We continue our countdown to the 2009 season by looking at the Patriot League. The Bucknell Bison won the Patriot League Tournament last season by upsetting Army and Navy to make it to the NCAA Tournament. The Bison made an impact on the NCAA Tournament by knocking off number 4 national seed Florida State 7-0 in the opening round of the Tallahassee Regional behind a tremendous pitching performance from Matthew Wilson. The Bison went on to lose the next two games in the Regional but the impact that the team made last year will be memorable.
Army (25-25 overall, 13-7 Patriot League)
The Army Cadets had a slightly down season in 2008, as the pitching staff never completely came together. Army head coach Joe Sottalano is entering his 10th season in charge of the Black Knights after serving the previous eight seasons as an assistant coach.
Army finished last season with a .302 team average, which was third best in the conference. Sophomore Kevin McKague is the top returning hitter as he hit .328 with 3 homers and 50 RBI last season. The biggest loss to the offense comes with Cole White (.373 BA, 8 HR, 30 RBI) and catcher Chris Simmons who was a rock behind the plate over the last couple of seasons. Cody Shorter and Colby Smith are competing for the starting catching job as they combined to appear in 17 games last season. Freshmen J.T. Watkins and Benjamin Dratch could also see time behind the plate but being a freshman at West Point is different then any other school in the country.
The pitching staff loses two out of the three top starting pitchers from last season in Cole White and Drew Clothier. White had a disappointing 2008 season that saw him go 2-6 with a 6.12 ERA in eleven games (ten starts). Clothier had a better season by going 5-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 12 starts. Sophomore RHP Ben Koenigsfeld had a 6-4 record with a 5.61 ERA in his freshmen campaign should be one of the top pitchers on the staff. Junior LHP Matt Fouch made 18 appearances (six starts) where he had a team high six wins while losing only two games with an ERA of 4.53 The other two spots in the Black Knights rotation is up in the air right now but Sophomore LHP Joey Henshaw could see some time on the mound this year after making eight appearances (five starts). He had a record of 1-4 with a 5.67 ERA.
Bucknell (30-24-2, 10-10 Patriot League)
The Bucknell Bison had an average regular season but ended up winning the Patriot League Tournament as they pulled off back-to-back upsets of the Army Black Knights and Navy Midshipmen in best of three series. They Bison went onto the NCAA Tournament where they got a victory over national powerhouse Florida State. Legendary head coach Gene Depew, who is entering his 28th season with the school leads the Bison.
The Bucknell offense had a team batting average of .309, which was, tops in the conference. The Bison lost six of the nine everyday starters from last season. The biggest loss for the Bison will be Jason Buursma who picked up All-Patriot League honors in five seasons. Last season, he led the team in hitting and led the Patriot League in ERA. He is currently listed among the top 10 on 17 Bison career lists and 10 single-season lists so his loss is huge for the program. The only three everyday starters returning are junior shortstop Ben Allen, junior second baseman Ben Yoder, and senior outfielder Dane Grandizio. Grandizio had the third highest batting average last season with a .333 batting average with 4 homers and 35 RBI. He also had 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts. Ben Yoder had a .318 with a homer and 26 RBI.
The Bucknell pitching staff will miss the losses of Matthew Wilson and Jason Buursma who combined to go 15-4 last season in 30 appearances. Matthew Wilson started all ten games he appeared in with five complete games while going 6-1 with a 3.67 ERA. Buursma went 9-3 in 20 appearances (eight starts with six complete games) while having an ERA of 2.58. Sophomore LHP Eric Jarrett and sophomore RHP Dylan Seeley should continue to develop into two front line starters in the Patriot League. Jarrett had a 5-6 freshman season with a 4.29 ERA in 86 innings of work while working in 17 games (15 starts). Dylan Seeley appeared in 13 games (11 starts) last season where he had a 4-4 record and an ERA of 4.77. The only other players to make starts last season were Andrew Clarke, Doug Shribeman, and Trey Frahler who combined to make nine starts in 2008.
Holy Cross (21-28 overall, 11-9 Patriot League)
The Holy Cross Crusaders had a third place finish in the Patriot League last season in Greg DiCenzo’s first season in charge of the program. They ended up being eliminated by the Navy Midshipmen in the Patriot League Semifinals in a
competitive three game set.
Holy Cross finished last season with a team batting average of .266, which was the second worst in the conference. They return six of their nine position starters from last year but lose catcher Brendan Akashian who finished third on the squad with a .320 average with three homers and 32 RBI. Gil Gomez has also graduated with his .323 average. The top returning hitter is sophomore Eric Oxford who had a .325 average and 25 RBI last season. My player to watch on the 2009 Crusaders is senior second baseman Jake Gorman. He finished last season with a .270 average with 5 homers and 17 RBI in 41 games.
The Crusaders finished last season with the highest ERA in the conference at 6.38 but finished the season with a third place finish in the conference. Junior LHP Matt Shapiro was named the 2008 Patriot League Pitcher of the Year led the Holy Cross staff. He had an overall record of 4-2 with a 5.10 ERA in 13 appearances (seven starts). Shapiro was outstanding in Patriot League games where he made five starts with three complete games and a record of 3-1 and an ERA of 1.78. Junior RHP Bobby Holmes is my top pitcher on the 2009 Crusader staff as he showed me how strong of a pitcher he was during my multiple appearances at Fitton Field last season. Holmes had a 5-4 record with a 3.84 ERA in 10 starts.
