Holy Cross was one win away from their first NCAA Regional appearance since 1978, but after winning the first game of the Patriot League Championship series, the Crusaders dropped their next two to Bucknell. The best part is things are looking up in Worcester, and Coach DiCenzo is looking to build off last season’s conference tournament run heading into his fourth season.
They return number 1 starter junior Nate Koneski, who had an excellent sophomore campaign that saw him go 6-2 with a save in 13 appearances (11 starts). He spent the summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League with the Falmouth Commodores as he went 2-0 with a save in eight relief appearances while accumulating an ERA of 1.04. DiCenzo commented on Koneski’s appearance in the Cape League where he coached for four seasons saying “Every pitcher that comes down there is tired, and he did well down there.”
He will have familiar faces behind the plate in sophomore Stephen Wadsworth and junior Steve Tkowski. Last season, Wadsworth had a fantastic freshman campaign, hitting.354 with three homers and 37 RBI. Coach Dicenzo commented “Stephen did a great job as a first year player. From a defensive standpoint, handled the pitching staff well and will be more polished defensively this season.” He continued saying “You usually see the biggest jump in talent from your freshman year to a sophomore seasons.”
The biggest loss in the lineup for the Crusaders will be Matt Perry who graduated in the spring and moved on to the minor leagues after hitting over .400 in both of his final two college seasons. The logical replacement is freshman Mike Ahmed, but a knee injury this past summer that might hold him back. “We think Mike Ahmed will be in the mix at third. He is on the cusp of being back for the series at LSU after the injury this summer. He can also bring it on the mound in the upper 80′s and should be one of the best players in the region in the coming years,” commented DiCenzo. The other impact freshman according to DiCenzo is going to be second baseman Andrew Barry, who comes across the country from Puyallup, Washington. He is a well-regarded defensive player so the Crusaders will not have a drop off at the position.
The Holy Cross senior class is made up of four student-athletes in Nick Ciardiello, Brendan McCrea, Eric Oxford, and Jack Laurendeau. Each of these players have thrived under DiCenzo’s system of hard-nosed baseball by playing the game with an edge and a chip on their shoulder. Oxford is considered the “top defensive first baseman” that DiCenzo has coached in his 12 year coaching career, which included stops at St. Lawrence and Northeastern. Laurendeau has worked extremely hard during his days according to DiCenzo, “Jack has worked real hard on maximizing his talent based on his size and physically. Working on all the little things from baserunning, pushing or drag bunting. On the defensive side, I wouldn’t want anyone else out there besides him.”
Holy Cross will open the season on February 25th when they kick off a three game set against 2009 national champion LSU in Baton Rouge. DiCenzo knows about playing against the Tigers in Baton Rouge. In his first season as an assistant with the Northeastern Huskies, they were sent to the Baton Rouge Regional. “It is as in your face as you get in the country. From a college baseball standpoint, it is where it is.” DiCenzo commented, “I am heading down there looking to compete but with the arms we are going to roll out there, I am expecting our guys to compete. We will have to throw strikes, execute defensively, and offensively when we get the chances.”
DiCenzo said, “Playing these teams to start the season exposes things that your team needs to work on this season from working ahead in the count. From a coaching perspective, I can show guys what they did wrong and how it can be done correctly.” The practice of scheduling upper echelon teams will not stop after this season as the Crusaders will open the 2012 season with a series at Texas A&M.
We should see how these changes to the Holy Cross program under DiCenzo impact the program this season and into the future as they have become a formidable force in the Patriot League.
Photos courtesy of Holy Cross Media Relations