2013 Season Preview: Wheaton College Baseball
Lyons focused on NEWMAC championship run.
Despite being ranked preseason favorites in two national polls and appearing in the NCAA Division III College World Series last season, the focus of the Wheaton College baseball team remains the same as the Lyons head into their 2013 campaign.
"Our goals are always to take care of today, try to get better and try to continue progressing throughout the year," said head coach Eric Podbelski who is in his 17th year at the helm. "Certainly a goal of ours is to win our NEWMAC regular season championship so that we have a chance to host the NEWMAC Tournament and win our NEWMAC Tournament. That's a big goal for us because that is the only guaranteed way to get into the NCAA Tournament and then you just keep resetting your goals from there."
Last year, Wheaton finished the 2012 season with a 41-11 record, the second most wins in program history, and a 16-2 mark in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). The Lyons advanced to the championship round of the NCAA Division III College World Series before falling to then-no.1 ranked Marietta College in the championship game. On the national level, the D3baseball.com and the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper pundits have already weighed in on the 2013 version of the Wheaton Lyons but that's where the expectations stop for a team solely focused on its own goals.
"The only real expectation is that we will adopt that mindset," said Podbelski. "If we do take care of our business each day and each guy is truly committed to improving not only for his own betterment, but for the team's betterment and you stay true to that and can continue to do so even when things aren't going well, in the end, the wins and how far the team goes just kind of takes care of itself."
Wheaton will open its season on Saturday, March 2 against St. Joseph's (Long Island) at 11 a.m. in Patchogue, N.Y. The Lyons will take on Farmingdale State the next day at 10 a.m. and then travel south for its annual spring break trip to Florida, all against stiff competition.
"I am proud of the strength of our schedule and sometimes it can be overlooked, but it is a point of pride for us," said Podbelski. "In our first ten games we play six of them against NCAA teams from a year ago.
The Lyons will play defending NCAA Division III champion Marietta College on March 16 in Port Charlotte, Florida at 11:00 a.m. Wheaton will also matchup against Webster who played in the NCAA championship bracket last season and regional foes Keene State College and St. Joseph's (Me.) to highlight a few opponents. The Lyons schedule is also comprised of several regionally ranked teams including every squad from last season – with the exception of Bowdoin – that played in last year's New England Regional.
"We try to play the absolute best competition we can in an effort to harden us and toughen us up for conference play," said Podbelski. "We want to be able to go into conference play and not feel like all of a sudden it's something different. We want to continuously keep playing good baseball against good baseball teams throughout the season."
Senior Frank Holbrook (Middletown, R.I./Portsmouth Abbey School), juniors Alec Palioca (Wrentham, Mass./King Phillip Regional), Mike McGinnis (Mashpee, Mass./Mashpee), Nick Filloramo (Rochester, Mass./Old Rochester Regional), sophomore Mike Gibbons (Simsbury, Conn./Avon Old Farms School) and freshmen Steve Consiglio (Southbury, Conn./Pomperaug), Jordan Jenkins (Scituate, Mass./Salem)and Jared Clement (Wrentham, Mass./Saint Sebastian's School) will all look to factor in the starting rotation.
Holbrook, a D3baseball.com preseason All-American selection, ranked tenth overall among all NCAA Division III programs in earned run average (ERA) last spring (2.80). Holbrook led the staff with a 10-0 record overall in 84.2 innings pitched, struck out 52 batters and held opponents to a .229 batting average. His 1.38 ERA ranked ninth overall in the country last year.
"Holbrook will bring a lot of experience in terms of innings pitched and is a leader among our staff in terms of his sense of the game and how he prepares," said Podbelski. "He is a competitor and brings a lot of experience pitching in big games."
Palioca posted a 1.88 ERA, a 9-1 record, 44 strikeouts and limited the opposition to a .246 batting average while McGinnis and Filloramo logged 73 innings and seven wins, combined, from a year ago.
Junior closer Ryan Grant (Easton, Mass./Avon Old Farms) will control the backend up the bullpen for the Lyons after finishing the 2012 season ranked no.1 overall in the nation in saves with 14. In 26.2 innings pitched, Grant struck out 18 batters and held opponents to a .200 batting average in 24 appearances.
"It is nice to have a guy who is comfortable in his own skin in those situations," said Podbelski. "Closing is a bottom line business, you either get it done or you don't, and I see Ryan having an ability to continue to improve in this role and that is exciting."
Senior Corey Laliberte (Fall River, Mass./B.M.C. Durfee) looks to bolster the bullpen bringing plenty of leadership to the middle innings portion of the staff. "Corey is a great leader as all of our seniors are," said Podbelski. "Corey is purely about the team and will help us in the bullpen. We are hoping his experience will translate well to the role that we are asking him to fill. I know he will compete and I know he won't be afraid in whatever role we give him."
