Last weekend marked the beginning of new coach Rob Valli’s tenure with a three-game series sweep by 15th-ranked Lousiana State.
Though the team left Baton Rouge with three losses – 4-1 on Friday and 9-0 and 14-4 in a Sunday doubleheader – the Owls brought home experience in knowing that they can compete with a nationally ranked program, said senior pitcher Tim Foulkrod.
One of four seniors on the Owls’ roster, Foulkrod said the series with LSU was beneficial.
“We were the underdogs. We came in here with nothing to lose,” he said by phone last weekend. “For some of the guys, it was their first collegiate game. We made a couple of mistakes.
“With a new coach and new signs, there was some confusion. But we were in there in all three games. They showed why they are No. 15 in the nation.”
In the offseason, the Owls hired a coach from outside of the program to replace longtime coach Skip Wilson, who in 46 seasons at Temple compiled 1,034 career wins. Valli, 33, arrived to Temple from Gloucester County (N.J.) College, where last season he led his team to a 50-7 overall record and a National Junior College Athletic Association National Championship.
The Owls have a number of experienced arms returning to help Valli in his first season. They have a promising newcomer taking the mound, as well.
Foulkrod, whose six victories and a 3.46 ERA led the team last year, is joined by fellow senior Justin Mendek and junior Chris McCafferty as returning pitchers in Temple’s rotation.
Arshwin Asjes, a sophomore who went 8-2 for Valli at Gloucester County, was drafted in the 34th round of the last year’s MLB draft by the Cleveland Indians. Since his transfer to Temple, he has been named the Atlantic Ten Conference’s Top Newcomer by Baseball America. Asjes will play a prominent role in the Owls’ rotation.
The Owls have a youthful outfield that has experience and strong upside.
Sophomore left fielder Frank Nunan, who had six hits against LSU last weekend, highlights a group of young outfielders. Sophomores Tom Dolan, who appeared in 43 games in center field last year as a freshman, and Devon Swope, who hit .246 before being sidelined by injury, round out the outfield.
The infield situation for the Owls, however, is as wide open as the their outfield situation is determined. Junior third baseman Dan Brady played every inning for the Owls last season and contributed a team-leading 31 runs batted in.
But the Owls also return only six total collegiate at-bats between the shortstop and second base positions.
The Owls should expect to encounter difficulty in finding replacements for since-graduated first baseman Mike Weckenman, second baseman Justin Cooper and shortstop Jason Conner, who combined for 214 RBIs last season.
Junior Josh Wernick will start the season at second, while freshman Casey Sellen will start at shortstop. Junior Nick Fasano and sophomore Lucio Rainelli will be the main contenders for first-base playing time.
The team, however, is not looking at its inexperience as a negative, Foulkrod said.
“Everyone busted their humps. Everyone is fighting for a spot,” he said. “It brings everyone together, makes everyone tighter. There is a lot more intensity.”
The Owls begin A-10 play on March 24 with a three-game series against Saint Louis. Rhode Island, Richmond and Charlotte figure to be the teams to beat.
“Those three are the ones [to watch],” Foulkrod said. “We’re going hard at everyone, but those are the three we’re going real hard at.”
Sean Price can be reached at email@example.com.