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2007 UMBC Baseball Outlook
Head coach John Jancuska will lead the UMBC baseball team into the 2007 conference season on Friday night.
The 2007 Retriever Baseball squad has big holes to fill after losing half of its starting pitching rotation in Zach Clark and Jon Pavlis, but the team has welcomed 11 newcomers to the fold to supplement the 23 returning players.
Although the loss of Clark and Pavlis deals a huge blow to the starting rotation, head coach John Jancuska is still optimistic about his pitching staff.
“If we’re at full strength on the mound,” Jancuska said, “then I believe we can be in every game, and every conference game.”
With the conference season-opener rapidly approaching, the Retrievers will look to their starting lineup to perform in the field and behind the plate, where head coach John Jancuska sees the Retrievers’ most strength.
“I believe we are a better offensive ball club than we were the last couple of years,” said Jancuska, “and I think if we play solid defense we’re in the hunt for the top four [teams in the conference].”
The Retrievers return six of eight starting position players, keeping the starting lineup just about identical, but the real difference is in the individual players’ hitting abilities.
“The biggest difference is we have the ability to score runs,” said Jancuska. We hit a little bit more through the lineup and we have a little bit more power. If everyone stay’s healthy, then our lineup is pretty good.”
The Retrievers face the conference schedule that was instituted last year with a nine-inning Friday game, two seven-inning games on Saturday, and one nine-inning affair on Sunday. What seemed to be an advantage last year, however, looks to be a disadvantage for Jancuska’s squad this year.
With the loss of Clark and Pavlis, the pitching staff had two holes to fill in the starting rotation in the beginning of the season. Heavy on the heels of the conference season, three starters have emerged for the Retrievers this season.
At the top of the rotation is junior co-captain Steve Evans, who saw minimal action last season due to injury, but currently leads the team in starts and wins heading into the conference season.
In his sophomore season, Evans made eight starts and 18 appearances, holding a 3.92 ERA in his seven conference appearances while holding conference opponents to a .272 batting average, the lowest on the team. Evans was also responsible for two of UMBC’s six conference wins, with victories over
“Evans has proven himself,” said Jancuska. I expect him probably to pitch most of the seven-inning ball games.”
Starting in the second and third spots for the Retrievers are junior Dan Blewett and freshman Marty Zawacki. Blewett had a stellar freshman campaign for the Retrievers in 2005, making 17 appearances and holding a 3.86 ERA in conference play. He also made 10 appearances last season and currently leads the team in strikeouts on the eve of the conference-opener. Newcomer Zawacki was brought in along with freshmen Rob Hendry and David Divita to fill holes in the pitching rotation and has already shown that he will have a place on the mound during conference weekends according to Jancuska.
The fourth spot is where Jancuska will look towards his pitching depth and what happens in the first three games. Sophomore Eddie Bach, the Retrievers 2006 leader in appearances (19), strikeouts (63), opponent’s batting average (.251), and an America East All-Rookie Team selection, completed the rotation prior to the conference season, but will be operating at a reduced capacity in conference play, with his return yet to be determined.
One place Jancuska may end up looking to fill that fourth spot is junior Sean Rae, who saw action in 17 games last season, holding opponents to a .280 batting average.
“[Rae] has excellent velocity and an excellent curveball,” Jancuska said. “If he can regain control, he’ll be our fourth starter.”
Regardless of that elusive fourth spot, Jancuska expects Rae and Hendry to see considerable innings, as well as relief from seniors Bo Sauter and Matt Buchholz, junior Tom Schlein, and sophomore Brian Duffy.
As long the Retriever defense stays healthy, Jancuska believes that his infield and outfield will be in pretty good shape. The fact that three of four starting infielders, the starting catcher, and one starting outfielder are returning probably doesn’t hurt. Last season, the Retrievers committed just 79 errors, two less than the 2005 season while playing two more games and recorded a fielding percentage of .959, up from the .958 of 2005.
