Baltimore, Md.-- UMBC baseball opens their 30th season in Division I on February 24 against Liberty in Lexington, S.C., after producing their second consecutive winning season in 2016. The Retrievers are looking to continue to build off their recent success with a team that will compete for an America East Championship under sixth-year head coach Bob Mumma.
The Retrievers had yet another winning season, going 28-23, 13-10 in conference with a 16-5 record at Alumni Field. The team was bounced from the America East Tournament during the first day, but the Retriever head coach Bob Mumma has reason for optimism for 2017.
"We have a good mix of returners and new talent that should help us make a run at the America East Championship this year," Mumma said of the 2017 squad. "We have a good core of pitchers and position players back that should allow us to get back to the title game."
The Retrievers will look to replace a trio of field players in Kevin Lachance, Anthony Gatto and Nick Naumann. All three were lost due to graduation, with Lachance and Gatto playing professionally. Lachance led the Retrievers a year ago in batting average (.373), stolen bases (28), doubles (14), hits (76) and runs (50) and is the school's all-time steals leader. Gatto was an all-conference performer during his time, finishing last year with a .361 batting average and is currently second in career stolen bases. Naumann made a name for himself in the outfield, finishing his career with .300 average with 102 hits and 48 RBI.
On the mound, UMBC will have to replace a pair of big arms in Conrad Wozniak and Denis Mikush. Wozniak was a staple in the weekend rotation finishing with a career record of 10-4 in 26 starts. He had seven complete games with a 2.42 ERA, including a school-best 1.48 ERA in 2015.
Mikush leaves as the school's all-time saves leader, finishing off 11 games in all, with six coming in 2015. He made 78 appearances with 139 strikeouts.
Seniors Andrew Casali (New Canaan, Conn./New Canaan) and Hunter Dolshun (Warwick, N.Y./Warwick Valley) will be the key pieces on offense, as both have earned all-conference honors during their careers. However Mumma thinks that this year could be their best yet. "Casali is poised to have a breakout year this year and will lead a younger group in the outfield, while Dolshun will be the key cog behind the plate, and has been throwing better this fall."
Joining Casali and Dolshun are sophomore AJ Wright (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill West) and junior Jamie Switalski (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland). Both had big seasons last year and will help the Retrievers in the middle part of the order.
"Casali, Dolshun, Wright and Switalski are as good a core group as any in the conference. The four of them will provide a lot of power and leadership in the middle of our order," Mumma said of his core returnees.
The outfield will be anchored by four-year starter Andrew Casali, who has been a staple in centerfield for the Retrievers over his career. Joining Casali will be sophomore Raven Beeman (Somerset, Pa./Somerset) who saw a majority of his playing time last year at the end of the season in right. Junior Colin Stack (Jamestown, N.Y./Monroe CC) will look to make an immediate impact in left, coming to UMBC by way of Monroe Community College in New York.
But Coach Mumma knows that this year's team will feature a lot of young talent that will help the Retriever outfield. "We have a young, talented group that will provide a lot of depth in the outfield," Mumma said.
Replacing an all-conference performer like Kevin Lachance will be hard, but coach Mumma knows the talent is there this year to do it. "It's hard to replace someone like Kevin, but our infield will be as good if not better than it has been thanks to depth," he said about this year's crop of infielders.
Returning for the Retrievers will be America East All-Rookie and All-Conference Second Team selection AJ Wright at third base. He will be joined by junior Mitchell Carroll (Oakton, Va./Oakton) at second, along with senior Connor Hax (Bowie, Md./Bishop McNamara) and Switalski, who each saw time at first a year ago.
Looking to step into the shortstop role will be junior Matt Campbell (Chesapeake, Va./Arkansas), a transfer from Arkansas and North Carolina who is eligible to play after sitting out last year.
Also looking to add to the depth of the infield will be freshmen Christian Torres (Miami, Fla./Miami Senior) and Kyle Benjamin (Mechanicsville, Md./Bishop McNamara). "Torres and Benjamin will help bolster our infield, and can step up right away for us," Mumma said.
Behind the plate, senior Hunter Dolshun will once again be the mainstay after his breakout season a year ago that earned him All-Conference First Team honors. Dolshun hit .354 with a team best 13 home runs, scoring 36 times in 2016.
"Hunter is the key cog to our infield. He has been throwing better this fall, and it helps to have a seasoned veteran like him back there," Mumma said about his senior catcher.
This year's staff will include the return of senior Joe Vanderplas (Fairfax, Va./Tennessee) from injury as well as junior Matt Chanin (Olney, Md./Sherwood) and sophomore Jacob Christian (Nokesville, Va./Patriot) to the starting rotation.
"We have a ton of depth with our pitching staff this year, with a bunch of guys coming back from injury and transfers being eligible," Mumma said.
One guy looking to make his name on the mound is redshirt senior Michael Austin (Eldersburg, Md./Bethune-Cookman) who will compete for a spot in the weekend rotation. "Michael is a guy who has been getting pro interest and has great stuff on the mound. He is a guy who can create matchup problems for other teams," Mumma said.
Out of the bullpen, the Retrievers will see familiar faces in senior Cory Callahan (Sykesville, Md./Good Counsel) as well as Casali, Switalski, and redshirt junior Connor Staskey (Virginia Beach, Va./Temple) who is recovering from elbow surgery. Redshirt junior Patrick Phillips (Richmond, Va./Old Dominion) will step into a closer role in 2017 after the departure of Denis Mikush due to graduation.
"We have a chance to be seven or eight deep in starting pitching this year, and will have a number of good arms coming out of the pen. We have a chance to create matchup problems for our opponents and give guys rest when they need it," Mumma stated on his pitching staff.
Eleven newcomers will look to make their mark as a Retriever, including eight freshmen. A trio of rookies hail from the state of Maryland, including Kyle Benjamin (Mechanicsville, Md./Bishop McNamara), Dalton Stewart (Sharpsburg, Md./Boonsboro) and Mitchell Wilson (Hagerstown, Md./St. James).
Fellow classmates Jamie Handley (Falls Church, Va./Marshall), Joe Nahas (Frackville, Pa./Marian Catholic), Owen Schneider (Stafford, Va./Colonial Forge), Matt Shatto and Christian Torres look to make an immediate impact for the Black and Gold in 2017.
The Retrievers will have three transfers added to the roster this year, with a pair of junior college transfers and one from a four-year school. Colin Stack and Zack DeThomasis (Rennsalaer, N.Y./Hudson Valley CC) will continue their careers after strong seasons in the junior college ranks. Stephen Schoch (Laurel, Md./Appalachian State) returns home after a year in Boone, N.C.
Mumma on the America East and Season Schedule:
"This league is as competitive as any in the country. Every weekend series will be a challenge," Mumma stated on the America East this year. "Stony Brook and Binghamton have been at the top the past couple years, but every team has a good shot at winning the league. There are no easy outs this year. There are a lot of talented players and great coaching staffs in this league that make wins tough to come by," he continued.
He knows that to be ready for the end of the year and the postseason tournament, the team has to have some good early tests. "Gardner-Webb and Liberty will be good early tests for us. We added Delaware and Maryland to the schedule to help us prepare for the conference tournament," Mumma said about his non-conference slate.
Coach Mumma knows that to get back to the title game, the team needs to be playing their best ball late in the year. "The goal is to be in the top two of the league and set ourselves up for a shot at the title game. We have a talented group that can get us to where we want to go this year, we just have to make sure we are playing our best ball when it counts at the end of the year," he stated.