Releases

For Immediate Release: February 19, 2005
Contact: John Hartrick (hartrick@binghamton.edu)
Phone: 607-777-6800

Binghamton University baseball opens season Friday at No. 28 Oklahoma State
Bearcats aim to continue progress from successful '04 campaign

On paper, the 2005 Bearcats have lost plenty from their 22-21 team of a year ago. After achieving a 15 1/2-game turnaround that ranked third in the nation last spring, 13th-year head coach Tim Sinicki must replace three starting pitchers including his No. 1 man plus his 3-4-5 hitters.

Offensively is where BU took the hardest hit from graduation. Gone are the program’s all-time home run king and first team all-region player (Jay Balback) and a two-time all-conference selection (T.J. Kowalchuk), who racked up a combined 22 home runs and 80 RBI last spring.

But Sinicki believes his 2005 edition, while less potent at the plate and less experienced on the mound, has its own strengths — primarily defense, team speed and depth up and down the roster.

“Although we lost a fair amount of offensive production from last year’s team, we have a very good core of returning players who are a year older, stronger and more experienced,” he said. “We also have mixed in a couple of junior college transfers who have performed very well in some of the best junior college conferences in the country.

“This year’s team will be significantly different than the 2004 team in many ways,” he said. “Offensively, I don’t think we’ll hit the home runs like we did last year (26th in nation), but with that, we should cut down on strikeouts. Our lineup should produce a lot of doubles, have greater overall speed, and guys who should be able to handle the bat really well. Our pitching depth is very good and I really like our chances to defend at a high level, which should in turn, give our pitching staff a great deal of confidence.”

Boyer’s bat, return of Smucker solidify infield unit
Three of four infielders are back, headed by senior first baseman Jamie Boyer, a second team America East all-star in 2004. Boyer was second on the team in home runs (10) and RBI (40) and feasted off conference pitching to the tune of a .338 average and .743 slugging percentage. He ranks among the program’s top-10 in four career categories and is a threat to knock the ball out of the park at any time.

“Jamie has proven to be one of the most prolific offensive threats in our conference,” Sinicki said. “We’re counting on him to once again be a big-time run producer for us and to again earn a spot on the all-conference team.”

Back in the middle of the infield are senior shortstop Keith Ford and sophomore second baseman Matt Simek. Ford’s on-base percentage of .387 was second-best on the team, and he stole a BU-best 11 bases, making him an ideal leadoff man. Simek enjoyed an excellent freshman campaign, earning selection to the America East All-Rookie squad. He turned 11 double plays and committed just one error in 116 chances, and at the plate, showed pop in the bat with 10 extra-base hits.

The infield will be bolstered by the return of sophomore No. 2 hitter Justin Smucker, who missed the entire 2004 season with an injury. Smucker made just 12 errors at shortstop in 180 chances as a freshman, and his work ethic has drawn high praise from Sinicki.

“The return of Justin to our everyday lineup is a tremendous boost to our players and coaching staff,” he said. “Justin works harder than any single person I’ve ever coached and watching him is certainly an inspiration. He is an outstanding defensive infielder and showed signs at the end of his freshman year of becoming a guy who can hit for a high average and be counted on to drive in some runs. Justin can play all three infield positions (3B, 2B, SS) and it’s not a stretch to say he may be the best at all three. His ability and flexibility gives us tremendous options with our defensive lineups.”

But with all the talk of the key infield returnees, the most significant role might be played by junior college transfer Mathieu Bergeron, who will play third base and DH. Bergeron is a left-handed power hitter who hit .357 with 10 home runs and 38 RBI for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M last spring, and Sinicki will immediately load him up in the clean-up spot.

“Bergeron has the ability to be one of the premier hitters in the conference,” Sinicki said. “He should hit for average and power, and has a tremendous feel for the strike zone, which could equate to a high number of walks.”
Fourth-year letterwinner Brian Lindsay and newcomers Ryan James and Matt Fernandez round out the infield corps.

Outfielders can cover ground
Senior center fielder Whitney Powell returns to anchor a speedy but thin outfield unit. Powell recorded 83 putouts in center last season, and is also a dangerous runner on the base paths, swiping 80% of his attempts in 2004. Joining Powell is fellow junior college transfer and speedster Aaron Davis, an all-conference selection from Skyline College in California. Davis batted .387 and led his team to 29 wins and a divisional title in 2004. He is slated to patrol right field.

Sophomore Brendon Hitchcock, the team’s top returning hitter, returns in left field, but will begin to see some time at first base as well. The smooth-hitting lefthander batted .305 with 30 RBI in 2004, and was a second team America East all-star and an All-Rookie choice. Hitchcock also led the entire conference with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in the outfield (no errors in 98 chances). He is slated to bat third in Sinicki’s lineup.
Sophomore Jeff Monaco provides another highly athletic option with some pop in his bat, and starting infielder Keith Ford can also play the outfield if needed.

Darling and Haughie will split bulk of catching duties
Senior Chris Darling and sophomore Pat Haughie will likely split time behind the plate. Darling has shown great improvement in the last year, and extended his production to the pitching mound, where he posted two wins, two saves and a team-best 3.16 earned run average, primarily as a reliever. At the plate, Darling drove in 10 runs in 14 starts. Haughie, an excellent defensive catcher with a good eye at the plate, is coming off a sparkling freshman campaign in which he earned America East All-Rookie honors. He threw out 13-of-36 baserunners and had an on-base percentage of .392, which was buoyed by a team-high 21 walks.

“Pat is one of the best catch-throw guys in the conference,” Sinicki said. “Offensively, he has the ability to be a middle of the order type hitter for us eventually.”

Junior John Hark can also fill in behind the plate.

