HAVERFORD, Pa. – Haverford College's baseball team – the reigning Centennial Conference champion – opens its 2013 season on the road at Rowan University on Wednesday afternoon, looking to duplicate the success of last season which saw the Fords capture their first conference title and make the program's first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Dave Beccaria brings a young squad into the 2013 schedule, but inexperience will not be a problem as his conference-champion squad saw several freshmen earn significant playing time, including all-conference third baseman Casey Fox who became just the fifth freshman in Centennial history to earn a first team selection.
Beccaria continues to build a program based on strong pitching and an aggressive offense at the plate and on the base paths. The team stole 108 bases, second-most in the conference, last spring which rated as a down year for the Fords who set a program record in 2011 with 161 thefts.
Pitching is still the foundation of the program, however.
Sophomore Tommy Bergjans helped lead the pitching staff last season and is back for a second season, hoping to improve upon his second-team all-Centennial designation. Bergjans compiled a 6-4 record with a 2.72 earned run average over 76 innings of work in 2012. His 78 strikeouts led the team and was third-most in the league. He also set a program record for strikeouts in a game, fanning 15 in a complete-game, 8-2 victory at Muhlenberg College in early April.
Bergjans' arm is not the only one Beccaria will rely on in a starter's role as Kyle Waney (3-1, 4.57, 7 starts) and Jonny Black (7 starts, 40 strikeouts) bring experience to the mound. Brett Cohen has looked strong during the preseason and will toe the rubber as a starter, and freshman John Miraglia looks to be the fifth arm in the rotation.
Relief help will come from a platoon of arms with Kevin Goff (4-1, 3.63 ERA) and Patrick Falkoff, returning from an injury, usually coming up as the names Beccaria will call in the late innings of games. Stepping in for the starters as a bridge to the closers will be Max Gerard, Clay Bloszies and Michael de Armas, with Coulter and Fox making spot appearances. A pair of freshmen, George Hatamiya and Grant Finn, will both earn innings as well.
The outfield shapes up as one of the fastest in the league starting with returning center fielder Nick Miranda who last season repeatedly flagged down balls in the alleys that left numerous batters frustrated. Matt Liscovitz returns in right field for his final season while left field will be manned most often by Mike Tentilucci who, as a freshman, started at second base for 41 of the team's 44 games during the championship season. Joining the fray in Kannerstein Field's spacious outfield will be returner Marley Randazzo and Hatamiya.
The infield starts with the two-headed tandem of Alex Hudak and Justin Coulter (honorable mention all-conference in 2012) splitting time at first base. Hudak, playing primarily in left field last season, was a second-team all-Centennial honoree and was named a third-team All-Mid-Atlantic Region player in 2012. Most often Beccaria will pencil in one of the pair at first with the other taking on the designated hitter role giving the 13-year head coach a great deal of strength in the power spots of his lineup. Another option at first base that Beccaria has in his pocket is Chance Griffiths who will split time in a reserve role at both infield corner positions.
Fox returns as the starter at third base but will have a new teammate on the left side of the infield in freshman Zach Taylor at shortstop. Taylor's athleticism, arm and range allow Beccaria to move last season's starter, William Bannard, over to second base to solidify a strong-fielding infield. The addition of Taylor and Bannard's move helps to employ Tentilucci in the outfield at his more natural position.
Aside from Griffiths picking up innings at either corner, Luke Frankiw returns in 2013 as a solid option up the middle with Tentilucci moving back in as an experienced replacement when needed.
The pitching staff will be handled in 2013 by a cast of newcomers, replacing a pair of back-stops who anchored the catching position for Beccaria the past few seasons.
The leading candidate coming out of the preseason is freshman Nick Ott, but Sam Kane, Hatamiya and Jamie Ulrich are all vying for innings. "Each of our options have different strengths at the position," explains Beccaria. "Our job as a coaching staff will be finding ways to utilize each of them so that they are able to play to their strengths and help the team."
Beginning with the Rowan game, the Fords continue to play a non-conference schedule that is challenging, helping to prepare the squad for the rigors of the Centennial slate. "I think [last season's schedule] made a difference in what happened as we closed our season last spring, especially for the younger guys who we threw out there right from the start," said Beccaria.
The key to 2013, as Beccaria continues to preach year in and year out, is to stay aggressive, rely on the program's pitching strength, and "remain true to the process that's allowed us to compete at this level."
Following the opener at Rowan, Haverford travels to Immaculata University the next day followed by the home opener against Gwynedd-Mercy College on Friday, March 8. A nine-game stretch of games over spring break follows the Gwynedd outing, and then a six-game stretch comes next before opening the conference schedule with a home doubleheader against Johns Hopkins University – picked second in the Centennial's preseason coaches' poll to the Fords' first-place nod – on Saturday, March 30.