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Season Preview: Baseball brings solid lineup into 2013
Bearcats return eight field position starters, three weekend pitchers; open Feb. 22 in Va.
February 19, 2013Tweet
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VESTAL, N.Y.—The losses to graduation, though low in numbers, are high in significance. Two MLB draft picks and one of the best four-year players in program history have departed but 21st-year head coach Tim Sinicki believes his 2013 team still may be a better overall one than its predecessor.
Gone are Binghamton’s top starter (Mike Augliera, 5th round, Boston) and its premier closer (Lee Sosa, 26th round, Oakland) – as well as two-time all-conference first baseman and the team’s No. 3 hitter (Dave Ciocchi).
“Each year it’s tough to lose players who have worked so hard and have given so much to the program,” Sinicki said. “But it makes it especially tough when they are guys who made such an impact on the program like Ciocchi, Augliera and Sosa did. They left big shoes to fill for sure, but big opportunities for guys to battle for.”
Sinicki does return 23 letterwinners, including all but one starting position player and three of four starting weekend pitchers. After enduring a vagabond 2012 season in which they practiced on soccer fields and played all 49 games away from home, this year’s squad will have an immediate leg-up simply by virtue of staying home. The University unveiled its new multi-million dollar baseball facility in the fall and Sinicki has 20 scheduled home dates at the Bearcats Sports Complex, including one of the earliest home openers (March 23 vs. Stony Brook) in program history.
The facility features stadium seating, press box, sunken dugouts and a 30-foot center field batter’s eye.
“We are all looking forward to playing back on campus this spring in our new facility,” Sinicki said. “Twenty home games are the most we’ve ever had in a spring season. We are hoping to really create excitement and a great environment here on campus, and turn the new facility into a true home field advantage.”
Lambert, Lynch anchor deep pitching staff
Despite the loss of the program’s ace and its closer, Sinicki feels his collective pitching staff is strong and very deep. Senior weekend starters Jake Lambert (6-4, 3.79 ERA) and Jay Lynch (12 career wins) highlight a group of 10 returning pitchers who worked a total of 266.2 innings in 2012 (68% of the team’s total).
Lambert, a 6-foot-9 right-hander, tied Augliera for the team lead with six wins last spring and will move into the No. 1 slot. He posted a 3.79 ERA and was especially effective in America East Conference play, going 5-0 with a 2.51 ERA (2nd in AE) and earning second team all-conference honors. Lambert ranked second (to Augliera) in the conference in fewest walks per game (1.38) and went an average of 6+ innings per outing, which ranked fourth-best in the league. Included on his resume were a pair of wins over conference champion and College World Series participant Stony Brook – games in which he surrendered just two earned runs in 12 combined innings.
“Jake’s mission from the day he stepped foot on campus was to develop his skills and be an impact pitcher on our staff,” Sinicki said. “He worked extremely hard and we feel great about where he is heading into his senior season.”
Lynch, a 6-foot-3, righty, is a tri-captain this spring. As the team’s No. 2 starter in 2012, he didn’t put up his usual numbers (2-5, 5.05 ERA) but came on strong to end the season, allowing just three extra-base hits over his final 20 innings. In the America East tournament, Lynch tossed seven solid innings against Maine, giving up just two runs. For the season, he walked only nine batters in 51.2 innings. Two years ago, Lynch was a second-team all-conference selection after winning five games (4-1 in AE).
“Steady, solid, dependable ... that’s what Jay has been for this program over the last three seasons,” Sinicki said. “He had an outstanding summer and looks sharp in the preseason. He is primed for a great senior season.”
Moving into the No. 3 spot in the rotation is junior Jack Rogalla, a 6-foot-1 right-hander who pitched 48 innings (4th on team) and started six games last season. Rogalla went 3-1 with a 4.88 ERA. Like Lambert and Lynch, Rogalla was precise with his pitches, totaling 20 strikeouts against just six walks in conference play. His marquee performance was a long relief appearance against No. 4 Arkansas in March, when Rogalla stifled the Razorbacks with 3.2 perfect innings of relief, retiring all 11 batters faced.
