Sports

The American is a step up for baseball and softball

Players and coaches speak to “significant” talent increase.

The American: Operating Expenses for 2011-2012 Reporting Year

When softball coach Joe DiPietro looks at the 2014 schedule, one thing stands out to him.

“The talent level is significant,” DiPietro said. “Obviously in this conference there’s going to be no games we look at where you think, ‘This is a win.’”

The same concept goes for coach Ryan Wheeler and the baseball team, who will be making the same transition into the American Athletic Conference next season.

“My initial reaction was good,” Wheeler said. “[The American] is a step up in competition and it’s going to be a great league. But then my excitement turned to apprehension with the type of talent is ahead of us, knowing that we have to get better.”

Initially, both teams were preparing to play in the Big East Conference beginning in 2014. While some players were initially upset at the news they would not be entering the Big East after the departure of the Catholic 7, others were not as affected with the change.

“Initially, it was kind of eye-opening,” sophomore shortstop Nick Lustrino said about entering the Big East. “You see all these Big East teams on television and playing in major tournaments. I just thought, ‘Wow I am now a part of this conference.’”

Lustrino admitted that it was difficult when he found out the Owls were not heading to the Big East. However, softball junior catcher Stephanie Pasquale was indifferent about the switch to The American.

“Personally I was really excited to go to the Big East and play all those really good teams,” she said. “And now it’s kind of like, ‘Whoop, now you’re playing whoever’s in [The American].’ It is what it is and there’s still some good teams left in this conference now.”

“Both conferences have beautiful stadiums and strong programs so it is very similar to the Big East, just with a different name,” Lustrino said. “The American does not take away from the prestige of playing in a great conference.”

The American will consist of nine baseball teams and eight softball teams in Spring 2014. Cincinnati and Southern Methodist do not have softball programs, and SMU doesn’t have a baseball program, either. By 2015, 10 baseball and nine softball teams will make up The American.

“On paper I guess we’d probably be maybe slightly under middle of the pack [in The American],” DiPietro said. “If there are eight teams, we would probably be, I would say, maybe fifth or sixth. Just on paper Louisville would have to be the best, then Houston, then South Florida, then maybe Central Florida, somewhere in that range. I don’t think we’re going to be in over our heads.”

The softball team will face the likes of No. 8 Louisville, No. 24 South Florida and Houston, all Division I powers. The baseball team’s toughest opponent on paper may be No. 24 Louisville, who currently dons a record of 30-9.

ABI REIMOLD / TTN

ABI REIMOLD / TTN

“It will be really good,” Wheeler said of The American. “Some of those programs in [The American] are Top 25 teams and some others are Top 50 and Top 75. The conference has some really good players and there is certainly a big commitment to baseball.”

Temple’s track record against these programs is far from stellar for both softball and baseball. Next season will also mark the first time both teams face Houston, Louisville and Memphis, while the baseball team has the opportunity to face Cincinatti for the first time. Softball has a combined record of 41-65 against the 2014 version of the conference, while baseball is 33-63-1. Neither team has a winning record against any of the current or future teams.

While Louisville is the only baseball team in The American that made the NCAA tournament last year, DiPietro thinks the softball team will benefit from a better RPI. He said if the conference has the same pull as the old Big East, they have a chance to make the tournament without winning the conference.

“I think we’ll be OK as we move forward because the standard has been set that just making the playoffs is not good enough, we want to get into the NCAA tournament,” DiPietro said.

“I think our program can only get better,” Lustrino said. “There are a lot top talent schools in The American; it will be interesting for sure to find out next season.”

John Murrow can be reached and Jake Adams can be reached at sports@temple-news.com.

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