Atlantic 10 Conference Preview

Charlotte once again leads the way in the A-10


Feb. 11, 2008


 
 

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
E-mail

Last year, the Atlantic 10 was Charlotte's domain. They won't skate through so easy this time, but with the upgrade of facilities and being the southernmost member, the 49ers aren't going away anytime soon. Nor is their penchant for A-10 championship rings.

 

Favorite: Charlotte

Contenders: Richmond, Fordham, St. Bonaventure

Darkhorse: Xavier

 

Charlotte (49-12, 23-4)

 

The Good News:

The 49ers nearly had a dream season in '07, setting a school mark for wins and making it to the regional championship round at South Carolina. OFs Brad McElroy (.401-11-68) and Chris Taylor (.340-9-65) are both Wallace Award candidates, but Aaron Bray (.343, 13SBs) may be better than both. Zach Rosenbaum (9-1, 3.33) is backed by pen-hurlers Bryan Hamilton (6-1, 2.18, 4 saves) and Sam Pierce (2-1, 2.57, 4 saves)

 

The Bad News:

Adam Mills, who led the nation in ERA, has gone on to the pros, as has No. 2 starter Spencer Steedley, and the thing that cost the `Niners was the rest of the staff not stepping up in the Regionals.

 

The Intangible:

The new digs.

 

The $5.9 million facility known as Hayes Stadium was officially dedicated this fall and is ready for the 49ers to impress recruits and win championships in. Nice joint. Nice bump in facilities.

 

Schedule Note:

The team formerly known as UNCC has games with South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wake Forest on its slate. But aren't you like me, and would've preferred to see them take on these monsters in three-game weekenders instead of in the mid-week?

 

Dayton (21-33, 9-18)

 

The Good News:

Strapping OF Myles Swartzel (.352) hopes to stay healthy in '08 and Scott Dunwoody (.315) is a decent backstop. Good news on the mound too as a pair of weekend starters in Quinn Haselhorst (2-5, 3.80) and Sean Finn (2-6, 4.45) are joined by the top reliever Alex Dye (1-2, 2.13, 4svs).

 

The Bad News:

After winning 33 and 36 in the previous two years, and being picked 5th in the A-10, the Flyers had nothing but tough luck, going just 11-19 in one or two-run games last year. Team MVPs Michael Massa and RHP Chris Rubio extinguished their eligibility.

 

The Intangible:

The lone fielder.

 

As the only returning starter along the infield, 2B Cole Tyrell (just .215 at the dish) was a Central Illinois League All-Star this summer and will be a steadying force in a re-worked infield. Here's to hoping his bat stays as hot as it was this summer.

 

Schedule Note:

The rebuilding job should be easier since the Flyers will avoid playing last year's No. 1 and 2 teams (Charlotte and Fordham) in A-10 play this year.

 

Duquesne (22-29, 10-17)

 

The Good News:

The Dukes thrive on pressure, garnering the most walks (249) and most stolen bases (102) in the A-10. Senior laden lineup has all nine starters back, led by 1B Aaron Janusey (.318-7-51) and SS Bill Torre (.309-4-33).

 

The Bad News:

The pitching was decimated by graduation, leaving Gary Pierpont (3-5, 5.35) as the only weekend starter returning. OF Eric Morrison (.269, 20SBs) is a great fire-starter on the basepaths, but needs to get on base more.

 

The Intangible:

The Major League Manager's son.

 

Though they could use more pitching, the Dukes did benefit from the transfer of Mark Tracy, who hit .289 at Pepperdine. He is the son of former Pittsburgh Pirates manager Jim Tracy, who was fired in 2007.

 

Schedule Note:

Jeez, it's murderer's row! DU does itself no favors by opening with series at Florida State, LSU and South Carolina. Don't look for a school record for wins this year.

 

Fordham (35-22, 19-8)

 

The Good News:

Coach Nick Restaino is doing an incredible job in his three years so far in the Big Apple. This year he's got a pair of All A-10 seniors in 2B Eric Reese (.362-4-35, 14SBs) and RHP Tom Davis (8-3, 4.05). Peter Kennelly (1-1, 1.26, 5svs) was the most effective reliever.

 

The Bad News:

Despite the No. 2 ranked staff in the A-10, the Rams lose two of three weekend starters and reliever James Summut, who had 25 appearances on the year. Reese is the only .300+ hitter returning. 

 

The Intangible:

Arms race.

 

One thing that Restaino seems to emphasize is the depth of his pitching staff. Despite the loss of weekend starters, there is a boatload of junior-senior pitchers with a lot of innings under their belts still around.

 

Schedule Note:

In May, the Rams will host both A-10 contenders Charlotte and Xavier, so home field advantage may be a huge factor in the conference race.

 

George Washington (23-31-1, 14-13)

 

The Good News:

Three .300+ hitters are back in D.C., led by OF Charlie Kruer (.324-13-57), 2B Tom Zebroski (.314, 11SBs) and 3B Curtis Eward (.310), all good gloves to boot. Sophs Faizan Choudhry (3-0, 4.22) and Ryan LaPointe (5-3, 6.79) will post better numbers in '08.

