Immediate Release: March 2, 2006
VESTAL, N.Y. - Binghamton baseball got its first taste of Division I postseason play in 2005, advancing to the America East tournament with a fourth place regular season finish. Now the Bearcats want to extend their stay at the conference championship - something 14th-year head coach Tim Sinicki thinks is possible as his squad begins its 54-game 2006 slate with a four-game set at Delaware State this Saturday and Sunday.
"Last spring was a big step forward for our program," head coach Tim Sinicki said. "We will continue to work toward our goal of being a consistent contender and eventual winner of an America East championship."
The team's primary strength has quickly shifted from offense to pitching, as Sinicki returns essentially his entire pitching staff from a year ago plus three more quality hurlers whose contributions were cut short due to injury. That staff produced a 3.91 earned run average in conference play last spring and spearheaded the team's rise in the America East standings. After being picked to finish sixth in the 2005 preseason poll, BU put together a string of 12 wins in 14 games and held down first place until the final weekend of the regular season.
On the hill, Sinicki returns pitchers who accounted for 88% of the starts and 87% of the team's victories from 2005.
"This season's pitching staff is easily the deepest and most talented we've ever had during my time here at Binghamton," Sinicki said. "There is a tremendous amount of competition within the staff for roles as starters and relievers, and so far the guys have really pushed each other in a very positive way."
America East Rookie of the Year Diamond leads pitching staff
Diamond posted a sparkling 2.85 ERA in league play, and was honored as the America East Rookie of the Year after going 4-2 with three complete games. Diamond recorded a team-high 58 strikeouts in 69.1 innings of work, and led the conference in shutouts, ranked fourth in complete games and ninth in strikeouts. He also picked off eight baserunners.
"Scott's development can be directly attributed to all the hard work he's put in over the last two seasons," Sinicki said. "In season, out of season, he's been absolutely committed to turning himself into a marquee pitcher in the conference."
Rampey was the staff workhorse last year, logging 80 innings in 12 starts. He won five games and held down a 3.17 ERA against conference foes. Van Gorder, a part-time high school pitcher who has blossomed under Sinicki's tutelage, emerged as a conference starter in 2005 and went 4-0 with a 4.55 ERA.
Back in the mix after missing nearly all the 2005 season is sophomore righthander Zach Groh, who was expected to be Sinicki's No. 1 man before an injury took hold after just three starts last March. In his freshman season, Groh won four games and was the team's ace during its playoff push in May. He led the team in strikeouts (8.44/game) and allowed just four earned runs over his final 17.1 innings of work.
"As a freshman, Zach proved that he, without question, has the ability to be a number one type starter in our conference," Sinicki said.
Another starting pitcher who is expected to return following a medical redshirt season is senior righthander David Lind - the team's No. 1 man from 2004. Lind had a team-high nine starts with a solid 4.40 ERA.
In the bullpen, senior Adam Shatkun is back as the team's closer. Shatkun won three games and saved five more in relief last spring. He held down a 4.41 ERA. Joining him in the bullpen is senior Tom Gaube, who missed the entire 2005 season with an injury. Gaube was 2-0 with three saves and a 4.44 ERA in 2004 and opponents hit just .232 off him.
"I'm not sure I could draw it up and better," Sinicki said. "Having two fifth-year seniors anchor our bullpen is just the type of experience we need, especially in conference play. However, both Tommy and Adam are quite capable of filling in as starters if called upon."
Last year's rash of pitching injuries opened the door for several other players to work innings, and the Bearcats may reap the benefits this season. With the extended America East schedule (four-game series' instead of three) and a six-games-in-six-days trip to California in March, Sinicki will have ample opportunity to utilize additional arms. Junior Khalid Afify won three games in six starts last season and sophomore Gio Yannuzzi made six appearances, including three starts. Senior righty Nick Bogdanoff made 16 relief appearances and can create havoc for righthanded hitters with his sidearm delivery.
Newcomers Ron Miller, Jeff Dennis and Seth Rademacker will battle for immediate innings. Miller is a sophomore transfer from Monroe Community College who played high school ball at nearby Owego High. Dennis is a 6-foot-6 lefthander from North Syracuse who was a second team All-Central New York pitcher for Liverpool High. Rademacker is a senior who pitched at Monroe CC and Lincoln Memorial University, where he was all-conference as a sophomore. He possesses poise and maturity and will compete for a spot in the conference rotation.
"Ron, Jeff and Seth all have the ability to make an immediate impact in our program," Sinicki said. "Ron has a power arm with electric stuff, Jeff's velocity and command continue to improve every time out, and Seth ... well this young man can simply flat-out pitch."
all-conference player Hitchcock anchors offense
Gone however is 2005 America East Player of the Year Mathieu Bergeron, who clobbered conference pitching to the tune of nine home runs and 25 RBI in 20 games. Bergeron set school records for home runs (16) and RBI (55) in a season. Between the loss of Bergeron and two other starters (Keith Ford and Jamie Boyer), the Bearcats return just over half of their RBI production from 2005.
