Colonial Athletic Association Preview

An aching-for-more VCU squad leads the pack in the CAA


Feb. 15, 2008


 
 

By Eric Sorenson

Special to CSTV.com

 

ERIC SORENSON
Eric Sorenson is a regular contributor to CSTV.com, covering football, basketball & baseball.
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Remember those old Miller Lite commercials where Bubba Smith said his tackling style was to grab the entire offense at once and the pick out all the players until he found the one with the ball? Well, that's how picking the Colonial is. No conference in the country was more competitive and more contended than the CAA in 2007 with four - yes, four -teams finishing in a tie for the regular season title. Now, the goal is to get more than one team in the NCAA tournament. And it could happen now.

 

Favorites: VCU, Old Dominion, UNC Wilmington

Contender: Delaware

Darkhorse: William & Mary

 

 

Delaware (32-23, 18-11)

 

The Good News:

The Blue Hens finished '07 in a flurry, winning 11 straight games down the stretch to win a share of the CAA crown. All-American SS Alex Buchholz (.387-11-63) does it all, including giving opposing coaches headaches. He'll team with 3B Adam Tsakonas (.335-7-35) for a great left side. Senior arms David Slovak (school record 12 saves), Mike McGuire (3-1, 4.26, 46th round pick of the Reds) and Billy Harris (7-1, 3.59) will have to carry bigger roles.

 

The Bad News:

Not sure if the Hens of '08 could survive another 4-13 start like last year. A full 36 of 55 starts on the mound are gone from 2007. Better clutch play from the `pen and bats is needed since UD lost 14 games by one or two runs in '07.

 

The Intangible:

Well armed on offense and defense.

 

Statistically speaking, UD was solid in 2007 and should be again in '08. No. 1 in the CAA in home runs and slugging, and No. 3 in batting average. The arm corps will need some reworking but should be good again after being No. 1 in opponents average (.259) and No. 3 in ERA (4.59).

 

Schedule Note:

UD will play only three teams that played in the NCAA tournament last year, one of which was Patriot League champion Lafayette. Easy does it Blue Hens, easy does it.

 

 

George Mason (27-27, 14-14)

 

The Good News:

Talk about power? It all starts with OF Scott Krieger (.360-20-68), an ABCA All-American and 1B Justin Bour (.301-14-56) a frosh All-American. SS Spencer Wiggins (.303, 10 SBs) is a flyer. RHP Jordan Flasher (2-4, 14svs) was All East and as reliable as it gets.

 

The Bad News:

For as powerful as the offense was, the pitching staff was bonk in the opposite way, with a 6.56 ERA and .326 opponents average. RPH Dan Jaycox (3-2, 4.09) was one of only two pitchers on the staff with an ERA below 5.00.

 

The Intangible:

The stars of summer.

 

Three Patriots had blazing-good summers in their respective leagues. Jordan Flasher was named a Cape Cod League All-Star. Brent Weiss went to the Coastal Plains All-Star game and Spencer Wiggins did the same in the Valley League. All good signs for the maturation of the 2008 Mason team.

 

Schedule Note:

Getting over the .500 hump won't be easy, seven of the first 12 games for the Patriots will be against NCAA tournament teams in 2007.

 

 

Georgia State (26-32, 15-15)

 

The Good News:

GSU has now won 25, 26 and 26 games the last three years. Infield will be a strength with 2B Jean-Michel Rochon-Salvas (.341, 11SBs, .963 fielding), SS Chase Childers (.289) and 3B Bradley Logan (.294-6-36). Friday ace Will Palmer (7-6, 5.00) will post better numbers.

 

The Bad News:

Second year coach Greg Frady has the daunting task of getting GSU to a winning record for the first time since 2000. Most of the other top pitchers must be replaced as well as four of the five .300+ hitters.

 

The Intangible:

Power shortage.

 

With Charlie Pelt and Luke Gordon gone after hitting 10 HRs each, GSU may rely more on speed than power offensively.

 

Schedule Note:

The Panthers should jump out to a quick start with a slate that eases them into the season.

 

 

Hofstra (20-34, 11-18)

 

The Good News:

Despite the last place finish, Hofstra never got swept in a three-game CAA series. SS Matt Prokopowicz (.416) was second in the CAA in hitting and a player to build around. They don't start off with Oklahoma State, Florida State and Auburn like last year's schedule.

