PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The first pitch for the 1999 baseball season at Plymouth State College comes this weekend when the Panthers travel to Ft. Myers, Fla., for the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic.
PSC, guided by 15th-year head coach Dennis McManus, will play nine games in six days in Florida, beginning Sunday (Mar. 21) with a 6:00 p.m. first pitch against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. The first game back in New England is scheduled for Wednesday (Mar. 31) at St. Anselm (3:30 p.m.), with the home opener slated for Tuesday (Apr. 6) against Castleton State (3:00 p.m.).
This year's Panther squad is loaded with experience, with 10 seniors returning from last year's squad that finished 20-19 overall and posted its fourth straight 20-win campaign. McManus is optimistic that the pitching depth is improved, and the usual Panther bats will be alive and well.
"This could be one of the best teams we've ever had," said McManus. "We've got 10 seniors so our nucleus has been together for a few years. They know what it takes to have a successful program. We may only have one titled captain, but this team really has 10 captains."
1999 PSC BASEBALL PREVIEW
by Chris Kilmer
The Panthers should again have strong defense and a lot of firepower at the plate. But McManus is also enthused about the state of the team's pitching staff.
"Our pitching needs to be strengthened from last year," said McManus, who has posted a 247-232 mark at PSC. "Lack of depth was our weakness last season. This year the pitching has certainly been rectified. We have 10 or 11 guys who can all throw the ball and that's great because pitching is usually the deciding factor."
McManus plans on taking the team to new heights in the 1999 campaign.
"The school record for baseball is 24 wins," said McManus, "and we've teetered around that every year. Conceivably, I think we could break that this season. Twenty-five wins is a nice goal. This is going to be a fun year for us if things happen the way I think they will."
The Panthers will also be aiming for a fifth straight post-season appearance. The last two seasons PSC has played in the Little East Conference Tournament and in both the 1995 and 1996 campaigns, the Panthers qualified for the Eastern College Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Panthers will look to a pair of seniors to lead the rotation. Righthanders Ben DuBois (Franklin, NH) and Adam DeChristopher (Brockton, MA) will most likely be the team's No.1 and No. 2 starters. Both enjoyed successful seasons last year, posting team-high four wins each. DuBois posted an LEC-best 2.75 ERA and 51 strikeouts, while DeChristopher had the best winning percentage, posting a 4-1 mark. Both hurlers were LEC All-Tournament Team selections last spring after throwing gems to help PSC beat UMass Dartmouth and Southern Maine.
"We have a number of pitchers who can do the job," said McManus, "but our big guns are Ben and Adam. We're expecting big things from them."
Also likely members of the Panther rotation are senior Shane Balon (Manchester, NH) and freshman Jeff Morgan (Laconia, NH). Balon rejoins the team after a two-year hiatus and Morgan is one of the top rookies, and according to McManus both have thrown well in the early spring.
McManus adds that the second tier of pitchers this season is better than last year's second tier, leaving him with even more to be excited about. Freshmen righthanders Marc Petz (Woodstock, CT), Mike Orlosky (Middleboro, MA), Jon Albertini (Franklin, MA), Jim Arguimbau (Sharon, MA), Chris Mann (Leominster, MA) and Nate Provencher (Wilton, NH), along with sophomore southpaw Arlan Freeman (Portland, ME) add solid depth to the Panther pen.
"There are some games that we'll use three or four pitchers, so having a deeper pen will help us out tremendously," said McManus. "There's potential in every one of our hurlers."
Around the infield the Panthers will look very similar to last year, with starters returning at every position. Senior George Gauthier (Rochester, NH) will be behind the plate to anchor the pitching and defense, while adding a little pop at the plate. Ben DuBois handles first base, with senior Mike Ryan (W. Roxbury, MA) filling in when DuBois is on the mound. Freshman Matt Price (Epping, NH) could also see playing time at both catcher and first.
Look for senior Jim Freda (Windham, NH) and junior Jason Freeman (Portland, ME) to split time at second base. Both veterans have plenty of starting experience. Senior captain Todd Steffanides (Fitchburg, MA) provides a sure glove and strong arm at shortstop, and he thrived last season in the lead-off position (.310, 15 stolen bases, 36 runs scored). Junior Corey Mastin (Newmarket, NH) returns at third base. He batted .291 last spring, taking over the starting job midway through the season.
PSC will have a new look in the outfield, with new starters at every position, but McManus is content with the unit. Seniors Seth Whitworth (Hartford, VT) and Don Jennings (Bradford, VT) will likely platoon in left field, sophomore Dakota Smith (Rochester, NH) takes over in center, and senior Mike Bence (Warwick, RI) is the planned starter in right. Sophomore Andrew Leavitt (Turner, ME) will also see time in the outfield grass. Bence provides the most offense from the group. The left-handed hitting slugger finished with a .352 average, highest among returning players, and added three dingers.
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