Colonial Athletic Association Preview
By Bill Ballew
College of Charleston Cougars
A different vibe was noticeable throughout fall practice in Charleston, which has the Cougars cautiously optimistic as they enter the 2018 campaign. Head coach Matt Heath was fired due to allegations of abusive behavior. He was replaced by Chad Holbrook, who was forced out as head coach at South Carolina after five seasons and brings to the program a much more upbeat and positive approach compared to his predecessor.
Holbrook credits Heath and his staff for recruiting a pride of outstanding talent, leading to some positive expectations this spring. The head coach believes senior center fielder Luke Morgan (.203/.276/.246) has a chance to blossom at the top of the lineup and possibly be a high draft pick in June. The infield may be the best defensive unit in the conference with the return of sophomore first baseman Ari Sechopoulous (.259/.327/.439), junior second baseman Dupree Hart (.231./.326/.294), senior third baseman Tommy Richter (363/.441/.441) and junior shortstop Luke Manzo (.300/.423/.343). Also returning are outfielders Bradley Dixon (.251/.344/.343), Xavier Freeman (.203/.208/.261) and Joey Mundy (.269/.347/.358) and designated hitter Logan McRae (.310/.412/.602), who paced Charleston last year with 17 home runs and 63 RBIs.
The Cougars’ pitching staff is a different story. Junior lefthander Evan Sisk (5-2, 3.72 ERA) is expected to be the Friday night starter after leading the team with 75 innings pitched in 2017. Junior righthander Nathan Ocker (4-1, 3.29 ERA, 4 saves) is projected to be the team’s closer but he missed all of fall practice with an injury and is not expected to resume throwing until January. Otherwise, opportunity reigns supreme in the rotation and bullpen. How that scenario unfolds will determine how successful Holbrook’s first season in Charleston will be.
Delaware Blue Hens
After finishing fourth in the CAA’s regular season, head coach Jim Sherman’s Blue Hens roared to their first trip to the NCAA Regionals since 2001 by winning the conference tournament with four victories in as many outings. Delaware returns 22 players from last year’s squad, including six with starting experience.
The Blue Hens are led by junior first baseman Nick Patten (.312/.446/.580), who was a First Team All-CAA selection as well as an ABCA All-East Region honoree. Patten led the Blue Hens with 14 home runs and 58 RBIs in 2017. Senior right fielder Calvin Scott (.332/.436/.473) joins Patten as one of Delaware’s most consistent offensive performers. The Blue Hens are also counting on redshirt junior center fielder Kevin Mohollen (.307/.429/.454) and redshirt junior third baseman Diaz Nardo (.259/.378/.420). Junior outfielder Kyle Baker (.219/.269/.260), who batted .346 as a freshman before battling injuries last spring, and redshirt senior infielder James Meeker (.233/.296/.301) also have starting experience but struggled last year with their offensive consistency.
Sherman will be counting on several young pitchers to step up and contribute in 2018. There are few certainties after senior righthander Nick Spadafino (7-3, 4.46 ERA), who led the Blue Hens with 15 starts last spring. Senior lefthander Matt Hornich (2-3, 5.71 ERA) was the fourth starter last year and could move into the weekend rotation, along with redshirt senior James Meeker (6-2, 4.25 ERA). Junior righthander Kyle Hinton (2-0, 6.60 ERA) won the CAA title game with seven impressive innings of relief, and redshirt senior lefthander Colman Villa (0-1, 4.46 ERA) has been consistent out of the bullpen. Junior lefty Brandon Walter (4-5, 3.42), who succumbed to reconstructive elbow surgery in April, is not expected to be ready until the end of the season, at the earliest.
Elon Phoenix (24-32; 12-12, 6th place in CAA)
Elon’s final game of the 2017 campaign epitomizes the frustration the Phoenix experienced for much of the season. Jordan Barrett and George Kirby combined to throw the first no-hitter in CAA Tournament history, but Elon lost the elimination game, 1-0, to the College of Charleston. Head coach Mike Sullivan is hopeful that his team’s fortunes will change this spring with the return of several key performers.