As a junior, Laliberte pitched three-and-one-thirds innings – all in relief – to pick up his fourth win of the season against St. Thomas (Minn.) helping the Lyons advance to the national championship round of the NCAA Division III College World Series. Overall, he compiled a 3.86 earned run average in 51.1 innings pitched and 17 punchouts.
Freshman Eric Dumas (Brookline, Mass./Brookline) could be called upon to get some major outs from the bullpen as the season progresses.
Junior Gordy Thomas (Wellesley, Mass./Wellesley), sophomore Gregg Kirkpatrick (Lebanon, Conn./Saint Bernard's) and freshman Mike Koperniak (Adams, Mass./Hoosac Valley) will provide depth for the bullpen.
Senior co-captain Dan Gusovsky (Andover, Mass./Andover) will guide the pitching staff behind the plate for his third-straight season. Gusovsky posted a .286/.346/.422 slash line (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) at the plate in 2012 but his true value comes with pitch calling.
"Dan is an outstanding receiver, he blocks well and has gotten really consistent in the throwing game," said Podbelski. "He has really developed, as we hoped, in his pitch calling and he really understands that it is priority number one for a catcher. He and I have a lot of great dialogue at this time of the year and he really gets it and our plans for the game. When you get a student-athlete to be like that it is like having an extension of a coach on the field and he has reached that level."
Around the diamond, sophomore Apolinar De la Cruz (Providence, R.I./Classical) will patrol first base, freshman Matt Lavanchy (Walpole, Mass./Walpole) commands second base, senior Eric Jensen (Gorham, N.H./Gorham) will start at shortstop for his fourth-straight season and sophomore Justin Peluso (North Andover, Mass./Saint John's Prep.) will man third base.
De la Cruz ranked second on the team in batting average at a .376 clip (76-for-202) to go along with a .443 on-base percentage, a .455 slugging percentage, two home runs, ten doubles and 50 runs batted in as a freshman. "De la Cruz has earned the job," said Podbelski. "He is one of the hardest workers on the team and he truly loves baseball. So for him it's almost not like work, it is fun for him, but he is continuing to get better."
Sophomore Mike Bisceglia (New Boston, N.H./Goffstown) and Jenkins will provide depth at the position for the Lyons.
Jensen hit .305/.354/.381 last season with one triple, 15 doubles and 32 RBI's. Defensively, Jensen recorded 170 assists, 85 putouts, a .931 fielding percentage and turned 32 double plays. "Eric has started game one since his freshman year and has not looked back. He is diligent and he works very hard on and off of the field and is always there for extra hitting," said Podbelski. "Everything he does on the baseball field is with a purpose and he takes that mentality into everything he does. He is a leader and truly understands the position."
Senior Justin Connor (Arlington, Mass./Arlington) will provide plenty of versatility to the infield with his defensive skill set. "We love him defensively. His game is defense and he can play it well both at second and short," said Podbelski. "Justin has started stretches of games at both positions and did so last year, significantly. He really has an unbelievable feel for playing defense up the middle and it really is a valuable thing to have."
Freshmen Mike Beneduce (North Kingstown, R.I./Moses Brown School) and Justin Silvestro (Waltham, Mass./BC High) are both taking reps at third base behind Peluso. Both players could also see time as a designated hitter or in a pinch-hitting role. Classmate freshman Brett Fontaine (Newburyport, Mass./Newburyport) will add depth to the infield.
Senior Sean Ryan (Norton, Mass./Norton) will start in right field and sophomore Kevin Foley (Southbury, Conn./Pomperaug) will patrol left field. Freshmen Jimmy Smith (Worcester, Mass./Saint John's) and Matt Knight (Washington, Calif./Washington) both have a solid chance to earn the starting spot in center field.
Ryan led the team in batting average at .384 last season with 86 hits total in 224 at-bats. Ryan also posted a .402 on-base percentage, a .531 slugging percentage, 18 doubles, three triples, 37 runs batted in and 30 stolen bases. "He has always been a big part of our offense and last year he really had a strong year for us," said Podbelski. "Sean has got our best combination of explosiveness with the bat and explosiveness speed wise. He also takes pride in being a good baserunner, sacrifice bunting and will do whatever it takes to win a ball game. When your seniors are like that it is natural leadership at its highest form."
Senior Paul O'Neill (Framingham, Mass./Framingham) brings leadership and depth to the outfield as well as a veteran bat that will be utilized throughout the season.
Sophomore Zach Bombard (Belchertown, Mass./Cathedral) will provide plenty of depth at all three outfield spots as he continues to develop. Classmate Chris McCormack (Shelton, Conn./Saint Joseph's) will add depth to the outfield as well.
Sophomore Tyler Contillo (Montville, Conn./Montville) gets the starting nod in the designated hitter role. "Tyler is as tough an at-bat as anyone on our team and he hits good pitching," said Podbelski. "He battles every at-bat and he doesn't go down easy and makes it real difficult on opposing pitchers."
Beneduce, Bisceglia, Jenkins, O'Neill and Silvestro all could potentially see at-bats as the designated hitter as well.