Junior Joe Fowler, a 2006 All-Conference Team selection, is the newest addition to the Retriever infield, who after serving as the starting left fielder for 50 of the Retrievers’ 52 games in 2006 will be guarding the bag at second base this season.
He will join the, already accomplished and tested, infield of senior first baseman Steve Gale, senior shortstop Steve Bowen, and junior third basemen Steve Russo and Mark Lemon.
Lemon saw action in 49 games last season, starting 41 at third base, but he may be challenged this year by Russo, who saw 27 starts all around the infield during last season.
Bowen will remain as the starting shortstop as long as he stays healthy with junior Anthony Socarras also getting some playing time at that position.
Gale has proven himself to be an outstanding starting first baseman and will likely man the bag for the Retrievers this season.
Senior co-captain Mike Scheffel is the only returning starting outfielder this season and will take charge of an outfield full of young talent.
Jancuska will look towards sophomore Scott Peddicord and junior transfer Will Delawter to fill the gaps in right and left field, while Scheffel maintains his focus in center field.
“When [Scheffel] steps on the field whether for practice or certainly for a game, he comes to play,” said Jancuska. “He’s very focused. He plays hard. He plays with a good attitude.”
Senior Isaac Friedel, sophomore Tom Marino, and freshman Geoff Lang may bolster the Retriever outfield with some playing time.
Behind the plate, Jancuska will look towards sophomore Tom Meaney to catch the majority of pitches after starting 32 games at the position last year, while senior Tom Rinaldi and freshman Rick Phillips will also see considerable time at catcher.
Redshirt freshman Dave Warrenfeltz and junior Jon Hart may also see time with the mask.
The Retrievers return two of their three hitters that batted over .300 last season in Fowler and Bowen and are looking at a fairly strong lineup throughout.
Fowler, the team’s leader in batting average (.345), runs (45), hits (69), doubles (26), and tie for the leader in triples (2) and home runs (8) in 2006 has the consistency and power needed to make his mark in the conference again this year, after leading the league in doubles and ranking second in total bases (123).
With Scheffel, who batted .295 last season, leading off an order that includes Fowler, Peddicord, Bowen, Gale, Delawter, Meaney, and Lemon or Russo, the Retrievers look to be pretty strong.
“All of our hitters have made improvements,” said Jancuska. “Our returning players have gotten better, and [our newcomer] Will Delawter has been a big, big part of our lineup. We’re close to having consistently six, seven guys on a given day that have quality at bats and that’s what we need in order to be able to compete against good America East pitching on weekends.”
Peddicord, who saw action in 28 games and 60 at bats in 2006 is one of those players Jancuska has seen improve. “We always knew [Peddicord] had some potential to be a pretty good hitter and he was an average defensive outfielder,” Jancuska said. “He’s very determined; he’s worked very, very hard. Last year, you could always see if he made a couple of adjustments that he had a chance to be a good Division I player and he’s made those adjustments. He’s become a good Division I hitter and also he’s become a good outfielder. He’s really worked on the defensive end so he’s doing a nice job out in right field.”
THE FINAL WORD
The Retrievers are looking for their first winning season since going 32-24 in 2002 and may well earn it with the strength their position players bring to the field and with a bat in their hands.
Jancuska’s ultimate goal is to make it to the four-team conference playoff, something that has eluded him since joining the America East Conference in 2004. In order to do that, Jancuska will look towards his hitting talent.
“With the lack of pitching depth [we have], when you play four games in a weekend, we’re going to have to hit,” he said. “That puts a lot of pressure on [the hitters]. We’re just going to try and compete and hopefully some of the guys who get innings on the weekend can give us quality innings.”
The biggest concern is the health of the team, according to Jancuska. “If we stay healthy in the position player area,” he said, “I like our chances to compete.”
The Retrievers begin their chances in America East competition on Friday, April 6, when they host
“I’m expecting our pitchers to step up. When they do that, and we stay healthy [in the position players], then I expect to be in every series and have a chance to split or win each and every series.”