Releases

For Immediate Release: February 14, 2007
Contact: John Hartrick (hartrick@binghamton.edu)
Phone: 607-777-6800

Binghamton baseball looks to ride returning all-stars, pitching depth to postseason
Bearcats picked second in America East, have strongest lineup in program's Division I era

VESTAL, N.Y. - If ever the time was right for the Bearcats to make a run at the America East championship — 2007 appears to be that year.

The Bearcats return 17 letterwinners from their most successful team in the program’s Division I era (27 wins), they have a big senior class with an abundance of talent and leadership and the pitching staff has never been better. The lineup showcases three conference all-stars plus the reigning America East Pitcher of the Year. The heart of the order features perhaps the best pure hitter in the conference. Add to that a lefty hurler who is all but a lock to be selected in the MLB Amateur Draft come June.

But as 15-year
head coach Tim Sinicki knows all too well, preseason optimism is high in many cities around the league. And despite its record win total last spring, BU fell one game short of advancing to the conference tournament. So this year’s group will have a clearly defined goal.

“Top to bottom, the conference is as good as its been in many years,” Sinicki said. “I do believe, however, we have both the personnel and experience necessary to make a run at the America East tournament and ultimately reach our goal of capturing the conference championship.”

Bearcats to rely on starting pitching strength
Binghamton returns perhaps the league’s best 1-2 starting pitching duo in juniors Scott Diamond and Zach Groh. Diamond is a durable 6-foot-2 lefthander who logged 75.1 innings in 2006. One year after being named America East Rookie of the Year, Diamond won five games and posted a 3.80 earned run average against conference foes. In the summer, he was nearly unhittable in the wooden bat Coastal Plain League (5-0, 0.50 ERA) and was ranked the No. 2 pro prospect in that league by Baseball America.

But the Bearcat who was voted America East Pitcher of the Year was Groh, who led the entire nation in ERA for much of the spring before settling on the 11th best figure in the country (1.85). Groh dropped that number to a paltry 1.16 in league play, and led the America East in strikeouts (10.09/game).

“With Scott and Zach, it’s like having two legitimate number one starters,” Sinicki said. “Both men have worked extremely hard since they stepped foot on campus to become two of the premier pitchers in the league.”

Even with the formidable pair, the BU pitcher who enjoyed the most success against conference opponents in 2006 was senior Mike Van Gorder, who will occupy the No. 3 spot in the rotation.

Van Gorder won a team-best six games (6-1, 2.79 ERA), including a perfect 5-0 record in league play. In 51.2 innings of work, Van Gorder allowed no home runs and just one triple. It was his four-hit performance against Albany in the regular-season finale that vaulted BU into what amounted to a play-in game for the America East tournament.

Battling for the final spot in the weekend conference rotation will be 6-foot 6 sophomore lefthander Jeff Dennis and freshman righty Murphy Smith. Dennis went 2-1 with a 4.43 ERA last spring and was a summer all-star in the Southern Collegiate Baseball League. Smith is a highly-touted rookie with a bright collegiate career ahead of him.

Sinicki also has some reliable arms out of the bullpen, including junior righthander Khalid Afify, who will inherit the closer role. Afify is fresh from a stellar summer season with Elmira of the New York Collegiate Baseball League, where he earned all-star honors as a reliever.

“Overall the pitching staff has a tremendous amount of talent and depth,” Sinicki said. “It’s as good as we’ve had here at Binghamton in my 15 years.”

Veteran catcher Haughie handles pitching staff
Handling the talented pitching staff behind the plate is senior captain Pat Haughie, who is coming off his best collegiate season in 2006. Haughie caught 47 games and maintained his reputation as one of the best defensive catchers in the conference. He threw out 30% of baserunners and committed only three errors (.989). Offensively, Haughie belted a team-best seven home runs and hit .294 in league play from the No. 6 spot.

Sophomore Michael Quinn returns in a backup role. Quinn played in 16 games as a freshman and contributed one home run and six RBI.

Senior Jeff Wertepny, BU’s primary designated hitter, can also catch and play third. He hit .298 with 23 RBI in 2006.

Three-time all-star Hitchcock remains offensive spark
Senior first baseman and cleanup hitter Brendon Hitchcock returns to put the finishing touches on a remarkable collegiate career. The two-time first team America East all-star will undoubtedly go down as one of the best all-around players in program history. Hitchcock led the league with a .399 average two years ago, and probably would have been the Player in the Year if not for teammate Mathieu Bergeron, who led the league with 16 home runs and 55 RBI. Last season, he hit .363 (5th in AE) and drove in 46 runs in 50 games. Hitchcock will likely graduate as the all-time leader in hits and RBI.

