2008 Patriot League Preview

The CBB continues their series of articles previewing different conferences throughout the country. This week we check in on the Patriot League. Lafayette won the Patriot League title by sweeping Army in the Patriot League Championship series after Army knocked off Navy in the opening round of the Patriot League playoffs. Lafayette lost to Virginia 5-1 and Rutgers 11-10 in the 2007 NCAA Tournament. The 2008 season will be the first time that the Patriot League will allow four schools into their postseason tournament which will consist of a best out of three semifinal round followed by a championship series the next weekend.

ARMY

The Black Knights had a disappointing 2007 season with a 25-23-1 overall record but a respectable 12-7 conference mark. Head Coach Joe Sottolano enters his ninth season in charge of the program with three appearances in the NCAA Tournament.

Pitching

Cole White will lead the revamped rotation as the Black Knights lost Nick Hill and Milan Dinga to graduation. White spent the 2006 and 2007 seasons as the number 2 starter behind Hill. In 2007, he had a 7-3 record with a 3.49 ERA. Drew Clothier is the only other weekend starting pitcher returning to the rotation. He struggled in 2007 with a 4-4 record and an ERA of 3.31. They will need to get some impact from the incoming freshmen or some of the weekday starters.

Offense

The Black Knights had a terrible year at the plate only hitting .265. They were led by Cole White who led the team with a .408 batting average, four homers, and 16 stolen bases in 2007. Infielders Tony Capozzi and J.P. Polichiski return to lead the Black Knights infield with outfielder Caleb Love and catcher Chris Simmons coming back for their senior seasons.

Outlook

The Black Knights have some major holes in the rotation and need the bats to hit up before becoming a serious contender for the Patriot League title. Cole White is one of the best athletes in the country and should be drafted in the first 10 rounds of the 2008 MLB Draft.

BUCKNELL

The Bucknell Bison had a fifth place finish in 2007 with a 16-24 overall record and a 8-12 in the Patriot League. Gene Depew is entering his 27th season in charge of the Bison program where the home field is named after the legendary coach.

Pitching

The Bisons pitching staff is led by All-American candidate senior Matt Wilson who went 4-4 with a 1.78 ERA. He pitched five complete games including two shutouts against Cornell and the Naval Academy. Jason Buursma is the only other pitcher returning to the staff with significant experience as he pitched in 19 games saving five games with a solid ERA of 1.65. The rest of the staff is inexperienced as the top two starters from the 2007 squad graduated in Matt Curry (4-6, 4.37 ERA) and Nathan Mittag (0-5).

Offense

The Bison had a tough season at the plate as they hit .269 as a team. Ben Yoder is the top returning hitter for Bucknell as he finished second on the team with a .317 average. Dan Grandizio is the only other hitter to break the .300 mark as he hit .304 and led the team with 14 doubles on the year.

Outlook

The Bison will continue to bring up the rear of the Patriot League as the top of the conference got stronger this off-season as they did not lose too many players and the Bison are still not up to the level of the upper squads.

HOLY CROSS

Holy Cross is coming off a fourth place finish in the Patriot League after going 12-23 but 8-11 in the Patriot League. After the season was over, Craig Najarian resigned to take the Athletic Director’s job with Foxboro (MA) High School and former Northeastern pitching coach Greg DiCenzo took over as the new head coach. DiCenzo mentored first round draft pick in 2006 Adam Ottavino. The Northeastern program had become one of the best pitching programs in the Northeast in the last couple of seasons.

Pitching

The Crusaders lost Scott Hampe to graduation after he went 4-3 with a 2.96 ERA including a no-hitter against Lehigh. Junior Dan Seip is the top starting pitcher returning but struggled with a 3-3 record and a 6.70 ERA. Bobby Holmes is the only other starting pitcher with more then two starts returning to the Crusaders program as he went 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA. They need to get some contributions from some young and inexperienced players to make an impact at all in the Patriot League standings.

Offense

The Crusaders hit a lowly .269 in 2007 but return catcher Brendan Akashian from Lowell MA. He led the program in batting average with a .330 average. He was named to the Patriot League First-team in 2007. Jake Gorman who had a .325 batting average in 24 games as he became the everyday starter at shortstop. Tyler Stampone who picked up Patriot League Rookie of the Year award in 2006 and had an average 2007 season has transferred out of the program to William and Mary. Kyle Lister will be back with the program as he started in all 35 games in 2007 with a .263 batting average. There are a ton of holes in the Crusaders roster so to know who is going to contribute under the new coaching staff is tough to predict.

Outlook

I see Holy Cross struggling throughout the season as they adjust to the new coaching staff and they lost a ton of talent from the 2007 team. I believe the move to the new coaching staff is a great move for the program as I thought the program had become lethargic under the old coaching staff. I currently live about 10 minutes from the Holy Cross campus so I will be in attendance at a few of the Patriot League and out of conference games in 2008.

