should spark BU in second Division I season
junior college transfers will make immediate impact
absorbing the expected hard knocks in the programs inaugural
Division I season last spring, BU head coach Tim Sinicki hit
the recruiting trail and hit it hard. Sinicki, entering his
11th campaign at Binghamton, landed a half-dozen recruits
each of whom will play a big role in the 2003 edition of the
Bearcats. With the influx of four marquis junior college transfers,
Sinicki has significantly bolstered his teams offense and
defense, and has potentially held the line on a pitching staff
that was one of the best in the America East in 2002.
This is certainly our best recruiting class during my tenure
here, said Sinicki, who credits full-time assistant coach
Mike Collins with much of the success.
Especially in terms of the immediacy of their contributions.
We instantly have much more depth in the lineup, and now have
shored up the defense, which I believe kept us out of the conference
tournament last year.
Not that last springs squad was a pushover. The Bearcats
held their own in the America East until going 0-6 against the
top two programs Maine and Vermont late in the
season. Before that, BU took three of four against Hartford
and split against tournament teams Stony Brook and Northeastern.
During the teams 17-34 campaign, six of BUs 12 conference
defeats were by either one or two runs, and 10 more non-conference
defeats were by that same narrow margin.
Despite a pitching staff that held down a 4.83 earned run average
(3rd in AE), the team was hampered by frequent defensive miscues
and a lack of timely hitting across the lineup. Sinicki addressed
those two areas in the off-season, and BU faithful may be treated
to the best overall team in program history this spring.
unit centers around junior first baseman and team captain Jamie
Boyer, who has put together two outstanding collegiate seasons,
and remains the teams premier hitter. Last season, the
six-foot left-hander hit .323 with 50 hits in the two spot, and
earned America East all-star honors after leading BU in five
Jamie has worked extremely hard to become the best pure
hitter on our team, Sinicki said. He is a tough
Division I out. This year, hell also benefit from better
protection in the lineup.
The primary protection comes in the form of junior third baseman
Jay Balback perhaps Sinickis most prized
recruit. A gifted athlete who starred two years for Delaware
Technical Community College, Balback will likely bat third, and
will provide a steady glove at third. In 2001, Balback batted
.405 with 71 RBI, leading his team to a 40-5 record and NJCAA
Division II championship.
Sure Jay is very talented ... the most talented third baseman
in the history of the program, Sinicki said. But
Jay is also a winner. He brings a positive attitude and a tremendous
work ethic which has become contagious throughout the team.
Freshman Justin Smucker will be counted on to stabilize
a middle infield that was particularly suspect last spring.
A standout shortstop for Lancaster Mennonite High in Pennsylvania,
Smucker is expected to move over to second base for his first
collegiate season. Junior Matt Caputo, who started 39
games in 2002, will also see time.
At shortstop, sophomore Brian Lindsay returns to a starting
role, and has impressed the coaching staff with his strength
gains in the off-season. Classmate Shawn Collyer, who
made 24 starts last season, will compete for time at both short
The quartet of middle infielders is expected to bump up BUs
fielding percentage, which ranked last in the conference last
Senior transfer Dusty Edwards, who can play every infield
position, will also add depth.
No question our defense hurt us last season, Sinicki
said. It was our goal to improve in this area, and I honestly
believe that weve addressed that situation.
is a strong returning unit that is elevated even more with the
addition of junior college transfer Joe Costello. A powerful
hitter who played two years for Cumberland County College in
New Jersey, Costello is expected to bat clean-up and start in
left field. Last spring, he led the nation in hitting (.500)
and earned NJCAA Division III All-America honors. Costello ranked
fifth in the country in RBI with 60, and possesses power to all
fields. The offensive combination of Balback and Costello should
provide a big boost to a BU lineup that ranked last in the America
East in average, home runs and RBI.
Physically, Joe is the strongest young man weve ever
had in the program, Sinicki said. He has the ability
to drive the ball to all fields with power.
Senior right fielder Tony Berube returned to his hometown
and produced an outstanding campaign in 2002. In his first season
at Binghamton, Berube led the Bearcats in hits (53), doubles
(16) and runs scored (31), and was the teams emotional
spark. This season, Sinicki will move him from third to the
leadoff spot, where his bat and speed should set the table
for the middle of the lineup.
