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2005 UMBC BASEBALL PREVIEW
Kyle Wildasin led UMBC in ERA and was second on the team in batting average in 2004.
Eric Butkiewicz looks to lead the Retrievers' staff as the UMBC ace returns for his final year.
UMBC has 29 scheduled home games in 2005.
The Baseball Factory Field at UMBC is now home to night baseball with nine night games in 2005.
Zach Clark led UMBC in batting average last season.
On the brink of 600 career wins, 14 shy entering the season, and nearly three decades of coaching experience, Head UMBC Baseball Coach John Jancuska has seen and dealt with every possible scenario and obstacle heading into a season. The potential bumps in the road this year will bring no surprises to Jancuska as the Retrievers enter their second year in what was discovered last year to be a very competitive baseball conference. In addition, UMBC will field 16 newcomers on the squad, 50 percent of their entire team.
“We enter this season with more first year players than we have had in a long time,” said Jancuska. “Despite the youth, we have no intentions of straying away from our goals of finishing in the top-four of the conference and go after a league championship.”
Jancuska and staff, which is comprised of two former players and All-Americans in nine-year assistant Bob Mumma and first year assistant Jared Boyd, seem to up to the task of molding the young squad in time for conference play and a run at the league title.
“This group in the fall showed the ability to compete as first year players and gel with our returnees,” said Jancuska. “We have 24 games scheduled before our conference opener, which gives us plenty of time to find the right personnel and adjust our lineup accordingly.”
The UMBC pitching staff is experienced and holds a lot of talent with both the veteran and younger arms. In order for the staff to be successful, the Retrievers will need to fair better at getting out of innings, as 20 percent of all runs scored last year came as unearned runs. The staff will benefit from a more secure defensive unit behind them and with a year under the belt of most of the relief pitchers, Coach Jancuska will have more options in the later innings.
Headlining the Retrievers’ staff will be seniors and co-captains Eric Butkiewicz and Kyle Wildasin. Butkiewicz, a 6’4” right hander, led UMBC last year in innings pitched, strikeouts and games started. Butkiewicz, who is on track to become UMBC’s all-time leader in games started, innings pitched and strikeouts this season, is coming off a sensational summer where he pitched in the highly touted Alaska Baseball summer league, finishing the year leading his club with 23 appearances and held opponents to a .200 batting average in 46.37 innings pitched. Butkiewicz finished the summer league with an ERA of 2.06 with two wins and a save.
Wildasin, a 6’0” southpaw, led UMBC last year with four saves, a 4.32 ERA and a season-high 24 appearances. Wildasin is UMBC’s all-time saves leader and is on track to become the all-time leader in appearances. Wildasin, who starts in the field while not on the mound, could move out of his closer role and back into the starting rotation this season as the Retrievers await the return of junior Zach Clark to the mound.
“We are expecting our two seniors to lead us with their experience this year and for Kyle and Eric to have their best years this season,” said Jancuska. “Getting Zach back will be a big boost for us especially if he returns to early 2004 form.”
Clark, a 6’0” right hander, will start the season as a designated hitter in the Retriever batting line up as he gets himself ready to get back on the mound. Last year, after starting nine games and making 10 appearances, he was shutdown due to injury but appears well on track to return by conference play to the Retriever starting rotation.
The Retrievers will also look to reap the benefits of a year of experience out of five strong contributors from last year. Jon Pavlis, a 6’4” junior right hander, pitched well last year according to Jancuska and is expected to be one the Retrievers’ top-four starters this year. Sophomore right hander Steve Evans, 6’4”, could also work his way into the starting lineup after showing signs of potential last year, including throwing a masterful 5.0 innings against
In relief, UMBC will look first to a quartet of arms starting with senior Blake Phipps, a 6’3” second-year JUCO transfer, who has a strong right arm that produced 33 K’s last season in 22 appearances, second most on the team. Lefty Bo Sauter, 6’1” sophomore, struck out 33 in 16 appearances last year and held a 4-2 record on the season. Other relief pitchers include Tom Ballenger, 6’1” junior right hander, who made 13 appearances last year and Matt Buchholz, 6’0” sophomore right hander, who saw action in six games on the mound.
UMBC’s newcomers include Dan Blewett, 6’0” freshman right hander, Brian Duffy, 6’2” freshman right hander, and Tom Schlein, 6’3” freshman left hander. Each had strong fall seasons and are expected to see innings on the mound.
“Our cumulative experience in our top-8 pitchers should pay off for us this year,” said Jancuska. “We plan to utilize our veteran pitchers as opposed to our first years due to their experience.”