Junior first baseman Brendon Hitchcock is the biggest returning bat in the lineup and is one of the premier players in the conference. As a sophomore, he led the America East and ranked 31st in the nation with a .399 average, earning first team all-conference laurels. Hitchcock hit third in the order and produced a school-record 73 hits with a league-high on-base percentage of .481. He also is a sure handed fielder who made only four errors in 396 chances.
Hitchcock remained above the .400 mark until his final at-bat of the postseason and stepped up his production when the team needed him most. He hit .618 as the leadoff hitter of an inning and batted .416 with runners on base, including a whopping .706 with runners on third and less than two out.
"'Hitch' continues to get better and better," Sinicki said. "He's never satisfied. He's always looking for ways to improve his game, and usually he finds them."
Junior infielders Matt Simek and Justin Smucker are back to occupy second base and shortstop respectively. The veteran double-play duo combined for 105 hits and 76 runs in 2005, and led the team with their intensity and leadership on and off the field.
Simek was a second team all-conference selection after batting .321 out of the five spot. He stole 11 bases and committed just six errors in 185 chances (.968). Smucker hit .302 as the No. 2 man in the lineup, and had a team-high 10 sacrifices and ranked fourth in the America East in runs scored with nearly one per game (0.96). In the 20-game conference slate, Smucker hit .343 - second only to Hitchcock on the team.
Rounding out the infield is returnee Ryan James and newcomers Kyle Klee and Jeff Wertepny. James played in 21 games as a freshman, while Klee and Wertepny bring impressive credentials and could jump into the starting lineup immediately. Klee was an all-state shortstop who batted .521 for McQuaid High last spring. He is an excellent fielder who could move over to the vacant spot at third base. Wertepny put up power numbers at Oakton Community College (Ill.), where he was a first team NJCAA Division II All-American. He could play third base, first and also DH for the Bearcats.
Junior Pat Haughie returns behind the plate after a solid season handling the pitching staff. A defensive stalwart with a strong arm, Haughie threw out nearly 30% of would-be base stealers last spring.
"Pat brings a wealth of experience behind the plate," Sinicki said. "He very well might be the best defensive catcher in the conference."
Backing up Haughie will be junior transfer Danny Salazar and freshman Micael Quinn. Salazar is a mid-year transfer from Los Angeles Mission College, where he hit .339 and earned second team all-conference honors. Quinn was a two-time all-section catcher for Hastings High School.
In the outfield, Sinicki returns two starters - senior center fielder Aaron Davis and junior right fielder Jeff Monaco. Davis covered vast territory and committed just two errors last season. He also hit .322 in conference play. Monaco did most of his damage at the plate, where he hit .338 against America East opponents with four home runs and 15 RBI in 20 games. Monaco also delivered in the clutch, batting .373 with runners on base.
Freshmen Ken Jacobi and Tom Carberry and junior Mike Papili round out the outfield corps. Jacobi is a highly-touted lefthander who hit .517 for Hopkins School in Connecticut. He was a four-year all-league selection. Carberry is an all-conference player from St. Anthony's High School who sat out his senior season with an injury. Papili was an all-region player for Monroe CC last spring when he hit .339.
schedule includes trips to California, New Orleans
Other non-conference opponents include longtime New York State foes Cornell, Le Moyne and St. Bonaventure. The America East schedule will be put on hold in mid-May for a three-game road set against University of New Orleans, which plays out of the Sun Belt Conference.
"We've continued to try and challenge our players with a top-flight non-conference schedule," Sinicki said. "We're absolutely thrilled and honored to be playing in the Johnny Quik Tournament at Fresno State. This event is probably the premier tournament in the country and gives us an opportunity to play some teams we would otherwise never play. The trip to New Orleans will give us a chance to play a program that will quickly rise to the top of the Sun Belt Conference under the leadership of Tom Walter."
The conference slate is a 24-game schedule comprised of four-game series' against each of the other six America East members. With the departure of Northeastern from the league, the conference grid changed from three-game series' to the four-game set, which puts a premium on pitching.
"The new conference format will really challenge the pitching staffs in the conference," Sinicki said. "Thirty-two innings in three days is a lot of baseball. Our guys will need to be focused each and every conference weekend because there are no gimmies."
Defending champion Maine was picked to win the 2006 America East title, followed by Stony Brook, Vermont, Binghamton, Albany, UMBC and Hartford. Last spring the top four teams were separated by just two games and the regular season champion failed to win the conference tournament for the third straight year - a testament to the league's overall competitiveness.
If Binghamton's pitching staff capitalizes on its talent and depth, and the already-defensively-sound Bearcats put up comparable offensive numbers, they could put themselves in the championship mix come May.
ultimate goal hasn't changed," Sinicki said. "We want
to capture the America East championship and earn the automatic
bid into the NCAA tournament. I think this year, however, is
our best shot at achieving that goal since we've moved to Division
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