Patriot League Preview

Navy has a chip on their shoulder after failing to make tourney in 2007



 
 

Feb. 19, 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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The Patriot League proves why it is one of the smarter leagues in the country once again. This time, in the way it decides its champion. Starting this year, the PL will break down into four teams at the end of the regular season, 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 and play a best-of-three. Those winners will then face off in another best-of-three a week later to determine who gets the NCAA bid. Not bad.

 

Favorite: Navy

Contenders: Army, Lafayette

Darkhorse: Lehigh

 

Army (25-23-1, 12-7)

 

The Good News:

Do-it-all Cole White (.408, 16SBs/7-3, 3.49) is an All-American candidate for sure and will throw to reliable backstop Chris Simmons (.258, .986 fielding). SS Tony Capozzi (.288) and 3B J.P. Polchinski (.281) form a solid left side.

 

The Bad News:

Pitchers Nick Hill and Milan Dinga were two of the best players in program history and are both in pro ball now after being top 10 round draftees last June. Team average of .265 is grounds for no R-and-R and steady PT.

 

The Intangible:

Ahhh, beating the rival is so sweet!

 

The Cadets didn't reach their goal of an NCAA bid last season, but to a man, beating rival Navy four out of five times may be an even more enjoyable accomplishment.

 

Schedule Note:

Thinking ahead? Coach Joe Sottolano has gone ahead and scheduled six games from the conclusion of PL play (April 27) to the week between the PL playoffs. Not a bad way to keep a team sharp for the post-season.

 

Bucknell (16-24, 8-12)

 

The Good News:

Bucknell has some legit hardware candidates in players like 2B Ben Yoder (.317, Freshman All Am.), OF Dane Grandizio (.304), C Shawn Hirsch (.278, just 4Es), UTL Jason Buursma (.299/4-1, 1.65, 5svs, 43rd round Mariners draftee) and RHP Mathew Wilson (4-4, 1.78, 5CGs).

 

The Bad News:

After tying for the Patriot regular season title in '06, last year's 5th place finish was a letdown. Two oft-used weekend hilltop starters are gone. Beyond the five players mentioned above, the quality drops off. Depth is still a problem.

 

The Intangible:

Need better weather AND better playing field.

 

Seven of Bucknell's first eight home games were cancelled last year. Most of them by weather, but the first five were officially called because of "poor field conditions." C'mon BU administrators, get some field turf or something.

 

Schedule Note:

For the second year in a row, the Bison will not leave the Eastern Time Zone during the regular season.

 

Holy Cross (12-23, 8-11)

 

The Good News:

RHP Dan Seip (3-3, 6.70) and C Brendan Akashian (.330-5-29) form a good battery and have 2B Jake Gorman (.325-5-16) and 1B Kyle Lister (.263) to back them. Mike Thater (0-2, 6.75, 3svs) mans the bullpen crew.

 

The Bad News:

Holy Cross is in a rut, without a winning mark in Patriot play since 2001. HC had the worst pitching staff in the league in 2007 (team ERA 6.60). Five field starters and the two best starting pitchers have expired their eligibility.

 

The Intangible:

That ring still shines.

 

HC is still the only school in the Patriot League... nay, the entire Northeast, that can say it has won a national championship in baseball. The 1952 team pulled the feat by going 21-3 and beating Missouri twice in the title round of the College World Series. Interestingly, the Crusaders only played 17 regular season games that year, before going 6-1 in Omaha.

 



 
 

Schedule Note:

Holy Cross with travel farther than any team in the league with its four-game road trip to Washington in mid-March.

 

Lafayette (33-20, 17-3)

 

The Good News:

The Leopards were the only team in the Patriot League to hit better than .270 (at .294) and 3B Jeff Butler (.349) and 1B Chris Luick (.344) finished in the top six. Righties Kevin Reese (7-1, 2.96) and Jeremy Atkins (6-2, 3.50) are two of the best returnees in the league. The Leos stole a staggering 140 bases last season.

 

The Bad News:

Coach Joe Kinney's charges certainly aren't used to playing as the hunted, but will have to. Two huge sticks - and team leaders - leave in James Conrad and Mike Raible. Weekend starters Matt Kamine and Ted Gjeldum must also be replaced.

 

The Intangible:

Best field in the Patriot.

 

In September, Lafayette's Class of 1978 Stadium got a brand new layer of sod in the infield and the installation of a high tech irrigation system.

 

Schedule Note:

The Leos play a very manageable schedule before hosting Navy in late March. It's the first weekend of Patriot League play, and it could also decide the title right then and there.

 

Lehigh (13-30-1, 2-18)

 

The Good News:

There is hope out there as SS Liam O'Connor (.342, 10SBs) and CF Joe Ercolano (.281, 13SBs) are two of the most exciting players in the league. RHP Joe Matteo (2-6, 5.73, just 15BBs) isn't dominant, but he also never beats himself.

 

The Bad News:

After an NCAA bid in '06, It got pretty ugly for Lehigh in 2007, finishing in dead last. Biggest culprit? That league-low .259 team batting average. The ERA of 5.63 wasn't so crash-hot either.

 

The Intangible:

Glad somebody noticed the greenhorns.

 

The Hawks had a poor 2007 on the field, but Baseball America wasn't ignoring their incoming recruiting haul off of it. The boys at B.A. rated coach Sean Leary's class at No. 4 in the Northeast. So the Hawks will be young in '08, but the talent level is rising.

 

Schedule Note:

Dangling the carrot of playing in a pro ball park, the Liberty Bell Classic will pit Lehigh against Villanova. The winner goes on to play in the finals the following week at Citizens Bank Park.

 

Navy (35-20, 12-8)

 

The Good News:

The Midshipmen have a chip on their shoulders after failing to make the NCAA tournament, despite having the most wins. Mitch Harris may be the top two-way threat in the country after going 8-5, 2.14 and hitting .293-8-47. RHP Mark McCoy (8-4, 4.35) is a solid arm and has reliever J.D. Melton (3-2, 9svs) to back him as part of a staff that sported a 3.88 ERA.

 

The Bad News:

A team batting just .267 doesn't usually win 30+ games. 1B Thomas Hamilton (.345) is the only .300+ hitter returning. Besides him, the rest of the infield will be entirely new. And of course, that whole losing-to-Army thing.

 

The Intangible:

As Axl sang, just a little patience.

 

Navy isn't bereft of offense, it's just that the Midshipmen helped opposing pitchers so much by striking out a Patriot League high 346 times.

 

Schedule Note:

Anchors NOT away. The Middies are scheduled to play 33 home games this season. An almost unheard of amount for a Patriot League team.

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