Junior T.J. Kowalchuk is back patrolling center field,
and Sinicki feels his continued improvement will go a long way
in determining the teams success in 2003.
We have big expectations for T.J. this season, Sinicki
said. He had a great summer in the Great Lakes Collegiate
League, and shows great potential.
Kowalchuk, who will likely bat fifth in the order, tied for second
on the team with 50 hits last spring. More importantly, he raised
his average 83 points from his freshman campaign, finishing third
on the team at .313.
Senior Tom Cummings, a three-year veteran, and much-improved
sophomore David Lewin will also see time in the outfield
and at the designated hitter spot, respectively.
was the strength of the 2002 BU team, but in order to maintain
that edge, Sinicki must replace his top two starters. Graduated
are workhorses David Eagan and Greg Sousa, who logged a combined
160 innings in 28 starts, and won 10 games between them.
The job of replacing that pair belongs to junior college transfers
J.D. Brink and Mark Messina. Brink is a hard-throwing
right-hander who went 18-3 in two seasons for Cecil Community
College in Maryland. He has touched the low 90s on the radar
gun, and is expected to inherit the No. 1 role.
Messina, who throws in the mid- to upper-80s, was the number
one starter and two-year standout for Monroe Community College
in Rochester, N.Y. :ast season, he earned Region III all-star
Both J.D. and Mark have the ability to be successful Division
I pitchers, Sinicki said. J.D. can overpower hitters
with his fastball, while Mark has the uncanny ability to throw
all his pitches for strikes at any time in the count.
Returning starters Jacob Thiel and Mike Weglinski
should occupy the number three and four starting roles. Thiel,
a senior who also doubles as a designated hitter, made 10 starts
and posted a 5.64 earned run average in 2002.
Weglinski, meanwhile, produced an outstanding freshman season,
earning two wins and two saves, and posting a 4.40 ERA.
Other solid options include 6-foot-5 junior Josh Fuerst,
sophomores Tom Gaube and Johnmin Hickey, and talented
freshman Chris Shores. Gaube, a converted infielder from
high school, allowed just one earned in his first 14.2 collegiate
innings, and continues to improve with every outing.
Out of the bullpen, Sinicki will again turn to lefty Phil
Artonio, the programs all-time saves leader. The 6-foot-4
senior posted a 2.89 ERA in 2002, and tied for second in the
conference with five saves.
catcher Kyle Loucks begins his final collegiate campaign
having started 114 of 118 games in his first three seasons.
Loucks, who batted .296 with 23 RBI last year, will likely bat
fifth or sixth, and will again handle the bulk of the catching
Behind him, sophomore Chris Darling and freshman John
Hark are available. Hark is an all-county athlete from Ramapo
High School in New Jersey, while Darling is also a capable pitcher
who might see time on the mound as well.
56-game slate begins with a daunting 23 straight games on the
road, where the Bearcats will play three games against ACC member
Maryland, along with a two-game set against a Georgia Southern
team that advanced to the NCAA tournament a year ago. In addition,
BU will see strong programs in East Tennessee State and Charleston
Southern among others.
Up North, BU will see solid programs in Lehigh, St. Bonaventure
and Le Moyne each of whom advanced to its conference post-season
tournament in 2002.
The 24-game conference slate begins at home on April 5-6, when
the Bearcats will host Hartford.
the programs first year of Division I in the rear view
mirror, Sinicki is hopeful his upgraded lineup can battle through
the typically difficult early-season trip south, and hit stride
in time for conference play.
Unpolished play, particularly defensively, was costly in BUs
6-16 start last spring. Fourteen times in those initial 22 games,
the Bearcats committed two or more errors, and in all, the team
committed three or more miscues in 15 games though none
occurred in the final three weeks of the season.
All in all, I think we are a stronger team than a year
ago, Sinicki said. Weve got more offensive
depth, and weve also improved our defense.
After going 8-12 and placing fifth in the teams first season
of conference play a year ago, Sinicki feels his team can only
gain from that experience.
Now we know the quality of the conference, and know what
to expect, he said. Our players realize that you
need to battle every game. From top to bottom, the America East
is very competitive, and I think we have a better sense of how
well you have to play to win.
We expect to be more competitive, and our goal is to earn
a top-four position in the conference and play in the post-season