 

The Bad News:

Pitching (7.00) and fielding (.948) were the worst statistically in the conference last season. Eric Corkery (2-0, 4.50) is the only pitcher returning with a sub-5.00ERA.

 

The Intangible:

The Flying Dutchmen.

 

Since announcing plans to change their nickname from the very cool to the Pride, Hofstra has finished in last place in the CAA (2006 and 2007). Sorry folks, I loved the old nickname.

 

Schedule Note:

As noted above, Hofstra won't be fed to the wolves right off the bat like it was last season. The Pride will face Coppin State, Maryland, Long Island and Seton Hall before CAA play starts.

 

 

James Madison (22-31, 11-17)

 

The Good News:

Six position players and three starting pitchers return to Harrisonburg. Third-baseman Matt Browning (.393) and UT Lee Bujakowski (.320) are good hitters that need to stay healthy. Kyle Hoffman (4-4, 6.27) and Justin Wood (3-6, 6.35) will pace the mound staff.

 

The Bad News:

Losing pro players like Kellen Kulbacki, Jacob Cook and Davis Stoneburner is a crushing blow. Three of the top four hitters will be missed off last year's team. Closer Bobby Lasko (1-2, 3.03, 8svs, 4starts) was a valuable piece of the '07 team.

 

The Intangible:

Power AND speed.

 

One of the overlooked aspects to last year's team was that the Dukes stole 89 bases. So it wasn't all the power of Kulbacki and Co. The speed will need to be utilized even more in '08.

 

Schedule Note:

Everything has an easy start, the regular season (Binghamton, Radford) and even the CAA slate is fairly smooth at first with William & Mary, Georgia State and Towson.

 

 

 

UNC Wimington (29-27, 18-11)

 

The Good News:

The entire starting rotation comes back, led by Jeff Hatcher (5-6, 3.70) and Daniel Cropper (5-5, 3.75). They'll toss to a solid backstop in Mark Carver (.314-4-42). 1B Daniel Hargrave (.289-6-37) will provide some pop as well. UNCW has the luxury of hosting the CAA Tourney once again. Can we get some home cookin' here people?

 

The Bad News:

Jonathan Batts seemed like he had been at UNCW forever, and finally has moved on. Top hitter Steve Halford (transfer to Florida State) will be missed as well. This isn't exactly the Seahawks teams of yore, as only one .300+ hitter returns.

 

The Intangible:

Back in the fold.

 

Keep an eye on RHP Brett Braxton, a senior who sat out 2007 with an arm injury. Braxton was a weekend starter with 6-1,3.38 numbers and should figure big in the Seahawk plans this season

 

Schedule Note:

Save for a couple of mid-weekers against Coastal Carolina, N.C. State and East Carolina, this is a workable - and dare I say - easy slate that will allow UNCW to build up the Ws.

 

 

Northeastern (24-22, 12-17)

 

The Good News:

Every notable pitcher returns. That group includes the two best, starter Kris Dabrowiecki (7-4, 3.60) and ace reliever Ryan Quigley (1-2, 3.45, 6svs). The 5.19 team ERA should improve. Three of the four .300+ hitters are also back, led by power bats OF Mike Tamsin (.366-8-40) and OF Mike Lyon (.321-10-33).

 

The Bad News:

A horrid 4-12 finish was part of what hurt the Husky chances at a CAA tourney berth. Northeastern batters struck out 377 times in '07.

 

The Intangible:

To hell with the geography!

 

Although 23-year Husky coach Neil McPhee isn't going to use it as an excuse, Northeastern is still a snow belt school playing in a sun belt conference. But McPhee is on a six-year streak of winning seasons. Getting over the 30-win mark may be up next.

 

Schedule Note:

Not only will the Huskies be able to play an exhibition vs. the Red Sox for the fifth straight year, they'll also play the Beanpot Classic title game in Fenway Park. Cool.

 

 

Old Dominion (35-24, 18-11)

 

The Good News:

It's always dangerous when head coach/pitching guru Jerry Meyers has the best pitching staff in the CAA, and he'll be going like a mad scientist in the dugout, having four pitchers back with 11 starts or more. Two All-American candidates are dual-threat Anthony Shawler (11-2, 2.20, 130Ks, 8CGs/.305-5-35) and RHP Dan Hudson (8-5, 3.46, 109Ks). C/DH David Burns (.309-8-61). 3B Jake McAloose (.306) were big cogs in the 2007 team.

