HAVERFORD, Pa. – The 2014 baseball season for Haverford College's Fords is filled with opportunities, including the chance to stretch a run of appearances into the Centennial Conference postseason season.
With the string standing at eight times in the past nine years – including five championship game appearances in that run – the 2014 Fords have become perennial contenders for the league championship, a feat the 2012 squad accomplished then followed with an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
And the pendulum looks like it's continuing to swing upward.
The Class of 2013 graduated as the winningest class (108-54) in program history but the seniors on the 2014 squad could set a new mark by the end of the season. Averaging 26 wins during the groups first three seasons, the Class of 2014 is on pace to surpass the previous class before the schedule even hits the postseason.
Pitching is a strong suit for the team as the quality and depth of this year's staff could prove to be best in program history.
Leading the charge on the mound is junior All-American Tommy Bergjans who not only owns the record for strikeouts in a game (18, against Washington College in 2013), but also has recorded the top five performances in that category. Bergjans, scheduled to pitch in the Cape Cod League this summer, has fanned 167 batters in his two years in the program which is the fifth-highest total in program history. Chaon Garland, a third round pick of the Oakland Athletics in 1990, has the program mark with 210 strikeouts over his three seasons with the Fords.
The pitching staff is far from a one-man band, though.
Head coach Dave Beccaria has at his disposal so much depth that most of the roles on his staff are yet to be determined. Seniors Kyle Waney and Patrick Falkoff join Bergjans and fellow juniors Max Gerard and Clay Bloszies as quality options in the starting rotation. Sophomore John Miraglia and Zach Taylor earned some innings on the mound in their first years with the Fords, and freshman Anthony Rizzo and Stephen Ridings look to do the same as freshmen this spring.
Late innings help was handled quite well last year by Falkoff, Bloszies and Gerard, and that group may be joined by junior Michael de Armas who has battled injuries but looks to finally enter a spring healthy and ready to provide quality innings.
Senior Brett Cohen adds experience to the staff, sophomores Grant Finn and George Hatamiya have shown flashes of quality off the mound, and freshmen Matt Galetta and John Masella are talented newcomers who will also compete for innings.
Beccaria's infield lineup will continue to be spearheaded by all-region and two-time first-team all-conference third baseman Casey Fox. The junior led the 2013 squad in hits, doubles, triples, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage and total bases. His 16-game hitting streak during the season was the longest of any Haverford player in 2013.
Freshman Yannick Villanueva provides options for Beccaria at both of the corner infield slots.
Filling out the battery on most days will be sophomore catcher Nick Ott who earned 28 starts behind the mask in his first year with the program. Sophomore Sam Kane garnered the other starts in Ott's place last year and will do the same again in 2014. Sophomore Jamie Ulrich had a solid fall ball season with the bat and will compete for innings behind the plate as well.
The outfield could be the fastest trio the Fords may have ever had patrolling Kannerstein Field.
Senior Nick Miranda, honorable mention all-conference last spring, simply eats up ground and gets to nearly everything in center field while providing a spark at the plate and on the base paths. Miranda tied for the league lead in runs last season, with a team record 50, and led the league in steals with 31.
Junior Mike Tentilucci adds speed in left field again and will see freshman Thomas Vollaro added into the mix in left during the 2014 campaign. Hatamiya and junior Marley Randazzo will patrol the right field corner.
Last spring's squad was nationally ranked for much of the season, cresting at the No. 13 spot. The road to climb in the rankings in 2014 will be challenging as the Fords face nine teams that qualified for the 2013 NCAA tournament, and two more teams that played for conference championships last year.
Beccaria wants his squad challenged early and often this spring in order to prepare to compete for the conference title again, and lay the groundwork to take the next steps forward on the national level.
"We'll need to be at our very best every single day," says Beccaria. "We have a challenging schedule, and the quality of play in the Centennial Conference seems to be at an all-time high."
Nearly half of the schedule's non-conference opponents on the 2014 slate will be in Florida for the team's spring break trip. The season opens with a twin bill against Edgewood (Wis.) College on Sunday, March 9, followed by a doubleheader against Wisconsin Lutheran on Monday.
The conference schedule for the Fords, voted second in the league's preseason coaches poll, picks up on March 29 with a two-game set against preseason Centennial favorite Johns Hopkins University.