We talked with Holy Cross head coach Greg DiCenzo during our interviews with coaches from around the country. You can check out the full interview by clicking here.
Lafayette (25-23 overall, 8-12 Patriot League)
Lafayette finished last season with a fifth place finish as they went 8-12 in the Patriot League. Tenth year head coach Joe Kinney leads them. He led the Leopards to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 with a school record 33 wins.
The Leopards return their top four hitters from last year’s squad, which finished with a team batting average of .267. The top returning hitter is Chris Luick who played in 43 games (42 starts) as he hit .329 with 10 stolen bases. Daniel Bierce started all 48 games last year where he finished the season with a .324 average.
The top returning pitcher for the Leopards will be Jeremy Atkins who finished last season with a 3-4 record and an ERA of 4.70 in 11 appearances (10 starts). The loss of Kevin Reese who made 11 starts last season with four complete games is huge for the Leopards as he ended up finishing the year by pitching in a team high 68.1 innings. They also lose Steven Roberts who pitched in 18 games out of the bullpen where he had a 1-3 record and a team low ERA of 2.22 while picking up five saves.
Lehigh (23-27 overall, 7-13 Patriot League)
The Lehigh Mountain Hawks finished in last place with a 7-13 record in the conference. Sean Leary who is entering his 14th season in charge of the program after spending the previous four years as an assistant coach leads them.
Lehigh finished last season as the worst hitting team in the conference as they only hit .252 as a team. The top returning hitter is sophomore Andrew Russell who hit .313 last season with three homers and 29 RBI. The biggest loss for the Mountain Hawks offense will be the graduation of Joe Ercolano who led the team with a .328 with four homers and 29 RBI.
Andrew Berger who is the top returning starting pitcher leads the Lehigh pitching staff. He finished last season with a 2-6 record and a 7.03 ERA. RHP Kevin Mihalik could see time in the weekend rotation after making 11 appearances (six starts) while going 2-4 with a 3.91 ERA. Junior LHP Gregory Angelo who made eight appearances (seven starts) with a 1-2 record and an ERA of 3.09 is another option for Coach Leary.
Navy (32-25-1 overall, 11-9 Patriot League)
Fourth year coach Paul Kostacopoulos who has turned the Navy program around by winning over 30 games in each season leads the Navy Midshipmen. The entire Midshipmen program had only 3 seasons of more then 30 wins in their 109-year history before Coach Kostacopoulos came to Annapolis. Last season saw the Midshipmen participate in the Patriot League Tournament where they knocked off Holy Cross in a three game set but lost to Bucknell in the Patriot League Championship series in two games.
Navy last season finished last season as the second best hitting squad with a .304 batting average. The Navy hitting philosophy is to see as many pitches as possible as they led the league in strikeouts and walks. Junior outfielder Michael Speciale is the top returning hitter as he hit .350 with a team high ten homers. Junior Kendall Bolt should also provide some excellent offense as he hit .324 with 4 homers and 36 RBI. The biggest loss for the Midshipmen’s offense is Thomas Hamilton who graduated from the program as he led the team with a .403 average last season. Coach Kostacopoulos should be able to replace Hamilton’s bat in 2009 with one of the up and coming players in his program.
The starting pitching staff for the Midshipmen is decimated with losses to graduation. The top four starters from last year’s squad in Mitch Harris (2-2, 3.50 ERA), Oliver Drake (6-3, 3.70 ERA), Yale Eckert (2-5, 4.92 ERA), and Mark McCoy (6-5, 4.94 ERA) all finished their college careers. The top returning pitcher is J.D. Melton who pitched in 19 games all out of the bullpen where he went 2-1 including seven saves with a 1.85 ERA. He might make the transition to the starting rotation but it will create a large void in the back end of the game. Sophomore RHP Wes Olson pitched in 12 games (7 starts) could see some time in the weekend rotation after going 2-1 with a 5.17 ERA. The best part is that the Navy pitching staff will have two experienced catchers to handle the staff in Junior Steven Soares and Sophomore Jeff Bland who each saw a large amount of action last season.
Predictions for Patriot League
5. Holy Cross
The Army Black Knights won the 2008 Regular Season title but were not able to win the conference tournament title thus leaving them home for the postseason. I just think the strong freshmen class that Army had last season will be a year older and should be ready to lead this team to a conference title. Navy will neeed to replace ¾ of their weekend rotation but have an excellent coach in Paul Kostacopoulos. Bucknell returns only 1/3 of their lineup from last year but they have some excellent pitchers who will be able to step right into the rotation. The last three teams in the conference are really a toss up as either one of them could slid into the fourth spot. I just think that Lehigh will be able to secure the final spot as they have an excellent lineup coming back. Holy Cross had an interesting season but the pitching staff was winning games with smoke and mirrors with the highest team ERA in the conference. Lafayette is still looking at getting some of their young players experience and if some players step up could make some moves in the conference.