After record-setting 2001, baseball enters season as team to beat in the NESCAC

After a record-setting 2001 campaign (33-5), Head Coach Dave Barnard’s baseball squad will return to the field with high aspirations for the 2002 season. Barnard, entering his ninth season as head coach, has amassed a 176-83-1 record at Williams. Last year he was recognized as NESCAC Coach of the Year and he could become the winningest baseball coach in Williams history with 17 wins this season.

Barnard’s 2001 squad made an appearance in the NCAA tournament after winning the NESCAC West and NESCAC Tournament titles. The 33 wins set a school record, one of many firsts for the Ephs on the year. Last year’s Eph squad was the first to finish nationally ranked (17th), as well as the first to win an NCAA Tournament game (2-2 in the regional) and the first to defeat Amherst three times in one season. Despite losing only two positional players from last year’s team, questions remain at nearly every spot on the field.

Around the infield, last year’s NESCAC Rookie of the Year, Jabe Bergeron ’04 (.462 BA, 7 HR, 53 RBI), will most likely play first, where he started at the end of 2001. Barnard, however, may decide to have Bergeron platoon at first base and the designated hitter’s spot with tri-captain Mark Scialabba ’02 (.345, 4 HR, 28 RBI).

There is a logjam of hopefuls at second base, as Bobby Coppola ’03 (.319, 1 HR, 16 RBI), Matt Casey ’03 (.286, 0 HR, 8 RBI) and Jay Porcelli ’03 (.339, 0 HR, 15) are all battling for the starting spot. Coppola, who doubles as a pitcher, was the starter at the end of last season and helped spark the Ephs’ playoff run with acrobatic plays and timely hits. Casey, whose season was cut short by a knee injury, finished with a .976 fielding percentage. Porcelli led the trio last year with a .339 batting average, though Casey, who had the lowest batting average of the three, finished with the highest on-base percentage with an impressive .490 mark.

Tri-captain and NESCAC second-teamer Billy Casolo ’02, a transfer from St. John’s, has started at short the last two seasons, but could have some competition from highly touted Scott Johnson ’05.

Casolo has had problems in the field – he committed a team-high 21 errors en route to a poor .841 fielding percentage – but he nonetheless possesses one of the most potent bats on the team (.397 BA, 3 HR, 36 RBI) and will definitely find his way into the lineup somewhere. Austin Lehn ’03 (.389, 1 HR, 28 RBI), a 2001 first team All-NESCAC selection, will start at the hot corner, a spot he has manned since his rookie year.

Around the outfield, Tri-captain Mike Shipley ’02 (.345, 4 HR, 41 RBI) and Matt Dahlman ’04 (.310, 2 HR, 27 RBI) return to man left and center, respectively. Shipley was successful on seven of nine stolen base attempts last spring, while Dahlman swiped 10 in 12 tries.

Right field remains a question mark with the graduation of first team All-NESCAC member Lex Evriviades ’01 (.376, 2 HR, 34 RBI). Without a true right fielder on the team, Shipley could find himself there because of his strong arm. Erik Fagan ’02, Tucker Fitzgerald ’04 and Phil Michael ’04 should all get looks. Fitzgerald has outstanding speed and was used as a pinch runner on occasion last season; on top of that, he was a flawless six-for-six on stolen base attempts. Casolo could see some time in the outfield as well, a position he played occasionally with the Red Storm.

The biggest hole the Ephs will have to fill exists behind the plate, as Tim Albrecht ’01 left some very big shoes to fill. Albrecht represented the Division II/III New England All-Stars against the Division I squad in a game played at Fenway Park last June as he was a First Team All-New England selection at catcher. Albrecht’s bat (.373, 7 HR, 42 RBI) is irreplaceable, but it is his defense – particularly his ability to block balls in the dirt and to handle the pitching staff – that could hurt the Ephs the most.

Andy Herr ’02 will begin the season as the starter, with fellow Matt Starkey ’02 backing him up. Both saw limited action last season, combining for only 17 at-bats. Shipley has some prior experience catching and could play there if needed.

The pitching staff, helped by a strong freshman class, is the deepest it has been in years despite losing two of its top starters from a year ago. All-New Englander Joe Steinberg ’01 (7-2, 2.16 ERA, 88 Ks) graduated and Adam Mancinone ’02 (8-0, 2.56 ERA, 55 Ks) is sidelined with an injured throwing shoulder and will most likely be out for the year.

Coppola (4-3, 3.57 ERA, 37 Ks) and Ryan Paylor ’04 (6-0, 1.50 ERA, 50 Ks), who had a phenomenal rookie season, are two established starters; indeed, Paylor was recognized as a NESCAC Second Team selection.

Ben Hamm ’03 (7-0, 3.33 ERA, 48 Ks) and Todd Garbatini ’03 (1-0, 4.50 ERA, 3 Ks) can either start or come on in relief. Leo Salinger ’04, who saw limited action last season, and the freshman class, led by Chris Bodner ’05, Justin Anderson ’05 and Jon Melton ’05, add much needed depth, particularly because of the rigorous Florida trip. Bergeron could be the closer.

In 2001, the Ephs did not have a starter who hit below .300 and they had a 31-10 home run advantage over their opponents while averaging 10.5 runs per game. It will be tough to match the offensive production from a year ago, but the Ephs’ lineup should be potent.

Leading the way is Bergeron, who led the team last season in batting average (.462), hits (73), triples (3), home runs (7), RBI’s (53) and slugging percentage (.696). Nicknamed “Man-Child” by his teammates, the six-foot three-inch 215-pounder from Chesterfield, New Hampshire was an all-star this past summer in the New England Collegiate Baseball League and will play for Harwich in the Cape Cod League this summer. Lehn and Casolo both hit just a shade under .400 and Shipley was third on the team with 41 RBI’s.

Duplicating a 33-5 season is no easy task, but the Ephs remain hungry after a frustrating end to last season.