The UMBC baseball team will open the 2016 season fresh off their most successful campaign in program history a year ago. The team finished the season at 34-20, 14-10 AE, a 17 game turnaround from 2014. Head Coach Bob Mumma helped guide his squad to an America East Championship game birth for the first time, while also finishing with three of the four major award winners in the conference. The 2016 slate gets underway with four games in Winston-Salem, N.C., where the Retrievers face VMI, host Wake Forest and Georgetown February 19-21.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the conference championship. We return a lot of guys from last year, but getting back to the title game is difficult, especially in the tough conference we have," Head Coach Bob Mumma said about the 2016 Retrievers.
Four of the five starting infielders from a year ago return in 2016, headlined by First Team All-Conference selection Anthony Gatto (Hauppauge, N.Y./Smithtown West). The senior hit .309 with 22 RBI and four home runs. Gatto, along with fellow returnee Kevin Lachance (Clifton, Va./Centreville) tied for the team lead in stolen bases with 29. Rejoining the infield is sophomore Mitchell Carroll (Oakton, Va./Oakton), who will move from third base to his natural position of second base. Junior Hunter Dolshun (Warwick, N.Y./Warwick Valley) will return as the starting catcher after hitting .293 a year ago, while throwing out nearly 80 percent of runners who tried to steal.
"(Kevin) Lachance will be our anchor in the infield at short stop this year. He is a player of the year type of player, and showed a little of that toward the end of last year," Mumma stated about his senior short stop. "Our defense will be the key for us this year, and I think we have a good one, starting with the infield."
Freshman A.J. Wright (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill West) will step in to start at third base, and the coaching staff cannot wait to see him in action. "We are excited to see A.J. in the field, he is a player who is ready to play from day one, and like most of our new guys, has a high ceiling with major talent," Pitching Coach/Recruiting Coordinator Liam Bowen said.
Also looking to make an impact in the infield are Thomas Pipolo (Mamaroneck, N.Y./Rye Neck), Nick Loiodice (Forest Hill, Md./Bel Air), Jamie Switalski (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland), Zack Bright (Fairfax Station, Va./WT Woodson), Connor Hax (Bowie, Md./Bishop McNamara), Noah Beasley (Greensburg, Pa./Hempfield), and Matt Campbell (Chesapeake, Va./Hickory/Arkansas).
Two of the three starting outfielders are back for UMBC in senior Nick Naumann (Essex, Md./John Carroll/Chestnut Hill) and junior Andrew Casali (New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan). Both Naumann and Casali found themselves on the Second Team All-Conference list a year ago, while Casali has started and played in every game during his two years on campus. Junior Tim Kelly (Hampton, Va./York/Virginia Tech) will have the chance this year to establish himself as the everyday right fielder, after the departure of Jake Barnes to graduation. Kelly appeared in 17 games, hitting .244 in 41 plate appearances.
"Our outfield defended well last year, and they should be even better this year," Mumma said of his triumvirate in the outfield.
The Retrievers return their entire weekend rotation, and welcome back a couple starters from injuries a season ago. Reigning America East Pitcher of the Year Conrad Wozniak (Cypress, Texas/Cypress Woods/Frank Phillip) will be the ace of the staff, after going 4-1 with a 1.48 ERA in 73 innings of work in 2015. Wozniak gave up just 13 extra base hits last year, all doubles. Reigning America East Rookie of the Year Matt Chanin (Olney, Md./Sherwood) returns as the number two starter after going 5-2 with a 1.96 ERA in 64.1 innings.
Returning from injury will be starters Joe Vanderplas (Fairfax, Va./Fairfax/Tennessee) and Riley Stephenson (Meridian, Idaho/Boonsboro (Md.)). Vanderplas came back late in the season and pitched the championship game, where Stephenson was out with an elbow injury.
The bullpen will see the return of closer Denis Mikush (Burke, Va./Robinson), Cory Callahan (Sykesville, Md./Good Counsel), and Jonny Dierks (Easton, Md./Independence/Fort Scott CC). Mikush led the team with 28 appearances and six saves. Callahan made 22 appearances and one start, helping UMBC defeat Hartford to move to the championship game in the conference tournament. Dierks will return from an injury that costed him the second half of the season. Sophomore Patrick Phillips (Richmond, Va./Steward School/ODU) returns after an elbow injury in 2015.
A slew of rookie arms will look to make impacts for the Retrievers in Jacob Christian (Nokesville, Va./Patriot), Colton Hower (Moon, Pa./Moon Township), Michael Austin (Eldersburg, Md./Century/Bethune-Cookman), Zach Wielgus (Huntingdon Valley, Pa./William Penn Charter), Michael Kirschbaum (Commerce, Mich./Walled Lake Northern), and Andy Rozylowicz (Laurel, Md./DeMatha).
"Our pitching staff should rival that of any school we play," Mumma said about his hurlers. "We have a lot of trust in our pitchers. The guys have worked hard and we started seeing their hard work pay off last season," Coach Bowen said about his staff.
UMBC baseball was picked to finish in second place, as voted on by the league coaches. The Retrievers finished 2015 in second place, losing in the America East Championship game to Stony Brook, 16-11.
Defending champions Stony Brook were picked first earning four first-place votes and 34 points. The Retrievers were just behind them with 32 points and the remaining three first-place votes, the highest pick in program history. Hartford and Maine were picked third and fourth with 25 and 20 points each. Binghamton (18), Albany (11) and UMass Lowell (7) round out the seven team league.
"It is an honor to be chosen second in the poll, and it really shows how hard the guys have worked on the field to gain the respect of the coaches in this league," head coach Bob Mumma said about the poll.
"We have a lot of talent and a lot of young talent on this year's squad. Staying healthy will be the key, and we are primed to make another run at the conference championship," Mumma said about the 2016 edition of the team.
"The program only continues to get stronger and stronger with the more success we have," Bowen said. "All of our kids work hard for the success they get, and we as a coaching staff are excited to see what the season has in store."