BALTIMORE – Despite his team being picked sixth in the 2014 America East Preseason Poll by the league coaches, head coach Bob Mumma has higher aspirations for his Retrievers for the upcoming season. After making an eight-win improvement in 2013 from the previous season, UMBC looks to build on that success and make the America East Championships this time around.
"Everyone is very excited to start the season and take that next step to make the playoffs," said Mumma, who enters his third year as the skipper of his alma mater. "We finished last year well and there is not a coach or player on this team that doesn't think that we can finish top-four this season."
Mumma is optimistic about the season based on the end of the 2013 campaign, as well as the additions that his team received in the form of transfers and freshmen this fall. The Retrievers posted a 7-4 mark in their final 11 games in 2013, capping it with a three-run ninth inning rally over regular season champions Maine in the season finale in Orono. With the help of some new blood, Mumma hopes UMBC will be heading to Lowell, Mass. for the 2014 America East Championships at LeLacheur Park.
"We return pretty much our entire lineup and the weekend rotation from a solid ball club last year which finished very well," Mumma explained. "Now, we've added Joe Vanderplas to the pitching depth, in addition to guys like Andrew Casali and Hunter Dolshun helping the lineup, and anything short of competing for a playoff spot will be a disappointment."
The Retrievers begin their quest with a challenging non-conference schedule which includes trips to William and Mary (Feb. 28-March 2) and the Myrtle Beach Hyundai Classic (March 7-9) to take on UNC Greensboro and Elon before kicking off America East play against Albany (March 15-16) at Alumni Field.
"It's a little bit different of a format in the conference games this year, but with our depth I think we should be able to compete every weekend as well as during mid-week play," the Retriever head man reflected. "We have a strong schedule out of the gate which will get us ready to open up conference play against Albany."
The Retrievers return their entire weekend rotation from a year ago which keyed a major drop in earned-run-average (ERA) from the 2012 season. Senior Mac Gill (Bethesda, Md./Walter Johnson) worked a team-best 73.2 innings while throwing five complete games last season, which tied for 20th in the nation. Sophomore Mike Gomez (Nutley, N.J./Don Bosco Prep) earned America East All-Rookie honors a year ago after earning four saves before transitioning to the starting rotation. Gomez finished the season with a 3.00 ERA and a team-high 41 strikeouts, including 14 K's in a 7.1-inning relief appearance at Hartford. Mumma also looks to red-shirt sophomore Joe Vanderplas (Fairfax, Va./Fairfax/Tennessee), a transfer from Tennessee, to hold down a weekend starting spot.
"Both Mac and Mike are back for another year after excelling and giving us quality starts a year ago," Mumma explained. "Joe has had a lot of success the past two summers in the Cal Ripken [Collegiate Baseball] League and we think he will make our staff even better."
UMBC also welcomes back sophomore Riley Stephenson (Frederick, Md./Boonsboro) and red-shirt junior Bobby Applegate (Somerdale, N.J./Sterling/Gloucester County College) who will figure into the depth Mumma and pitching coach Liam Bowen see as a definite strength. Stephenson made made 11 starts for the Black and Gold as a freshman, picking up two wins, including a 6-0 shutout of Coppin State on May 9. Applegate, meanwhile, went 1-1 in three starts before getting shutdown in early March due to an injury.
"We have plenty of arms to compete both on the weekend and during mid-week," said Mumma. "Riley and Bobby have tremendous experience and will help us win some games."
Along with improved starting pitching a year ago, the Retriever bullpen helped secure six saves in 2013 while lowering the team ERA (4.78) by over four points from 2012 (9.01). Only one reliever from last year's squad is not back which Mumma believes bodes well for UMBC. In addition, veteran Shane Vlasic (Ashburn, Va./Broad Run) returns after red-shirting the 2013 season while sophomore Denis Mikush (Burke, Va./Robinson) looks to build on a successful summer in the Cal Ripken League.
"We finally have some depth in the pen this year," Mumma exclaimed. "Our pitchers are a year older and should be able to lock down some wins and keep us in games."
Behind the plate, UMBC returns senior captain Brandon Coluccio (Freehold, N.J./Freehold Township/Brookdale CC) and sophomore Manny Colon (Williamstown, N.J./Buena Regional) who combined to start in all but two games last season. In addition to helping the Retriever staff lower its ERA, the two combined to knock in 24 runs while Coluccio was named the America East Player of the Week on March 18.
"Our two guys are solid defensively, handling the staff and throwing out runners," said Mumma, a former Retriever backstop himself. "They give us the opportunity to rotate and keep guys fresh behind the dish."
With little turnover from last season, the Retrievers bring back pretty much the entire starting infield, beginning with 2013 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Kevin Lachance (Clifton, Va./Centreville) at shortstop. Lachance hit a team-best .303 as a rookie, while also leading the club in RBI (19) and hits (53). On the base paths, he swiped 13 bags and on defense he recorded a .963 fielding percentage.
"What else is there to say about Kevin?" Mumma remarked. "He was a Freshman All-American last season and I think he is the best shortstop in the league. He is the anchor of our defense."
Juniors Vince Corbi (Medford, N.J./Shawnee) and Anthony Gatto (Hauppauge, N.Y./Smithtown West) return to form the right-side of the Retriever defense after settling in during their sophomore campaigns. The pair played in 46 and 41 games at their respective positions in 2013 to stabilize the defense which improved its overall fielding percentage from .942 in 2012 up to .961 last season.
"They've both had a full year at the positions and have turned into quality defenders for us," said Mumma. "Vinny has great range and turns a great double-play while Anthony has transitioned to become as good as any first basemen in the league."
Mumma feels secure at the hot corner as well as sophomore Mark Esposito (Bethany, Conn./Amity Regional), freshman Hunter Dolshun (Warwick, N.Y./Warwick Valley), and junior Jake Barnes (Annandale, Va./Annandale) give the Retrievers multiple options based on a combination of offense and defense.
"Mark, Hunter, and Jake give us flexibility at the position and allow us to put the guy with the hottest bat into the lineup."
The Retriever outfield will feature some familiar faces, as well as a few new ones in 2014. Three-time team captain Rob McCabe (Philadelphia, Pa./St. Joseph's Prep) will most likely shift over to left field after occupying right last season with freshman Andrew Casali (New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan) and Barnes manning centerfield and right field, respectively. Overall, Mumma likes the defensive capabilities of his outfielders and expects the trio to be an asset to the club.
"All three guys have some good speed and will catch a lot of balls out there for us," Mumma commented. "They're going to be able to cover the gaps and limit the other team.
Behind McCabe, Casali, and Barnes, Mumma expects senior D.J. Smith (Millersville, Md./Old Mill) and sophomores Jesse Smith (Mechnicsville, Va./Lee-Davis) and Nick Naumann (Essex, Md./John Carroll/Chestnut Hill College) to provide cover in the outfield.
Overall, Mumma likes the makeup of his club with veterans helping to lead a talented group of underclassmen. The Retriever head coach believes the success of last year, in addition to the work put in during the fall, will produce results.
"We played strong defense and pitched great last year, but lacked a little offensively," the UMBC mentor said. "Dolshun, Casali, and Ryan Sliwak (Jr., Infielder) could all become middle or top of the lineup guys, and with the steps we took in the fall offensively, I think we can turn some of those one- and two-run losses into wins and make the playoffs."