Quartet of sophomores will eat up innings
After solid freshmen seasons, second-year pitchers Mike Kaufman, Greg Ostner, Anthony Grillini and Mike Urbanski will be counted on as spot starters and middle relievers.
Kaufman, a lefty, appeared in nine games in 2012 and held down a 2.12 ERA in 16.1 innings. He started three games and went a season-long 4.1 innings at Bucknell. Kaufman worked six innings in conference play and posted a 1.50 ERA.
Grillini went 3-1 with a 3.33 ERA in 10 appearances (24.1 inn.) last spring. He allowed just one run in 5.0 innings to get a conference win at Hartford and worked three effective innings against Stony Brook.
Ostner and Urbanski put up good numbers out of the bullpen in 2012. Opponents hit just .194 off Ostner - the best mark on the staff – and he didn’t allow an earned run over his final seven outings (9 IP). He made 14 appearances and finished with a 3.12 ERA in 17.1 innings.
Urbanski held opponents to a .226 average in his 11 relief appearances (18.1 IP).
Junior college transfer and lefty Mike Meleski has moved into a starting role as the season begins. Meleski earned all-region honors at nearby Broome CC, where he was the school’s all-time strikeout leader after playing scholastically alongside teammate Brian Ruby at local Maine-Endwell High.
Freshman Jake Cryts, a two-time area player of the year across the border in Pennsylvania, begins a promising collegiate career.
Hard-throwing junior Mark Palumbo could inherit the vacant closer role. Palumbo made seven appearances last spring and was tabbed as one of the top pro prospects in the America East by Baseball America.
“I love the depth of our pitching staff,” Sinicki said. “It will give us great options throughout the season.”
Second-team all-star Nevares heads infield
Junior second baseman Daniel Nevares returns to anchor a reliable infield. Last year, Nevares hit .343 primarily from the sixth spot in the lineup. He shook off a slow start (5 hits in first 8 games) and batted .386 the rest of the way, including a team-high .417 in America East play. Nevares led the team with 11 doubles and only committed four errors in league play, earning second team all-conference honors.
“Dan has the ability to be the best second baseman in the America East and quite possibly the region,” Sinicki said. “We will count on his solid defense and will need him to be the offensive presence he is capable of being in our lineup.”
Smucker, a versatile infielder, has played 100 career games, including 23 starts last season at first base. In all, Smucker started 46 games in 2012 and produced 11 extra-base hits and 20 RBI.
Howell has been a starter since day one of his collegiate career and registered 10 doubles and 16 RBI and produced 11 multi-hit games in 2012.
Ruby returns to occupy third base and the clean-up spot in the order. He hit .400 during the regular season and earned America East All-Rookie Team honors. Ruby had an on-base percentage of .422 and also recorded the team’s longest hit streak (11) with a hot stretch in May.
“Brian made quite an impact last season and is capable of more,” Sinicki said. “He has worked extremely hard on the defensive side of things and is as dynamic offensive player as there is in the conference.”
Freshman infielder Reed Gamache, a second-team all-state selection in Rhode Island, will provide a solid back-up at third base. Classmate David Schanz, a superb defensive fielder with big upside, brings another reliable infielder into the mix.
“We have the ability to defend at a very high level this season in both the infield and outfield,” Sinicki said. “We have the experience and the athletes like we’ve never had before.”
Bereszniewicz, Blanden return to starting outfield slots
Junior speedster Billy Bereszniewicz returns to hold down center field and the leadoff spot in the lineup. He started all 49 games in 2012, led the team in stolen bases (9) and ranked second in runs scored (31). Bereszniewicz shared team honors with 12 multi-hit games.
Sophomore Zach Blanden returns to his spot in right. Blanden got off to a red-hot start in his rookie campaign and was a mainstay in right field. He hit .281 in 44 starts and committed just two errors in 77 chances in the field. Blanden hit .419 in his first 14 collegiate games and took a .340 average into the month of May.
