PLYMOUTH, N.H. - There should be plenty of offense to go around when the Plymouth State College baseball team takes the diamond next week during the annual spring break trip to Fort Myers, Fla.
The Panthers open the season with nine games in the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic, beginning with the opener Sunday (Mar. 19) at 12 noon against Augsburg College (Minn.) and concluding with a 9 a.m. encounter Friday (Mar. 24) vs. Middlebury. The debut back in New England is the scheduled home opener on Wednesday, Mar. 29, against St. Anselm (3:30 p.m.).
Guided by 16th-year head coach Dennis McManus, PSC is coming off its fifth consecutive 20-win campaign, posting a 20-18-1 overall record in 1999. The Panthers finished third in the competitive Little East Conference regular season race, and advanced to the double-elimination tournament for the third time in the three years of the tourney.
2000 PSC Baseball Season Outlook
The Panthers lost 10 seniors from last year's team, but don't mention the word ‘rebuild' around McManus. He thinks the Panthers could pick up from where they left off, when they made a fifth straight post-season appearance.
"There are no weaknesses in our batting order that other teams can pitch around," said McManus. "We should be strong offensively, and our defense, although young, could be very strong this year. Team speed is definitely a strength."
PSC returns 12 veterans this spring, including four starters in the regular line-up and several upperclassmen with mound capabilities. The Panthers hope to build on last year's 20-win campaign, but McManus' main concern entering the season is pitching experience.
"We might be a better staff than last year in the long run, or at least more balanced," said McManus, "but we only have a couple with solid collegiate experience, so there are some questions."
The Panthers will also be aiming for a sixth straight post-season berth. PSC has qualified for the LEC Tournament the past three years, following ECAC Tourney appearances in 1995 and 1996. The new scheduling this season could allow the Panthers to attend both.
"With the automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament, only one team from the Little East will go to the NCAAs and the ECAC will end up being a very strong tournament," said McManus, "and we would like to go to one of the two. The NCAA Tournament is our ultimate goal, but we'd be happy to go the to LEC and ECAC Tournaments."
The top newcomers to this year's team will start behind the plate in freshman Matt Tupman (Concord, NH). McManus is looking for big things from his rookie backstop.
"There's no question he's got all the tools," said McManus. "He can run, he can hit, throw, catch, you name it. He's one of the most well-rounded baseball players we've had here. He has no real distinct weaknesses."
Freshman Sy Tebbetts (Hollis, NH/Manchester-Trinity) will serve as back-up, along with first baseman Matt Price, who was a reserve catcher last season.
The Panthers returns starters at second and third base but will have new looks at first and short. Senior captain Corey Mastin (Newmarket, NH) stabilizes the infield at third, while classmate Jason Freeman (Manhasset, NY) is a three-year starter at second. Mastin is one of the top sluggers in the Panther line-up, leading the team with 37 RBI last season. He could also see plenty of time on the mound this spring. Freeman is a sound defensive player who improved to .327 at the plate last season.
Sophomore Matt Price (Epping, NH), who saw reserve action last season at catcher and first base, will get the starting nod at first this spring. He showed some pop in his bat during the fall program, and has turned into a pretty good first baseman, according to McManus.
The shortstop position is up in the air heading into the season, with a number of contenders for the role. Newcomers Ryan Buchanan (North Hampton, NH), Phil Pagan (Nashua, NH) and Jay Zinis (Manchester, NH-West) are all giving it their best shot, while returnees Jon Albertini (Franklin, Mass.) or Dakota Smith could end up there when not pitching or playing the outfield, respectively. Freshman Francy Alcantara (Lawrence, Mass.) is also available in the middle infield, and he, Zinis or Albertini could get the call at third when Mastin is pitching.
The Panthers have experienced veterans in center field with Dakota Smith (Rochester, NH) and left field with Josh Egan (Sharon, Mass.) and McManus is happy with freshman Dan Silva (Berlin, Conn.) in right. Smith had a breakout season in 1999, earning All-LEC honors and LEC All-Tournament honors and batting .378 with five home runs. He had five hits in both ends of a doubleheader last spring at Western Connecticut. Egan batted .372 and led the team in home runs (8) and RBI (33) in 1998 before sitting out last season. Silva hits for average and runs well, according to McManus, and plays good defense. The rest of the outfielders include freshmen Matt Salokangas (New Ipswich, NH) and Jason Wood (Dover, NH) and junior Drew Leavitt (Turner, Maine). Wood could also see time at first base.
The experience in this department concerns McManus, but not the talent. The coach has a number of young hurlers who could step in and do the job. The likely No. 1 starter will be sophomore Jeff Morgan (Laconia, NH), who had a strong rookie campaign when he shared the team lead with six wins. Sophomore Nate Provencher (Wilton, NH), who was 4-2 with a 3.73 ERA last season, is coming off shoulder surgery last fall, but has looked in good shape over the winter. Senior Corey Mastin (Newmarket, NH), who logged more than 30 innings two years ago, should see a more involved pitching role this season.
The rest of the staff is still in question, with starting contenders including junior Mike Orlosky (Middleboro, Mass.), sophomore Jon Albertini (Franklin, Mass.), and freshmen Jonathan Rich (Londonderry, NH), Owen Burke (Sanbornton, NH), Jay Zinis (Manchester, NH/ West) and Jason Egan (Sharon, Mass.). Relief roles will be filled by sophomore Jim Arguimbau (Sharon, Mass.), junior southpaw Arlan Freeman (Portland, Maine) and senior outfielder Josh Egan (Sharon, Mass.).
"Winning the Little East Conference games are the most important," said McManus. "We try not to lose focus on winning all the games, and we try not to look past the next game, but I think the Saturday LEC doubleheaders seem more meaningful than Thursday single games, for example. That's part of the excitement of league play."
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