Pitching injuries, departures have opened door for newcomers
Graduation and injuries have forced a drastic makeover of Sinicki’s pitching staff for the 2005 season. Of the nine pitchers who went at least 20 innings last spring, only four return, meaning several newcomers will have a chance to step in and play key roles in the rotation. Injuries will cost 2004 No. 1 starter David Lind (9 starts, 4.40 ERA) and top reliever Tom Gaube (2-0, 3 saves, 4.44 ERA) the 2005 season.

“Losing David and Tom for the season will certainly have an impact on our pitching staff,” Sinicki acknowledged. “My hope is that one or two or even the entire staff will look at this as an opportunity to either enhance their roles within the staff and/or pitch more innings than maybe they had once anticipated.”

The ace of the staff is sophomore Zach Groh, who won four games as a freshman and was the team’s go-to pitcher in the final playoff push in May. Groh had a 4.32 ERA in league games, and led BU in strikeouts and was ninth in the America East in strikeouts per game (8.44). In his final three outings (17.1 innings), he struck out 18 and allowed only four earned runs.

“Zach has established himself as a pitcher who can win and win big at this level,” Sinicki said. “He may have the best slider in the conference and his velocity continues to increase.”

Newcomers Jarrod Rampey and Scott Diamond are expected to move into top-3 spots in the rotation. Rampey, a junior transfer, was a two-year starter for Wofford College (S.C.) and established himself as one of the program’s top pitchers. Last spring he won four games and had the second-most strikeouts on the team with 41. A former all-state pitcher for Pittsford-Sutherland High School in Rochester, Rampey now returns to Upstate New York for his final two collegiate seasons.

“Jarrod brings a wealth of talent and experience to our staff,” Sinicki said. “He has pitched at a very high level in the Southern Conference the last two seasons and we’re counting on him for quality innings and stability in our weekend rotation.

Diamond is a 6-foot-2 lefthander from Guelph, Ontario, who was rated the 21st-best Canadian high school player by Baseball America. He pitched three years for Team Ontario, owning a 1.85 ERA with 181 strikeouts in 166.3 innings.

“Scott has been the most impressive newcomer on the mound thus far,” Sinicki said. “He has the ability to be one of the best pitchers I’ve ever had in the program.”

Senior lefthander Mike Weglinski is a dependable veteran who logged a team-best 50 innings last season. He won three games with a save and held down a 4.86 ERA. Weglinski’s best outing was against VMI, when he tossed six innings of no-hit relief to earn the victory. His ability to spot pitches and change speeds makes him a valuable option as a starter or reliever.

Binghamton’s bullpen was one of the team’s strengths last season, posting a 14-3 record with a 5.29 ERA. Junior Adam Shatkun, who is undefeated in his collegiate career, should continue to provide middle-inning relief. Last season, the righthander went 5-0 with a 3.60 ERA. In 30 innings, he allowed just six walks and six extra-base hits, and puts good movement on the ball.

Junior transfer Nick Bogdanoff, a sidearm righty, is expected to be the team’s closer. At Skyline College (Calif.) last spring, he went 7-0 with a 3.40 ERA.

Newcomers Khalid Afify, Gary Freas and Gio Yannuzzi, along with second-year pitcher Mike Van Gorder, round out the staff. Afify is a hard-throwing freshman righthander who can hit 90 mph, and Yannuzzi gives Sinicki a third lefthanded option on the mound. Afify, Yannuzzi and Van Gorder represent half of Sinicki’s six Binghamton-area recruits in the program.

“Despite the two injuries (to Lind and Gaube), I do think our pitching depth is very good,” Sinicki said. “We’re hoping to make up for the quantity with quality. I feel like we have 10 guys who can compete at this level. We’re not a staff that will strike out a ton of hitters, so it’s going to be important to get ahead of hitters early and then make them put the ball in play so we can defend.”

54-game schedule begins at No. 23 Oklahoma State
Binghamton’s 54-game schedule begins with a daunting three-game set at Oklahoma State University, which was ranked No. 23 in the Collegiate Baseball Pre-Season Poll. The Cowboys won 38 games and captured the Big 12 title in 2004, and are the first nationally-ranked team BU has faced at the Division I level.

The non-conference schedule continues throughout March with trips to Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. In all, the Bearcats will play their first 20 games on the road before a scheduled three-game home series with Long Island University on April 2-3. Binghamton will play eight games against 2004 NCAA tournament teams (Oklahoma State, St. Bonaventure and Le Moyne) and will continue rivalries with in-state opponents Cornell and Siena. The Bearcats will also play six first-time opponents.

“Our schedule is once again built to challenge and prepare our players for the rigors of America East competition,” Sinicki said.

Reigning conference champion Stony Brook, four-time league winner Maine, 2003 champ Northeastern and 2005 tournament host Vermont will all likely be in the mix as the America East season hits full stride. The conferencs schedule is a 21-game slate (three-game series’ against the seven AE opponents) that culminates with the four-team 2005 America East Championship, May 26-28 at Vermont’s Centennial Field.

Closing in on conference tournament spot a priority
After 20 conference games last spring, BU fell one win shy of advancing to the four-team America East tournament, and climbing that hurdle remains Sinicki’s number one goal.

“The America East will once again be strong from top to bottom,” he said. “There is no time to catch your breath and relax once conference play begins April 9-10. Any of the eight teams is capable of qualifying for the conference tournament and from there, well, anything is possible.”

The last two championship tournaments have indeed shown that anything is possible. In 2003 and 2004, the No. 4 seed has won the America East title and carried the America East banner into the NCAA regionals.

The Bearcats are chomping at the bit to take a shot at the title, and with a solid defense and strong depth across the board, the 2005 edition could earn that chance.

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