The Phoenix welcomes back the most of the team’s lineup, including reigning most valuable player Ryne Ogren (.350/.411/.498). The junior shortstop garnered First Team All-CAA recognition after leading the league with 78 hits and a school-record 21 doubles. He also ranked second on the circuit in batting average while adding four home runs and 33 RBIs. Also back for the Phoenix is senior catcher Hayden Platt (.311/.430/.557), who had seven homers and 30 RBIs last year, and junior outfielder Josh Broughton (.304/.374/.551), who led the team with 12 roundtrippers and 50 RBIs. Other key contributors include junior James Venuto (.272/.373/.419), sophomore Ty Adcock (.272/.356/.402), and sophomore infielder Joe Satterfield (.266/.337/.395).
Leading the Phoenix on the mound will be sophomore righthander and reigning CAA Rookie of the Year Kyle Brnovich (6-5, 3.10 ERA), who became the first Elon baseball player to earn conference rookie or freshman of the year honors since 2008. The First Team All-CAA performer established the school’s Division 1 freshman mark with 103 strikeouts, good for third in the conference, and league opponents batted just .175 against him. Junior righthander Ryan Conroy (4-6, 4.40 ERA) made 11 starts among his 14 outings last. Also splitting time between starting and reliever were senior righthander Robbie Welhaf (5-5, 5.37 ERA) and sophomore righty George Kirby (1-3, 4.84 ERA), who received CAA All-Freshman recognition.
Hofstra Pride (14-37; 7-17, tied for 7th place in CAA)
Head coach John Russo’s team had the worst overall record in the CAA last year, yet half of the Pride’s victories came against conference competition, allowing Hofstra to finish tied for seventh with James Madison. The Pride hit .262 for the season but .272 in the CAA; conversely, the team’s pitching had an overall ERA of 5.96 but a 6.85 ERA versus the league.
Senior Teddy Cillis (.280/.333/.440; 0-10, 5.16 ERA) earned First Team All-CAA honors last year and is the lone returning member of the Pride to garner all-conference recognition in 2017. Cillis, who played his freshman year in 2014 at UNC Wilmington, was second on the team with six homers and 27 RBIs. He also paced the Pride in most pitching categories, including starts (15), innings (75.0) and strikeouts (96).
Hofstra returns its top four hitters from last year. Senior outfielder Steven Foster (.317/.368/.465), who was a CAA All-Rookie team selection in 2015, is back after pacing the Pride in batting average as well as with 64 hits and 17 doubles last spring. Junior catcher Vito Fiscia (.305/.404/.532) had a team-best eight homers and 33 RBIs in 2017. In addition to Cillis, the Pride also has senior shortstop Mikey Riesner (.302/.378/.415), who tied Foster for the team lead with eight steals.
Cillis, who had a team-best 5.16 ERA last year despite losing all 10 decisions, tops a pitching staff that returns its top five arms from 2017. Junior lefthander John Rooney (4-8, 5.36 ERA) joins Cillis in the weekend rotation after making 14 starts last spring. Senior righthander Chris Weiss (6-4, 5.17 ERA) had some success while starting twice among his 27 outings. Redshirt senior righthander Matt Weissheier (0-1, 5.31 ERA) also performed primarily as a reliever, while junior righthander Seamus Brazill(1-2, 5.71 ERA), who is an intimidating 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, and senior lefty Michael James (0-1, 6.86 ERA) are other significant bullpen contributors.
Hofstra Pride 2018 schedule
James Madison Dukes (24-27; 7-17, tied for 7th place in CAA)
An overall winning percentage of .471 may not be cause for a celebration, but the Dukes’ 2017 mark represented the best season in program history since James Madison went 42-19 in 2011. Currently in his third season as head coach, Marlin Ikenberry has the Dukes headed in the right direction and is looking to build on its accomplishments from last spring.
The Dukes got off to a strong start last year by winning eight of their first 10 games, including an 11-3 triumph at Coastal Carolina. Two members of the James Madison program received National Player of the Week accolades, including Colton Harlow (3-3, 4.66 ERA). The senior lefthander, who garnered the recognition by striking out a career-high 15 batters in a complete-game victory over Coppin State, is expected to head the Dukes’ rotation this season after leading the team with 13 starts last year. Senior righthander Josh Silvestri (3-4, 4.47 ERA) also returns. Ikenberry is also excited about Collegiate Baseball 2017 Freshman All-American Kevin Kelly, a reliever who led the Dukes with five wins and a 2.91 ERA while striking out 38 batters in 34 innings.