 

The Bad News:

From 2000-2005, GW won 37+ games each season, but they've hit a downward spiral now. The Colonials were 12th in the A-10 in pitching (6.57 ERA) and need to improve their .949 fielding percentage. SS Michael Parker has moved on after being a team leader for four years.

 

The Intangible:

Revert to Frosh form.

 

Weekend starter Pat Lehman, had ups and downs in '07, but went 3-2, 4.57 and 52Ks in 61 innings as a freshman in '06. He'll have to hope some arms develop around him.

 

Schedule Note:

The schedule is softer than a baby's behind. I'm not pulling punches here when I say GW could surpass last year's win total by tax day.

 

La Salle (17-32, 8-19)

 

The Good News:

Mike Lake becomes the 9th head coach in Explorer history and inherits 2B John Rickards (.385-7-31), a lead-by-example type and OF John Malloy (.327, Frosh All-American). RHP Dennis Burge (4-4, 3.00) will head up the mound staff and take on a bigger role.

 

The Bad News:

The offense only hit .269 and will have holes to plug. Former C Rich Prall was a 3-time All-A-10 performer and team leader. Pitching quality may be thin with the exit of Craig Muschko (22nd Round pick Cubs), Dan Waters and Gerard Breslin.

 

The Intangible:

Ramping up the talent level.

 

Coach Lake had been the top assistant at La Salle the last five years and was responsible for bringing in players like Muschko, Prall and Breslin, who were all drafted last June.

 

Schedule Note:

The Explorers will live up to their names in the season's first two weeks, going from the East Coast (at Elon) to the West Coast (Cal State Northridge).

 

Massachusetts (22-25, 13-14)

 

The Good News:

Adam Tempesta (.306) and Ryan Franczek (.252) will make a good double-play combo and tablesetters on offense. Jared Freni (3-4, 5.12) made strides as a frosh weekend starter and will have Jim Cassidy (5-1, 3.35) and Aaron Smith (0-1, 4.71, 5 saves) to back him up.

 

The Bad News:

From '94-'03 the Minutemen had winning marks nine out of ten seasons, but have now gone four straight with losing records. UMass played well in spots in '07, but it was a senior-dominated team, including most of the top hitters, the ace weekend starter and stud reliever.

 

The Intangible:

212.

 

Check out this statistical oddity, last season UMass pitchers walked 212 batters and also struck out 212 batters as well.

 

Schedule Note:

Wasn't the whole reason Northern schools wanted a uniform start date was to prevent situations like the Minutemen going down to play a top 10 opponent like Arizona State, who will have already played 10 games by the time UMass goes down there to play their first?

 

Rhode Island (23-30, 16-11)

 

The Good News:

Take away that miserable 2-16 start to '07 and the Rams didn't do too bad. Catcher Zach Zaneski (.292) is a defensive stud and joins Mike O'Malley, who hit .361 in an injury-filled year. Jamie Degidio (3-3, 3.50, 3 saves) and Tim Boyce (1-0, 5.35, 6 saves) will have expanded roles.

 

The Bad News:

The void left by Eric Larson includes Rhody's only big bat threat and best base-stealer. Five of the top seven that hit .270+ are gone. Brett Palanski (6-7, 5.55) is the only returning weekend starter on the mound.

 

The Intangible:

Going to fewer time zones.

 

After tough road trips to Florida International, Coastal Carolina, New Mexico and Cal, coach Jim Foster's charges may have gotten worn down last year. This season's trips are to Troy, UMES and East Carolina. More manageable.

 

Schedule Note:

Wait a minute... Wait a minute!

 

Since Rhode Island and Richmond switched their A-10 series from Kingston to Richmond last year because of poor weather, shouldn't this year's series get switched back to Kingston again? Isn't that fair? Yet, there URI is on the schedule as a road trip to Pitt Field for the second year in a row.

 

Richmond (32-28, 18-9)

 

The Good News:

Last year was the first winning season since 2004. Every pitcher of note returns including starters Alex Hale (8-2, 4.53, 93Ks) and Matt Zielinski (6-5, 3.30, 70Ks) and Wallace Award candidate Brian Alas (3-2, 4.77, 14 saves). C Hank Coogan (.308) and CF Joe White (.295) are good senior leaders.

 

The Bad News:

Team must adapt to new coach Mark McQueen, after the 22 year run of Ron Atkins came to an end. That last NCAA tournament bid (2003) is long in the rear-view mirror. A 5-10 finish in '07 doomed the Spiders' momentum. Pitching depth must be cultivated.

 

The Intangible:

When things went bad, they went real bad.

 

In 18 of the 28 losses in 2007, the Spiders gave up a head-slapping nine runs or more.

 

Schedule Note:

An easier early schedule could lead to a good record, but the A-10 title could come down to their trip down to Charlotte on May 8-10.