Hard-hitting sophomore Jake Thomas takes over in left field after playing catcher and designated hitter for most of his freshman campaign. From the third spot in the lineup, Thomas led the team and ranked fifth in the America East with a .424 on-base percentage, thanks in part to a team-high 29 walks (2nd in AE). He had a BU-best seven multi-RBI games and made a triumphant return from a serious late-April jaw injury that kept him out of the lineup for three weeks (8 games). Thomas had seven hits and six RBI in the team’s final six games and his continued production in the middle of the lineup will be vital.
“After a year of ‘learning on the job,’ Jake should become one of the premier hitters in the America East this spring,” Sinicki said. “I think the move to the outfield is going to be good for him on many levels, but it should keep his legs fresh and allow him to be a steady force in the middle of our lineup.”
Junior Shaun McGraw has played 37 collegiate games and could step into the DH role in 2013. Senior tri-captain Bijan Mangouri is another versatile veteran who gives Sinicki some great options off the bench.
Veteran Danaher back behind plate
Senior Mike Danaher returns to handle the catching duties after logging 34 games behind the plate in 2012. A two-year starter, four-year letterwinner and 2013 captain, Danaher is an elite defensive catcher and clutch hitter. Last spring he committed just two errors in 217 chances behind the plate and handled a pitching staff that held down a 4.21 ERA and churned out two MLB draft picks. In the batter’s box, Danaher hit .286 over the last 16 games of the season and had two hits and three RBI in an America East tournament game against Stony Brook.
“Mike is the consummate student-athlete and he is a team leader for us,” Sinicki said. “I believe he is arguably the top defensive catcher in the conference and he is a good assignment hitter who also delivers in the clutch. He knows our pitching staff through and through and calls his own games behind the plate.”
BU’s 50-game slate begins February 22 in Virginia
Binghamton’s 50-game slate begins with a four-game weekend series at CAA-member James Madison on February 22-24. The series against the Dukes begins an abbreviated 12-game non-conference stretch before the America East slate begins with a three-game set at UMBC on March 16. The starting date for conference play is three weeks earlier than previous years, giving teams less time to solidify their lineups before beginning the grind of 30 league games.
“Each and every year you create a schedule with one thing in mind ... how can we best prepare our players in non-conference games so that they are ready to compete for an America East Conference championship,” Sinicki said. “There is no question in my mind that we have done that in 2013.”
After the trip to Harrisonburg, Va. to face James Madison, BU returns to Virginia for a four-game series with Virginia Military Institute on March 1-3. The Keydets play out of the Big South Conference.
After league play opens, BU will face non-conference foes from four different conferences (Patriot League, MAAC, Ivy League, Atlantic 10), including single home-and-away games with traditional rivals Cornell, Siena and Marist. The Big Red won 31 games last spring and advanced to the NCAA regionals. Marist won 25 games to continue its solid standing in the MAAC. The Bearcats will also play Bucknell (March 26), St. Bonaventure (April 17) and Canisius (April 24).
Unlike previous years, Binghamton has nine conference games scheduled for March, highlighted by a three-game home set against 2012 conference champion and College World Series participant Stony Brook on March 23-24. Weather permitting, they will be the earliest home games in the program’s 11-year Division I tenure.
Season culminates with conference tourney in late May
The top four teams in the conference will advance to the America East Championship, held May 22-25 at the home field of the highest seed. The conference postseason champion receives an automatic berth into the NCAA regionals. Since 2004 BU has maintained the second-highest win percentage in the conference (63%). Binghamton captured the regular season and postseason titles in 2009, advancing to the NCAA regionals.
“With the new format we now play 30 conference games in what I think is an ever-improving America East Conference,” Sinicki said. “The balance within the conference is at an all-time high and trying to figure out who will finish first through sixth is like splitting hairs.”
But Sinicki likes his team’s chances to be the last team standing in late May.
“I really like this team a lot ... the talent, the make-up, the chemistry,” he said. “I believe this team will be right in the mix to make a run at the conference championship.”