Fox Semones (.316/.365/.441), who played second base, third base, left field and center field in addition to making three pitching appearances, also received Freshman All-American honors from Collegiate Baseball after joining the JMU lineup in mid-March. Semones is joined in the lineup by Second Team All-CAA selection Adam Sisk (.337/.449/.560), who tied for the team lead with 11 homers and paced the club in batting average, runs (55) and steals (14). Four other starters are also back, including senior outfielder Mike Sciorra (.322/.438/.537), redshirt senior Josh Wyatt (.290/.371/.462), senior infielder Bradley McKay (.289/.353/.459), and redshirt senior catcher Zach Tondi (.282/.350/.507), who also contributed eight home runs and 34 RBIs.
Northeastern Huskies (29-25 overall; 16-7, 1st place in CAA)
After finishing fifth in the CAA in 2016 with a conference mark of 12-11, the Huskies made a tremendous leap in the third season under head coach Mike Glavine. Northeastern won the CAA regular season, which led to the younger brother of Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Glavine earning CAA Coach of the Year honors.
The Huskies should be back in the hunt to advance to an NCAA Regional thanks to a young returning core of standout performers. Northeastern should be strong up the middle with CAA Defensive Player of the Year Max Burt (.299/.371/.452) back for his senior year at shortstop and sophomore second baseman Scott Holzwasser (.260/.387/.460), who led the team with seven home runs and received Freshman All-American honors last year from Collegiate Baseball. Versatile junior Charlie McConnell (.273/.360/.402) saw action at third base and the outfield corners last year and earned Second Team All-CAA honors as a utility player, while senior Mason Koppens (.264/.345/.363) manned the middle garden. Juniors Cam Walsh (.291/.366/.391) and Ryan Solomon (.284/.354/.597) could receive more playing time after hitting well as part-time starters. Redshirt junior Michael Geaslen (.244/.261/.337) and redshirt senior John Mazza (.121/.200/.162) are expected to share the bulk of the catching duties again.
Pacing the pitching staff once again will be senior righthander Brian Christian (7-3, 3.59 ERA), who allowed only 71 hits in 82 2/3 innings and struck out 85 batters. The Huskies also have CAA All-Freshman honoree Brian Rodriguez (4-3, 3.07 ERA), who began his collegiate career with 12 scoreless innings and proceeded to relieve in 21 games. Glavine has plenty of depth on the mound and will be looking for junior lefthander Andrew Misiaszek (3-4, 6.02 ERA) to take the next step in his development. The same can be said for a quartet of sophomores comprised of lefthander Sean Mellen (1-2, 10.80 ERA) and righties Kyle Murphy (0-3, 6.09 ERA), David Stiehl (4-4, 6.10 ERA) and Tom Githens (0-2, 9.51 ERA).
Towson Tigers (20-34; 6-18, 9th place in CAA)
Towson was the lone school in the CAA to making a head coaching change during the offseason. After finishing last in the conference in 2017, the Tigers hired former Richmond assistant coach Matt Tyner to revive a program that has not posted an overall record above the break-even mark since going 28-25 in 2009 and last achieved a winning mark in the CAA in 2013 by going 14-13.
The energetic Tyner has a decent foundation that should make the transition a little easier. The left side of the infield features the Tigers’ top two returning hitters in junior shortstop Richie Palacios (.338/.471/.502), who led the team with 14 doubles and five home runs in 2017, and junior third baseman Richard Miller (.272/.356/.389), who paced Towson with 34 RBIs. Five other players are back after starting at least 27 games a year ago. That group includes junior outfielders Mark Grunberg (.273/.389/.371) and Cuinn Mullins (.188/.274/.228), junior catcher Trey Martinez (.209/.306/.333), senior second baseman Billy Lennox (.256/.386/.310) and senior designated hitter Logan Burke (.185/.295/.261).