LAFAYETTE

The Leopards won the Patriot League title in 2007 after winning the Patriot League Championship series in two games over Army. They opened the NCAA Tournament against the Virginia Cavaliers where they lost 7-1 Joe Kinney is entering his ninth season as the head coach after winning his first Patriot League title in 2007.

Pitching

Lafayette returns top starter Kevin Reese who had an outstanding 2007 season with a 7-1 record and a 2.96 ERA. The Leopards lost two starting pitchers in Matt Kamine (7-5, 2.97 ERA) and Ted Gjeldum (3-3, 3.09 ERA). Sophomore Jeremy Atkins comes back from a strong freshman season which saw him go 6-2 with a 3.50 ERA.

Offense

Lafayette returns three out of their top five hitters from the 2007 Patriot League Championship squad. Jeff Butler hit .349 in 2007 which was good enough for second place on the Leopards squad. He stole eight bases in eleven chances. The Leopards also bring back Chris Luick (.344, 4 HR) and Tom Hayes (.291, HR, 29 RBI, 14 SB).

Outlook

The Leopards should be back at the top of the Patriot League with a potent offense and the star pitching in Kevin Reese. The Leopards should be able to fill in the holes in their lineup from the losses of the star players from the 2007 Patriot League Championship squad.

LEHIGH

The Mountain Hawks had a horrible season in 2007 with an overall record of 13-30-1 and a conference mark of 2-18. Head coach Sean Leary is entering his 14th season with Lehigh with a Patriot League title and NCAA berth in 2006.

Pitching

Joe Matteo and Billy Alec are only starting pitchers returning to the program with more then five starts in the 2007 season. Matteo went 2-6 with a 5.73 ERA in eleven games (all starts). Alec went 0-2 with a 4.86 ERA in 12 appearances (including six starts). The Mountain Hawks will be relying on freshmen pitchers Kevin Mihalik and Jim McConlogue who are highly touted in many recruiting circles.

Offense

The Mountain Hawks return junior third baseman Matt Reitz who led the team in hitting with a .365 average. He will be expected to carry the brunt of the offense in 2008 with Liam O’Connor who had a strong 2007 season with a .342 average. There are no other players on the Mountain Hawks squad that had a batting average over .281. The team expects freshman Brendan McGaheren to step right into the lineup as a starter in the infield where he can use his speed on the base paths.

Outlook

Lehigh should be able to get out of last place in the conference as they should be able to overtake the Holy Cross Crusaders program. Lehigh has some solid hitting and they have the fourth best recruiting class in the Northeast coming into the program for the 2008 season.

NAVY

The Midshipmen had a solid 2007 campaign with a 35-20 overall record and a respectable 12-8 in the Patriot League. Paul Kostacopoulos is entering his third season leading the Midshipmen. He came over to the Naval Academy after successful stints at Maine and Providence College.

Pitching

The Midshipmen are led by seniors Mitch Harris and Mark McCoy. Harris is a 6’4 215 pound right handed pitcher out of Mt. Holly, North Carolina. He went 8-5 with a 2.14 ERA in 2007 and 10-3 with a 1.74 ERA in 2006. McCoy went 8-4 with a 4.35 ERA in 14 appearances (including 12 starts). Oliver Drake had a 3-3 record with a 3.22 ERA in 14 games (including 10 starts) and Yale Eckert will bring his 4-2 record with a 4.07 ERA to fill out the four man rotation. Sophomore J.D. Melton will return to the closer’s role in 2008 as he had solid freshman season with a 3-2 record with nine saves in 19 appearances. The Midshipmen will have freshmen pitchers LHP Sam Long (Newnan, GA), LHP Chip Tengler (Alamo, CA), LHP Jon Doskocil (Sterling, MA), RHP Wes Olson (Indianapolis, IN), RHP Luke Roberts (Midland, NC), and sophomore RHP Drew Carlson will be looking to make an impact in 2008.

Offense

They return seven out of their nine starters in the everyday lineup led by first basemen Thomas Hamilton. He had hit .345 in 45 games. Mitch Harris is a key contributor at the plate as he led the team with eight homers in 49 games. Speedster Renaldo Hollins will be back as he led the Midshipmen with 20 steals last season. Steven Soares returns behind the plate but he struggled at the plate as he only hit .240 in 2007. Freshman All-American Drew Lydon has dropped out of the Naval Academy and has transferred to Limestone. He is a huge lost for the Midshipmen.

Outlook

The Navy Baseball program is in great hands since Paul Kostacopoulos took over the team two seasons ago. He has developed a program that is expected to compete for the conference championship every season. The unexpected loss of Freshman All-American Drew Lydon will hurt the Midshipmen but they should be able to have the pitching to bring them back to the top of the Patriot League standings.

Predictions
1. Navy
2. Lafayette
3. Army
4. Bucknell
5. Lehigh
6. Holy Cross

Pictures are the courtesy of the respective schools and the Patriot League.