 

St. Bonaventure (25-27, 14-12)

 

The Good News:

The experience of all three weekend starters returning is huge, especially the versatile Cody Vincent (5-8, 4.26, 2 saves), who threw five complete games. Good sticks abound, especially 2B Kevin Suminski (.346), 1B Tristan Mulcahy (.336-5-27) and OF Randy Moley (.302).

 

The Bad News:

All-American Brian Pellegrini was the heart and soul of this program. The team ERA of 5.82 (9th in the A-10) must come down, while the fielding percentage of .953 (12th in the A-10) needs to go up.

 

The Intangible:

30.

 

The SBU school record of 30 wins in a season (2002) could be reached this season with the experienced arms staff, solid bats and better fundamentals.

 

Schedule Note:

The schedule is mostly favorable, including an easy closing stretch and missing Charlotte altogether. But the Bonnies do travel to both A-10 contenders Fordham and Richmond.

 

Saint Joseph's (10-39, 6-21)

 

The Good News:

With so many young players used last year, there is a lot of experience returning. Outfielders Ben Wendle (.324-7-39) and Jeremy Jakubowski (.331, 14SBs) will pace the offense. LHP Randall Mower (3-6, 6.02) was the top pitcher and has Mark Imbo (2-4, 7.17) to back him.

 

The Bad News:

The Hawks are anchored to the bottom of the A10. You have to go back to 1995 (2nd place finish in the A-10) to find a Saint Joe's team that made waves in this sport. Losing 1B and four-year leader Mike Gentile is big. Coach Shawn Pender stepped down just a couple of days ago to become a scout for the Reds. Lee Saverio, the former La Salle coach steps in on an interim basis.

 

The Intangible:

Avoiding the doctor.

 

C Drew Smith (.363), OF Matt Barnathan (.281) and 2B Mike Blahusch (.257) each had limited starts last season due to injury. Best of them all? Jason Hessler (Cleveland's 31st round pick) returns after sitting out 2007 and turning down the bigs.

 

Schedule Note:

For a young team, it's good to see that their A-10 road slate is not against any of the top teams in the conference. So it's reasonable to assume a better season is ahead.

 

Saint Louis (16-37, 12-14)

 

The Good News:

SLU made the perfect hire by bringing in Darin Hendrickson from Central Missouri State, a Division II power. Strapping ace Dave Sever (4-7, 3.18) could be the A-10's best and B.J. Rodrique (2-1, 5.48) can be solid out of the pen. The bats of Greg Rodgers (.291) and Tom Pinnell (.284) need more support.

 

The Bad News:

Tough A-10 road schedule won't be kind. Anything close to that 1-15 start from '07 will bury their confidence again. Ryan Crespi, the only .300-plus hitter, and most of the serviceable pitching behind Sever is gone.

 

The Intangible:

White line fever.

 

The Billikens continue to have the longest road to travel for conference games, being another time zone away from everyone else in the conference. The road wears on a team like this.

 

Schedule Note:

The Billikens play at Charlotte, at Rhode Island, at St. Bonaventure and at Richmond. In a word, ouch.

 

Temple (18-37, 9-18)

 

The Good News:

Six starters return, led by OF Sean Barksdale, (.359-7-59, 14SBs) a Wallace Award candidate, Stan Orzechowski (.349-6-32) and versatile INF Mike Kelch (.300). Also watch for dual threat Tom Dolan (.318/6-5, 3.96) and transfer Mike Mongiardini (1-3, 3.82), Yale's best pitcher in 2007.

 

The Bad News:

The wheels fell off with the 3-11 May finish. Some experienced pitchers return, but they haven't been effective enough. In 20 of the 37 losses, the Owl arms gave up double-digit run totals. Though they should be better this year, 2007's team ERA of 7.68 is awful.

 

The Intangible:

Playing with heavy hearts.

 

Temple suffered a blow in many ways when pitcher Richie Gargel died from a swimming accident while playing in the Northwoods League this past summer. Reading the numerous thoughts and prayers for him on the Temple website shows what a great all-around person he was.

 

Schedule Note:

In the month of April, Temple will play just two road games and 18 home games at Skip Wilson Field. Advantage, Owls.

 

Xavier (29-31, 17-10)

 

The Good News:

The Muskateers are on the verge of something big. Senior hurlers Michael Lucas (4-6, 4.48) and David Hartman (3-1, 2.79) will be joined by Charlie Leesman (4-3, 4.22) and save-man Zac Richard (7 saves) to form a good arm corps. Team fielded at a sweet .972 pace.

 

The Bad News:

Though they came close in '07, the X hasn't had a winning record since 1998. Losing leaders like C Jordan Wolf, P Bill Konecny (4th all time in XU innings) and P Mark Janszen will hurt. 3B Robbie Kelley (.304) is the only .300-plus hitter back.

 

The Intangible:

Those good gloves.

 

The biggest marked improvement was Xavier's .972 fielding percentage. However, 2B Adam Lipski and SS Matt Waskerwitz are both gone. Hopefully their lead-by-example play rubbed off.

 

Schedule Note:

The Muskateers get thrown to the wolves pretty quickly with games against Kentucky, South Alabama, Kansas and Vanderbilt in the first two weeks.

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