Two of the Tigers’ top three starting pitchers are back on the mound in senior righthander Michael Adams (2-7, 5.87 ERA), who led Towson with 14 starts, and junior righthander Dean Stramara (3-4, 6.79 ERA), who struck out a team-best 55 batters. Four other hurlers appeared in at least 13 games a year ago, including senior lefthander David Marriggi (4-6, 4.18 ERA), sophomore righthander Brandyn Vogtsberger (5.13 ERA in 14 relief outings), redshirt junior righthander Alex Cuas (1-4, 8.84 ERA), and sophomore righthander Bo Plagge (1-3, 9.49 ERA), who also hit .333 in 45 at-bats as a part-time right fielder.
UNC Wilmington Seahawks (30-29 overall; 16-8, 2nd place in CAA)
Head coach Mark Scalf has led the Seahawks to the championship game of the CAA Tournament in each of the last three years, which included trips to an NCAA Regional in 2015 and 2016. UNCW entered last season ranked among the nation’s top 25 teams but injuries and inconsistency plagued the Seahawks throughout the first half of the slate.
Pitching appears to be the strength of this year’s Seahawk team. Junior Alex Royalty (9-2, 3.20 ERA) lived up to his name by leading the CAA in wins, innings (98.1) and strikeouts. The righthander went 5-1 with a 3.19 ERA in conference play and won his last six decisions overall, including a triumph over William & Mary in the CAA Tournament. UNCW also returns its two other weekend starters in redshirt junior righthander Logan Beehler (3-7, 5.22 ERA) and sophomore lefthander Zarion Sharpe (6-1, 4.74 ERA). The Seahawks’ top two relievers are back in Third Team All-CAA member Clark Cota (2-1, 3.27 ERA), a sophomore righthander who notched four saves last spring, and senior righthander Austin Easter (1-1, 4.20 ERA).
The Seahawks’ starting lineup is a different story. The team welcomes back its top hitter from 2017 in junior catcher Ryan Jeffers (.328/.422/.604), who earned First Team All-CAA honors after hitting a team-high 19 doubles with 10 homers and 32 RBIs. Senior first baseman Mason Berne (.263/.343/.434) added eight homers and 33 RBIs. While Jeffers and Berne are the lone full-time starters, UNCW will be looking for greater contributions from senior infielder Zack Canada (.203/.338/.288) and sophomores Riley Zayicek (.218/.337/.414) and Cole Weiss (.213/.302/.227). The Seahawks have six true freshmen and graduate student David Scheaffer who could also work their way into the lineup.
William & Mary Tribe (32-25 overall; 15-8, 3rd place in CAA)
Head coach Brian Murphy’s Tribe has emerged as one of the most competitive mid-major programs in the country over his four seasons as the team’s leader. During that time William & Mary has had three 30-plus win seasons, made two NCAA Regional Final appearances, and earned a CAA Tournament bid each year.
Murphy’s starting lineup features as much returning depth as any team in the CAA. Heading the list of returners is sophomore outfielder Brandon Raquet (.337/.433/.506), who garnered Second Team All-CAA honors as a freshman while leading the Tribe with four triples and six steals. Raquet is joined in the garden by Third Team All-CAA honoree Ryan Hall (.308/.383/.481), a junior who led William & Mary with 17 doubles while adding six homers and 41 RBIs last spring. Infielder Patrick Ryan (.264/.309/.287) earned a spot on the CAA All-Freshman team. Also back in the fold are junior catcher Hunter Smith (.269/.323/.396), redshirt junior infielder Kyle Wrighte (.241/.303/.380) and sophomore catcher/first baseman Matthew Trehub (.237/.310/.325). Junior outfielder Owen Socher (.323./407/.394), junior infielder Zach Pearson (.190/.267/.210) and sophomore infielder Michael Goldak (.182/.250/.182) also started at least 11 games each last year.
The Tribe pitching staff is led by its lone returning weekend starter in junior lefthander Bodie Sheehan (6-5, 4.58 ERA), who led the team with 15 starts in 2017. While Murphy will need another couple of starters to emerge, he does have depth in the bullpen. Senior righthander Charlie Fletcher (3-1, 3.14 ERA) made 30 appearances in relief last year. Fletcher is joined by sophomore righthander Jamie Sara (1-1, 4.58 ERA), senior righthander Robert White (4-1, 4.76 ERA), redshirt sophomore righthander Chris Farrell (5.95 ERA in 16 relief outings) and sophomore righthander Wade Strain (2-1, 10.06 ERA).