“Despite all the success Brendon’s enjoyed thus far, he’s never satisfied,” Sinicki said. “He’s as motivated today as he was as a freshman. Brendon might be the best overall player to ever wear a Binghamton uniform.”

The senior double-play tandem of shortstop Justin Smucker and second baseman Matt Simek anchors the infield.
Smucker is coming off an exceptional season that resulted in first team all-conference honors. He hit .350 in the leadoff spot (7th in AE) and had a team-best .439 on-base percentage. He will carry a 13-game hit streak into the 2007 season, but his leadership throughout the year is what impresses Sinicki most.

“Justin has become the heart and soul of this program. No one works harder or has excelled in so many different roles.”

Simek earned second team all-star honors for the second straight year after hitting .309 with 31 RBI from the third spot. He led the team and ranked fifth in the conference with 16 doubles and committed just 11 errors in 217 chances at second base (.952). One of several local athletes who have blossomed under Sinicki’s tutelage, Simek is a gritty player whose passion is always on display.

“Matt is the kind of guy you would hate to play against but love to have on your team,” Sinicki said. “He’s a bit of a throwback ... uniform always dirty, trying to do the little things and always looking for a competitive advantage.”

The third base spot will toss between junior Ryan James and sophomore Kyle Klee. The pair shared the spot a year ago, with Klee starting 32 games and James 23. Klee earned America East All-Rookie honors after hitting .270 with 19 RBI.

Athletic Monaco returns to patrol right field
Senior right fielder Jeff Monaco highlights a swift outfield corps and can deliver at the plate from the No. 5 spot. Monaco, a two-year starter in right, hit safely in 15 of the first 16 games last season and was hitting .362 in late April before tailing off in May. He still produced 45 hits and 33 RBI — the latter figure ranking second on the team. Monaco used his speed to leg out three triples and steal a team-high nine bases in 2006, and his overall production will be crucial to BU’s success in 2007.

Back in left field is the platoon of senior Mike Papili and sophomore Ken Jacobi, who combined for 40 hits and 12 RBI last spring. Papili hit .292 in league play and recorded an on-base percentage of .433 while Jacobi began his collegiate career with a flurry, hitting .378 through his first 15 games. Both players are capable fielders.

Talented freshman Henry Dunn has earned the starting role in center field. Dunn batted .545 in his senior season at South Side High School (5th highest in Nassau County, N.Y.) and can cover a lot of ground in the outfield.

Schedule sends BU to Utah
Binghamton’s 53-game schedule begins in Virginia on the first weekend in March and also features five games in Utah and three games at the Philadelphia Baseball Bash, hosted by Villanova, in mid-March. In Utah, the Bearcats will play a three-game set at BYU, which won 33 games and finished runnerup in the Mountain West Conference last spring, and two games against Utah Valley State.

The 24-game America East slate opens on April 6 and BU’s home opener is set for April 13 against Vermont.
Small margin of error for conference tournament berth

The 24-game conference schedule consists of four-game sets against the six other members — three at home and three on the road. With the four games compacted into a three-day weekend series, pitching is a premium and one bad weekend can take a team out of the postseason picture. The Bearcats know this all too well. Last spring BU split the season series with all four teams that advanced to the America East Championship, but back-to-back shutouts in a doubleheader loss at Hartford and a washed out fourth game against UMBC ultimately kept Binghamton home.

If BU hasn’t secured a spot heading into the final weekend series on May 18-20, its task will be daunting. The conference schedule concludes with a trip to Orono to face two-time defending champion Maine.

Returning to America East Championship team’s goal
With eight seniors trying to slow down the clock before it expires on their collegiate careers, BU will set its sights on advancing to the America East Championship. The program made its inaugural postseason trip in 2005 and missed out by the narrowest of margins last year.

“Our guys have been talking about the 2007 season ever since our last out of last season,” Sinicki said. “The way 2006 ended really motivated the guys during the summer, fall and winter months. With March approaching, they really want to see all their hard work pay off.”

Three different teams have won the AE title in the last four years - and none entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed (two champions were fourth seeds), lending credence to the notion that once you reach the tournament — anything is possible. The Bearcats want to carry that torch in 2007.

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