 

The Bad News:

Three of the top four hitters from 2007 are gone including powerful slugger Mike Zahm and pen mates Hunter Hall and Ross Fetterly, who were leaned on heavily in '07. A stud closer must emerge from the large crowd of bullpenners.

 

The Intangible:

Chomping at the bit to get back out there.

 

Two key players sat out 2007 (and would've made a huge difference in the win column too, by the by), 1B Bryan Cipolla (.318) and OF Jimmy Miles (.348, 39SBs). Now they return for their senior seasons and - if healthy - will make a huge difference jump-starting the offense and with solid gloves.

 

Schedule Note:

ODU will match their higher expectations by amping up the competition. Rutgers, North Carolina, East Carolina and Virginia dot the early slate and will come in handy in June when the RPI's are closely scrutinized.

 

 

Towson (21-30, 11-18)

 

The Good News:

OF Brian Conley (.335-11-37) and 3B Steve Yarsinsky (.284) are the two top hitters returning. Baseball America rated OF Terry Gallo (.220, injury-shortened '07) as the No. 9 pro prospect in the Southern Collegiate League last summer. Reliever Jon Dupski (4-3, 4.23, 3svs) could become a stud.

 

The Bad News:

Three of the four .300+ hitters have moved on. Righty Nate Curd (3-5, 4.43) is the lone weekend starter back. A lot of hurlers saw action (all 13 pitchers on the staff had at least 11 inns. of work), but is there a go-to guy when you need that big out?

 

The Intangible:

Hard to find Ws.

 

Since coming over to the CAA six years ago, the Tigers have had two winning seasons. And in those two seasons, they barely finished over .500 - 11-9 in 2003 and 13-11 in 2005.

 

Schedule Note:

If it matters, the Tigers will play host to most of the lower tier teams in the CAA, which may eventually give them a few more conference wins than last season.

 

 

VCU (37-23, 18-11)

 

The Good News:

It's mostly good news, with six starters back and two of the three weekend starters toeing the rubber. Enjoy the speed Rams fans, as Wallace Award candidate 1B Jared Bolden (.383, 17SBs), SS Chris Jackson (.341, 15SBs) and CF Kwan Evans (.284, 18SBs) all can turn and burn.

 

The Bad News:

He wasn't a starter, but the best pitcher Luke Pisker (9-2, 11svs) is joined by the two top middle relievers in hitting the bricks. Must find a third starter and a bullpen ace. Did the Ram batters really strike out 402 times? Ouch.

 

The Intangible:

Aching for more.

 

VCU ran the table at the CAA tournament, including a scintillating 13-inning win in the title game. But going 0-2 in the Big Dance has to have them pining for more in '08.

 

Schedule Note:

A little bad. A little good. The season lidlifter at Texas will be daunting, obviously. On the flip-side, the CAA road trips will be mostly against the second division teams. But the trip to ODU in early April may decide the conference.

 

 

William & Mary (29-25, 13-16)

 

The Good News:

Coach Frank Leoni's charges led the CAA in batting and fielding a year ago. For 2008, he has a junior-senior heavy lineup coming back led by stalwart C Tim Park (.391-10-47), 1B Mike Sheridan (.340) and OF Robbie Nickle (.289-10-29). Same goes for the arm corps with senior lefties Pete Vernon (8-5, 5.42) and Sean Grieve (3-4, 5.73).

 

The Bad News:

Last year, 3B Greg Sexton and 2B Brent McWhorter were the kind of senior infielders that a coach loves. Though most of the pitching is back, Vernon and Grieve had the best ERAs, despite being 5.00+. The staff as a whole had a poor 299-to-278 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

 

The Intangible:

Better talent coming through Williamsburg.

 

In the last five years alone the Tribe has had 10 players drafted. That ramp up in talent chosen by the bigs should increase this coming June.

 

Schedule Note:

Other than a March 4th game at North Carolina, you'd have to say that William & Mary's schedule is plenty manageable. If the arms calm down a bit, a 30-win season (or higher) is a shoe-in.

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