BALTIMORE – For the second straight year, the UMBC baseball team will open its season against a national field when it faces No. 10-ranked N.C. State, West Virginia, and Indiana at the Caravelle Resort's Baseball at the Beach tournament, hosted by Coastal Carolina. Despite having a young squad, head coach Bob Mumma sees the opening weekend as a chance to show the talent that the Retriever possess this year.
"We have a really young, but exciting ball club," the second-year head coach said. "The guys have been working tremendously hard throughout the fall and winter and are one of the closer groups we've had in a while here.
"We lost ten seniors, so we knew this was going to be a big [recruiting] class, but we're excited for these young, talented guys to figure out how to play at this level."
Despite the youth and inexperience for the Retrievers – they welcomed 16 newcomers to campus this season – Mumma is optimistic that his players have the talent and work ethic to improve and show that they belong.
"Our position players are especially young, but they are a hard-working group, and as a coaching staff we're just trying to help them develop," said Mumma, a member of the UMBC Athletics' Hall of Fame. "If everyone stays healthy, we should be much improved defensively, and we'll certainly have more depth on the mound."
With all of the new faces on campus, in combination with the Retrievers' recent results, the America East coaches voted UMBC to finish sixth in the six-team conference for 2013. Though not surprised by the preseason vote, coach Mumma sees this year as different from previous seasons, and notes the revamped schedule as an opportunity for the Retrievers to make some headway in the league.
"Getting away from the four games in two days will really help us not only in the conference, but it will also help us in the mid-week games," the Retrievers' all-time homerun leader stated. "Our pitching should remain fresher, and we'll have the ability to compete in every game we play.
"Also, with getting to play every conference opponent in a home-and-home series, the format will produce a true league champion and post-season tournament which I think we should compete for."
This season, 21 of the Retrievers' 33 players are either freshman or sophomores with Mumma expecting six of the nine starting positions to be occupied by underclassmen. This high number does not worry Mumma, however, as he is confident in the leadership the upperclassmen can provide, as well as the experience many of the sophomores gained last year when they were pressed into action.
"Last year was a great learning experience for our team as a whole," Mumma explained. "But this season we have the same staff in tact, plus the addition of Coach Williams, and I look for everyone to keep making strides forward."
No area of the Retrievers' roster personifies the team breakdown as a whole more than the pitching staff. Ten of UMBC's 16 newcomers will work off the mound this season, but a trio of returnees will provide experience and stability to a staff which will rely on the newfound depth.
Juniors Shane Vlasic (Ashburn, Va./Broad Run), Mac Gill (Bethesda, Md./Walter Johnson), and Jon Cohn (Scottsdale, Ariz./Notre Dame Prep) will anchor the staff for the Retrievers in 2013. Last season Vlasic and Gill racked up valuable innings for the Black and Gold, throwing 69.1 and 53.2 innings, the most and third-most on the team, respectively.
"Those guys threw a lot of innings for us last year and really learned how to compete at this level," said coach Mumma. "They've shown improvement in the offseason, and we hope that this translates into them throwing more strikes this year."
Supporting this trio is a large, young, and talented group of freshmen and transfers. With freshman Denis Mikush (Burke, Va./Robinson) expected to compete for a weekend starting job and classmates Mike Gomez (Nutley, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) and Riley Stephenson (Frederick, Md./Boonsboro) likely to eat up valuable innings, Mumma is confident in the newcomers' abilities heading into opening day.
"There's always a little bit of a question mark with the new guys because they haven't been here for too long, but we know they have the stuff, so now it's up to them to show it on this stage."
After ending the 2012 season with only one healthy catcher, the Retrievers enter the new season with options behind the plate. Joining senior captain Jason Allinder (Snow Hill, Md./Snow Hill) in the catching duties, freshman Manny Colon (Williamstown, N.J./Buena Regional) and junior transfer Brandon Coluccio (Freehold, N.J./Freehold) give Coach Mumma flexibility in his lineup.
"We're going to be solid behind the dish this season," said Coach Mumma, a former Retriever catcher himself (1990-92). "With our depth, we'll be able to keep everyone fresh and ready to play when needed."
Around the infield, the Retrievers will utilize an assortment of returnees. Sophomore Anthony Gatto(Hauppauge, N.Y./Smithtown West) moves to first base this season after earning a spot on the conference All-Rookie Team last year while playing mostly in the outfield. A versatile athlete, Gatto played in 42 games for the Retrievers last season, hitting .303 with 47 hits, including a team-best 12 doubles. Across the diamond, redshirt freshman Mark Esposito (Bethany, Conn./Amity Regional), a transfer from Marshall, will man the hot corner.
"Anthony [Gatto] has a solid feel for the position and with his abilities at the plate, we expect him to take another step forward," Mumma said of his first baseman. "On the other corner, Mark [Esposito] has a plus arm and a plus glove to go with great range and after having a year to get healthy and take in the game, he will be a major asset for us."
Up the middle, sophomores Jake Barnes (Annandale, Va./Annandale) and Vince Corbi (Medford, N.J./Shawnee) will compete for the second base position while freshman Kevin Lachance (Clifton, Va./Centreville) is poised to start at short.
"Barnes and Corbi have battled and shown that they are both worthy of significant playing time this season," said Mumma. "They've both built chemistry with Kevin [Lachance], so I'm confident in either pairing so whoever is providing the best combination of offense and defense will get the nod."
In addition to the new faces that will be taking the field at the infield positions this season, UMBC welcomed former professional ballplayer and longtime coach Larry Williams to the staff during the fall. The former middle infielder has worked specifically with the Retrievers on infield defense as well as assisting with hitting, bunting and base-running instruction.
"With the changes to the bats, the game has shifted a little bit back towards small ball," Coach Mumma said. "I think we've found a guy [Coach Williams] that can really specialize in that and teach those skills to our guys."
While the Retrievers' starting outfielders are all returning letter-winners, only Tom Gilchrist (Olney, Md./Sherwood/Chesapeake CC) saw the majority of his action catching flyballs in 2012. The senior played in 43 ball games a year ago, hitting four round-trippers. Projected to start in center, Gilchrist is expected to lead the outfield this season.
"Tom [Gilchrist} had a great end of the fall season," said Coach Mumma. "He has tremendous speed and range, and at the plate he has as much power as anyone in the America East and will be a big factor in our offense this season."
Junior captain Rob McCabe (Philadelphia, Pa./St. Joseph's Prep) will transition from catching to flank Gilchirst on one corner while sophomore Ian Glassman (Basking Ridge, N.J./Rutgers Prep) picks up his glove after serving primarily as the club's designated hitter last season. Glassman finished his rookie season with a .295 average and 30 runs scored, the third-highest on the team, batting from the lead-off spot.
"Rob [McCabe] is a two-time captain and is a great leader for our team and will play anywhere we ask him to," Coach Mumma stated. "Ian [Glassman], meanwhile, had a solid rookie campaign, and we're looking for him to take the next step and add power at the plate."
One of the things that most excites Mumma this season is the quality depth that the Retrievers possess. Junior D.J. Smith is expected to platoon in multiple positions after showing his versatility in the field and ability at the plate. He is just one of a group of four or five guys that Mumma believes will push the starters for playing time and at-bats.
"We have a lot of guys that bring plenty of quality off the bench," said Coach Mumma. "D.J. Smith is a guy that is skilled in many areas, and we're going to need to find a way to get him in the game."
Following the trip to South Carolina, UMBC returns to the Mid-Atlantic region for away games against CAA foes Delaware and Towson before playing a home-and-home series with Mount St. Mary's on Mar. 9-10.