The baseball team has set its goals high for the spring season. After narrowly missing the playoffs last season, the Owls intend to win the Atlantic Ten Conference title and advance to the Eastern Regional playoffs.
Coach Skip Wilson said the Owls are strong enough in pitching, hitting and fielding to achieve those goals.
“This is the first time in a long while that we have the three ingredients together,” Wilson said. “I am looking forward to a good year.”
The Owls lost their playoff hopes last season following series losses to St. Bonaventure, Massachusetts and Fordham. But this year, Wilson said, he is not concerned about any opponent.
The Owls’ physical skills are not all Wilson is excited about this season.
“I think [the players’] attitude and team spirit has really come together,” he said.
The Owls count on nine returning seniors to guide the team.
“I have outstanding leadership this year,” Wilson said. “When you have good leadership, everything falls into place.”
Three of the four regulars return from last season.
Senior Mike Weckenman goes from third base to first base and will be used as closer should senior Chris Kurtz be overworked.
Wilson said he made the move to save the senior’s arm. Weckenman, an above-average fielder, will bat in the middle of the lineup.
Weckenman’s move allows sophomore Dan Brady to settle in at third base, a new position for him. Wilson said he wanted to find a way to get Brady’s bat into the lineup.
Senior shortstop Jason Conner, 2004 team leader in RBIs, joins Weckenman in the heart of the lineup. Conner was named to the A-10 preseason team.
Senior Justin Cooper completes the middle infield at second base.
The major concern for the infield, Wilson said, is defense. Brady is still adjusting at third, and Conner and Cooper combined for 47 errors last season. Infield depth is a concern if injuries pile up.
To protect against unforeseen problems, Wilson said that the Owls are trying to make transfer Harry Ley eligible. Wilson said Ley can play every infield position if needed.
Junior Marc Wagner and senior Matt Lafferty will split time at catcher. In 23 games last season, Wagner hit .280 and drove in 18 runs while throwing out over half of potential base stealers. The Owls expect him and Lafferty to be the main leaders on the team.
Outfield is one of the team’s deepest positions, the skipper said.
In right field, power-hitter Pete Colon returns for his senior season. Colon batted .298 and shared the team lead in homeruns with Connor with eight last season.
Senior Gene Burpoe will play left field. He hit only .190 last year with two doubles. Wilson hopes Burpoe returns to his 2003 form, when he hit .309 and led the Owls with a .446 on-base percentage.
“He fell off last year, but he came back [this year] in great shape,” Wilson said.
Two freshmen, Devon Swope and Tom Dolan, offer a right-left batting duo and will split centerfield duty. No matter who starts, Wilson said, both have outstanding speed and should play all four years.
An injury in the outfield will be less troublesome for the Owls, considering their depth.
A number of players will pitch for the Owls, which they hope will make for an extremely deep pitching staff.
Returning are juniors Tim Foulkrod and Tim Andrel, and seniors Justin Mendek and Chris Kurtz. Kurtz will be the Owls’ primary closer this season after leading the 2004 team with eight wins.
Freshmen Steve Develin, Eric Fritz, and Carl Taylor could also see significant time on the mound.
Senior Chris Hamilton will pitch mostly in relief.
Wilson has the pitching staff broken down in a manner similar to a major league team: four starters, three relievers and three closers.
The Owls begin their quest for an A-10 Championship on Friday when they visit Florida International. Wilson said the talent is there; now it all comes down to staying healthy and executing.