2
Key Relievers (20+inns.): 3

All Conference Candidates:
INF/RHP Zac Richard (.350/4-1, 4.93. 250OBA)
2B Drew Schmidt (.320)
1B Ben Thomas (.338-16-66)
DH Bobby Freking (.335-4-35)

The Good News:
Going to the Big Dance last season was a program-maker, esepcially getting two wins over Rhode Island on the final day of the A-10 tournament. Just look at some of those offensive numbers above… and ask yourself, would I like to see that coming back to campus? Well coach Scott Googins has to dig the fact that the best hitter and best returning pitcher is the same player: the wildly talented Zac Richard. He’ll be supported on offense by Thomas, the best power hitter in the A-10, and fellow senior Freking, a great singles hitter. In all, two other .300+ hitters return from a team that also stole 105 bases, second most in the A-10. The defense was the 2nd-best unit in the conference with a .971 percentage and returns three infield starters including Thomas, Schmidt and 3B John McCambridge (.287, 42SBs), who also supplies a mercurial base-stealing threat.

The Bad News:
Blowout losses in the NCAAs to Kansas State and Rice should make this team hungry for a lot more in 2010. While we’re on the subject of last season, the X needs to go ahead and avoid another 6-6 start like they had in 2010. The top two ERA guys on the team, Brett Greenwell and ace reliever Jordan Conley, who led the A-10 with 13 saves on the season, have both moved on. That’s two pretty big losses, as is staff horse Danny Rosenbaum, who threw a team-high 88 innings last season. Backstop supreme Billy O’Connor leaves after posting a .333 average.

Schedule Note:
Much tougher than last season.
Xavier’s weak 6-6 start in 2010 came against a pretty easy schedule. But they won’t have that luxury this season as their first six games are at Tennessee and at Georgia Tech. They’ll also travel for a weekend set at Wake Forest and a roadie at Missouri before A-10 action kicks in. That should build up a good callus against some high-quality teams.

 

COMMENTS:

February 3, 2010 at 1:42 pm

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