BRIDGEWATER, Va. – Bridgewater College head baseball coach Curt Kendall knew his team would be near the top of the ODAC preseason baseball poll, but he didn't necessarily believe the team would be picked No. 1.
That's where the Eagles were picked and Kendall knows why.
"I think other coaches look at who we have coming back on the mound and that's why we were picked at the top," Kendall said. "We have some pretty good arms returning and we have good depth on our staff."
Four aces is a pretty tough hand to beat and that's what the Eagles return to the starting rotation. Southpaws Corey Armentrout and Joseph Lucas along with righthanders Robert Gallet and Dillon Via had productive seasons a year ago. "All four will figure in for starting roles in conference play," Kendall said. "I feel pretty confident that these guys will give us a good chance to win when they're on the mound."
That quartet combined to pitch 231.2 innings in 2012 with an ERA of 2.99. The foursome combined for an 18-8 record and three saves on the season.
Armentrout led the Eagles staff and was ranked third in the ODAC with a 2.02 ERA. He was 4-4 with one save and averaged 8.81 strikeouts per nine innings pitched.
Gallet was 5-2 with one save in 2012. He ranked eighth in the conference with a 2.93 ERA.
Lucas has been a mainstay on the Eagles staff for the past three years. In 2012 he posted a 5-3 record with a 4.45 ERA. For his career, Lucas has an 11-6 record with a 3.66 ERA.
Via was 4-0 for the Eagles in 2012 and ranked No. 4 in the ODAC with a 2.48 ERA. Via was dominant in his final appearance of 2012 season when he hurled a two-hit, complete-game shutout against Randolph-Macon at the ODAC tournament. He allowed just five hits and did not walk a batter while striking out six.
The Eagles also have depth and experience in the bullpen. Lefty Tyler Conley and righthanders Kyle Henshaw, Tyler Slanovec and Mark Smith are proven commodities in relief roles. The foursome combined for a 3.56 ERA in 42 appearances in 2012.
Several newcomers are also expected to see innings for the Eagles in 2013.
Hard-throwing righty Nick Corbin pitched two seasons at Mary Washington before sitting out the 2012 season. Corbin, who was 4-4 in his two seasons at Mary Washington, is expected to fill the closer's role.
A pair of freshmen, righthander Justin Petock and lefty Ryan Leake could factor in early in the season. If the Eagles need a spot starter, Petock or Henshaw could fill that role. Leake gives Kendall a hard-throwing lefty option out of the pen.
"We have some proven guys in the bullpen. Henshaw, Slanovec, Conley and Smith have all pitched in big games and pitched well," Kendall said. "Corbin is a good addition to our staff and we have some young, talented arms to look at as well."
AROUND THE INFIELD: The Eagles should be solid around the infield.
Senior Andrew Hacker moved from first to third late last season and he proved he could handle the hot corner.
Hacker hit for a .369 average as a junior with 28 RBIs. During his three seasons with the Eagles, he has a career batting average of .324.
"Defensively, Hacker can make the plays," Kendall said. "He's been a pretty consistent hitter for us and will hit in the middle of the order. He's also a guy that provides us with some leadership."
Junior Zach Hynes was an All-ODAC performer last year at second and will move to shortstop this season. Hynes had a breakout season as a sophomore when he hit for a .376 average. Hynes will not be available for the first several games and Clyde will get the nod at short. Sophomore Theo Klopsis continues to improve and gives the Eagles depth at the position.
"Hynes had a real good year for us last year and Cavin Clyde is a talented young player," Kendall said. "Both of those guys are good, solid defensive options at shortstop."
Junior Bryan Sanderson was bothered by arm problems last year and was relegated to the DH role. Sanderson is expected to start at second, the position he played during his freshman year. He hit .317 a year ago and led the Eagles with 42 RBIs.
"Bryan has been a really solid hitter for us the past two years. He's got decent speed and will bat in the leadoff spot for us," Kendall said.
Maher, Clyde and Damian Reed, another freshman, are available to play second as well.
First base will probably be a platoon position, at least early in the season. Senior Christian Armstrong and a pair of freshmen Brendan Howell and Brandon Stein, give the Eagles several left-hand hitting options. If Kendall wants to go with a right-hand hitter, Petock and fellow freshman Steven Woerner, who has missed time with an injury, could also see action. Trevor Walzl, a freshman corner infielder, will miss the spring season with an injury.
"We moved Armstrong to first this spring because he has really been swinging the bat well and this gives us another opportunity to get him in the lineup," Kendall said. "Those young guys – Howell, Stein, Petock, – are good young players who are going to get some at-bats either at first base or as the DH."
IN THE OUTFIELD: Four veterans are expected to see most of the time in the outfield.
Senior Jonathan Mason returns to right and will hit third in the lineup. Mason is one of the top power threats in the ODAC and led the Eagles with seven homers as a junior. During his three seasons, Mason has belted 13 homers and driven home 95 runs.
Sophomore Darren Yoder and junior Nick Fulk will see action in center. Both saw plenty of playing time a year ago and both provide the team with speed in the outfield and on the bases. Yoder hit .242 in his first year and swiped eight bases in nine attempts. Fulk's numbers were similar as he hit .244 with five steals in seven tries.
In left, Fulk and sophomore Derrik Walling are expected to man the position. Armstrong could also see some action in left. Walling turned in a solid first year with the Eagles and is another player with speed and some pop from the left side. Walling hit .280 with a pair of homers.
CATCHER: The Eagles must replace first-team All-ODAC catcher Devon Snow and three players are vying for the position. Juniors Ryan Smith and Tyler Hoffman along with freshman Hunter Hensley will battle for playing time.
"That will be a platoon position to start the season," Kendall said of the catching situation. "All three of those guys can perform for us defensively. Shutting down the opposition's running game will be a priority. How they swing the bat will separate the three as the season progresses. Smith and Hoffman have both improved since last season and Hensley is a very good young talent."
Dustin Garst, another first year catcher, will miss the season with an injury.
THE DH: The designated hitter position offers a plethora of options for the coaching staff. The first look could go to the outfielder who his not starting. From the right side, Maher could get the nod if Kendall wants to go with experience. Clyde, if he is not starting in the infield, and Petock could also figure in as a right-handed bat.
From the left side, Howell, Stein and Armstrong could each get at-bats as the DH.
All of the above will be available for pinch-hitting duties.
SEASON OVERVIEW: Kendall expects the ODAC to be highly competitive in 2013. The addition of Shenandoah to the conference and some new coaches in the league should make for an exciting season.
"Shenandoah has had a very successful program in recent years and adding them to conference certainly makes the ODAC stronger at the top," Kendall said. "But the conference is not only going to be strong at the top, it's going to be good from top to bottom. Some of the teams picked near the bottom in preseason have already had some good non-conference wins. If you come not ready to play your best, any team in the ODAC can beat you.
"We feel good about our pitching staff, but ultimately we will need to score some runs. You can't expect the pitchers to go out and shut people down game after game. Our goal is to be more consistent at the plate this season. The good thing is we have experienced guys in the lineup and on the mound. They know what it takes to win in this conference."