Heading into the season one of the most exciting aspects of the 2005 squad could be the defensive unit on the field. Despite Wildasin and Isaac Friedel being the only two returning infielders with experience, Jancuska feels the unit is very capable of effectively backing up the pitching staff.
“This group has proved to be one of the best defensive groups brought in to play at UMBC,” said Jancuska. “As the season goes on our defense which is strong heading into the year will only get better the more they play with one another.”
Behind the plate is a cast of three players all pushing each other for the starting nod. The leading candidate is Tom Rinaldi, who started last season as the Retrievers’ top catcher before a torn ACL forced his season to end. Jancuska will also use Andrew Sacks and Alex Laddbush behind the plate to not put to much stress on Rinaldi’s knee and allow the first-year players to vie for the starting job.
Wildasin, when not on the pitching mound, will get the nod at first base after holding a .984 fielding percentage last year, recording just six errors in 49 games played. Friedel’s season ended early last year with an injury but looks to return to his form of two years ago when he started in 39 games and see some action at first base.
Around the rest of the infield are all first year players. On the right side of the infield at second base will be Randy Boyle, Ian Carman and Anthony Socarras. Carman looks poised to be the opening day starter as a JUCO transfer from Cecil C.C., holds more experience heading into the year. Socarras has shown strong glove skills and could be a late inning switch for defensive purposes while Boyle will see action as well.
On the left side of the infield UMBC will alternate Mark Lemon, Steve Russo and Carl Wolf between the two open spots. Wolf looks to be the starter at shortstop opening day with Lemon at third base. Russo, whose bat could bring immediate impact to the Retriever line-up, is capable of rotating at second, third or shortstop.
UMBC returns Mike Scheffel, Jay Long and Chris Cerullo to the outfield and will be accompanied by newcomer’s Matt Higgins, Joe Fowler and Brian Moran. Scheffel and Cerullo started 41 games and played in 47 last year while Long was used in late innings, getting into 22 games with seven starts. Fowler looks to get starts early, especially against right handed pitching while Moran looks to be a good fit against left handed starters. Friedel, Clark and Wildasin could all see time in the outfield as well in order for Jancuska to get the right balance of offense and defense on the field.
Heading into the season, the UMBC offense is somewhat of a question mark. While Jancuska knows his team will get their share of hits, the batting line-up will be adjusted early on in order find the right chemistry.
A certainty for the Retrievers’ offense is the return of last year’s top-two hitters in Clark and Wildasin.
Wildasin and Clark look to shape out the middle part of the order. Tom Rinaldi in his nine games of action hit a home run and knocked two doubles to bat .286 while Chris Cerrullo batted .261 in 47 games played, stealing four bases and scoring 23 runs. Mike Scheffel hit .213 last year in 47 games with 10 RBI and three homeruns.
While the first-year players have not had a chance to prove themselves as of yet, heading into the year Ian Carman, who hit .353 at Cecil C.C. last year, and Russo, who in his final year of prep ball batted over .400 with a .521 on base percentage, both looked to be poised to make an impact in the Retrievers offense.
The Retriever schedule gives UMBC ample time to give their young squad a chance to gel together and their pitching staff a chance to settle into their roles with the first 24 games of the season against non-conference opponents.
In UMBC’s non-conference schedule, the Retrievers will face 11 games against a Colonial Athletic Conference opponent and nine against Atlantic-10 teams, providing the Retrievers with a taste of the type of teams they will see in the America East Conference.
“The first time through the conference we were impressed because each year we compete against top conference teams and the America East competition proved to be just as strong,” said Jancuska.
In what turned out to be a great community event last year, the Retrieves have nine home week night baseball games all starting at 7 p.m., with the first against Navy on April 12.
“Week night Division-I college baseball at UMBC turned out to be a great event in our first year of lights last season,” said Jancuska. “The night games add a new distinct dynamic to UMBC Baseball for the players, the community and for the campus.”
Once into conference play, beginning April 9 at home against Stony Brook, UMBC will play a two nine-inning, one seven-inning three-game series format against conference opponents each weekend.
Each weekend series becomes crucial as the Retrievers will aim for one of the top-four conference spots that make the league tournament. In order to do that, Jancuska’s squad will need to balance each aspect of offense, defense and pitching. For Jancuska, whose 600th career win is on the horizon, shaping a team to fit their strengths and weakness has been his strength through out his past 27 years of coaching getting him towards the 600 career win mark.
“Adapting to a newer conference and dealing with a young squad are things we have dealt with before and we will make the necessary adjustments,” said Jancuska. “What is promising is that the youth will provide us with a strong nuclease not just this year but for the next couple of years as well.”