Men’s baseball to begin spring season in Florida

Baseball will kick off the 2003 season next week as team members head to Florida for their spring break trip. During the team’s swing through the Sunshine state, the Ephs will face a number of non-conference opponents in games that will make up nearly half of their regular season schedule.

The team hopes to continue their winning ways of the last couple seasons. In 2001, the team had a spectacular season, going 11-1 in the NESCAC and 33-5 overall, and winning the first ever NESCAC tournament championship. The Ephs fell off a bit last season, but still managed to finish up with an 8-4 record in the NESCAC and 25-13 overall as they rolled to a second-place finish in the NESCAC west division.

The Ephs will be missing some of their top players from last year, including standout Mark Sciallaba ’02, who led the team in batting average (.437), home runs (13) and RBI (55) on his way to winning the NESCAC triple crown and Player of the Year award. Also not returning to the Ephs is second team all-NESCAC outfielder Billy Casolo ’02, who hit .369 with three home runs and 32 RBI last year. Catcher Andy Herr ’02 will be sorely missed for his .409 batting average and 20 RBI last season.

Hopefully, the presence of slugger Jabe Bergeron ’04 will help ease the loss of Sciallaba and the Ephs’ other top hitters from last year. Bergeron, a first-baseman and designated hitter who participated in the Cape Cod summer league last year, earned first team all-NESCAC honors and second team all-ECAC last year while batting .421 with 11 home runs and 48 runs batted in. Bergeron led the Ephs last year by slugging .820 and also with a .509 on-base percentage.

Bergeron should have some support in hard-hitting third baseman Austin Lehn ’03, one of the team’s tri-captains this year. Lehn hit .357 last year while knocking in 20 runs. In the infield, Lehn and Bergeron will be joined by captain Bobby Coppola ’03 at second and Scott Johnson ’05 at short. Still, several players will have to step up their game if the Ephs want to repeat their offensive successes of past seasons.

For as many questions as there are about the Eph offense, the Williams pitching staff will be returning several solid veterans. Coppola had the third-best ERA on the Eph starting staff last year, as he held opponents to just 21 runs in 51 innings for a 3.71 ERA. Coppola also struck out 40 batters last year on his way to earning a 5-3 record.

Also returning for the Ephs is captain Ben Hamm ’03, their best starting pitcher last year, who led the team with 63 innings pitched while accumulating a 4-1 record and a 3.14 ERA. Chris Bodnar ’05 adds to the embarrassment of riches for the Eph starting rotation. Bodnar, who went 6-2 last year with a 5.59 ERA, led the team in strikeouts with 53. He also won NESCAC Rookie of the Year honors for his performance.

With the top three starters for Williams looking strong, Ryan Paylor ’04 will be looking to return to form as a strong fourth starter from last year’s staff. Paylor, who was hurt by 12 unearned runs in his 13 starts last season, finished with a 5.44 ERA but only a 3-5 record. The Ephs should also have a strong bullpen this season. Leo Salinger ’04 has become a reliable reliever and spot starter for the Ephs. He finished off last season with a strong complete-game performance against Colby in which he allowed only two runs on two hits.

While the pitching staff looks to be a strength for the Ephs this year, not all is rosy on defense. The Eph defense was a definite weak point last year, as Williams committed 82 errors to its opponents’ 50 over just 38 games. All of the Eph infielders will be returning veterans, however, and should look to improve their glove-work.

The outfield duo of Phil Michael ’04 and Matt Dahlman ’04 should be strong in their junior season. According to Head Coach Dave Barnard, Mark Chmiel ’05 is the top candidate for the third outfield spot vacated by Casolo, and defense will surely be a top concern as the Ephs look to fill out their lineup. Their last open position on defense is at catcher, where Barnard hopes he will be able to field Matt Casey ’03.

Barnard does seem concerned about the Ephs declining record last season and the loss of several top hitters without any replacements on the horizon. Perhaps the most outspoken critic of the College’s increasingly stringent admissions policies for athletes, Barnard feels that baseball has been hit hard by the drop in athletic admits, especially because fewer and fewer members of the baseball team are the two-sport athletes that the team was able to rely on in the past.

Nevertheless, the Ephs should look to field a strong pitching staff and improved defense next year. With these keys already in place, there is no reason to believe that their numerous returning veterans will not be able to find an offensive surge that will catapult the team back into the top of the NESCAC. The team’s first game is against Franklin and Marshall in Fort Pierce, FL.