PLYMOUTH, N.H. - With several of feet of snow on the ground in central New Hampshire, the Plymouth State College baseball team will make its annual trip to Fort Myers, Fla., this weekend to open the 2001 campaign.
The Panthers will play five doubleheaders in six days in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic, beginning Sunday (Mar. 18) against Coe College and running through a twinbill Friday (Mar. 23) vs. Trinity College. The New England portion of the 36-game regular season schedule is slated for Panther Field on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mar. 27-28, against Lyndon State and Saint Anselm, respectively, weather and field conditions permitting.
The 2001 edition of Panther Baseball will feature its usual big bats and sound defense, but veteran head coach Dennis McManus says this year's squad could have the deepest pitching staff in years.
The Panthers are looking to rebound from a 16-17-1 season in 2000, when they missed the post-season for the first time in six years. There are a lot of new faces in the line-up, but McManus is most impressed with the hurlers.
"I'm the eternal optimist this time of year, but I think we should be pretty good," said McManus. "We have quality pitching depth, which has been our nemesis the past few years. We've had some quality pitchers, but this year we have the depth. We'll field adequately and we'll score runs, but this year I'm more optimistic and enthused about our pitching."
2001 P.S.C. Baseball Outlook
Battling in one of the toughest conferences in the nation, PSC is hoping for a return visit to the Little East Conference Tournament, where the winner receives an automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. Southern Maine (1997) and Eastern Connecticut (1998) won the LEC Tournament before winning their NCAA Championships.
"Our biggest goal is to win the Little East," said McManus. "It's a lofty goal because of the strength of the LEC, but that's what we're here to do."
With the transfer to Division II of last year's All-New England backstop Matt Tupman, the starting job falls into the hands of sophomore Sy Tebbetts (Hollis, N.H./Manchester Trinity) who was a reserve last season. Tebbetts has shown strong improvement, and was solid during the fall season, according to McManus. He is a natural behind the plate, and should be able to handle the job. Also seeing playing time will be sophomore Matt Price (Epping, NH) when he's not starting at first base.
Two other newcomers add depth to the catching corps, freshman Mike Campo (Londonderry, N.H.), who can also play first base, and freshman Jay Morgan (Laconia, N.H.).
It's pretty much a new Panther infield in 2001, although there are some familiar faces. First base will be manned most of the time by Matt Price. He started 18 games in the 1999 season, but missed all but three contests last year after breaking his wrist on the team's trip to Florida. He and Mike Campo, who will be one back-up at first, could also see time behind the plate. Freshman Brandon Stocker (Sunapee, N.H.), who is likely to start in the outfield, could also handle first base duties.
Junior co-captain Jon Albertini (Franklin, Mass.) moves in at second base after two seasons as a pitcher and reserve infielder. Albertini showed during the fall he could handle the position, according to McManus. Freshman Richie Miller (Manchester, N.H./Burlington H.S.-Vt.) can fill in as a back-up.
Senior co-captain Dakota Smith (Rochester, N.H.) will start at shortstop. An All-Conference outfielder in 1999, Smith saw some time at shortstop last season and will make the permanent move this spring. His bat, which includes back-to-back .300 seasons, will be a key part of the Panther offense. Freshman Chris Stauffeneker (West Burke, Vt.), who has great speed, will back up at several positions, including shortstop.
Sophomore Scott Hodsdon (Somersworth, N.H.), who transferred to PSC from Saint Anselm, will man the hot corner. He gives the Panthers a solid bat and solid glove. Sophomore Jay Zinis (Manchester, N.H./West), who will likely start in the outfield, can play third base as well.
The Panthers will have two new starters in the outfield, but McManus is happy with the group all together. Sophomore Jay Zinis returns as the starter in left, classmate Matt Salokangas (New Ipswich, N.H.) gets the nod in center with freshman Brandon Stocker taking over in right. Zinis hit .323 and shared the team lead with five home runs last season, while Salokangas saw action as a part-time starter. Stocker has impressed during pre-season and earned the starting job. Freshmen Chris Stauffeneker and Jeremiah Anderson (Gray, Maine) and sophomore Rob Burr (Concord, N.H./Bishop Brady) are capable back-ups.
While McManus is enthusiastic about the depth of the staff, he is equally excited about the ace, junior Jeff Morgan (Laconia, N.H.). The righthander has won six games each of his first two seasons, and earned First Team All-LEC honors last season after going 6-2 with a 2.54 ERA. He logged 71 innnings, allowing only 62 hits and fanning 59. "He has control of his pitches and command of the strike zone," says McManus, "and he's very competitive."
The Panthers should have solid 2-3 men in the rotation with juniors Nate Provencher (Wilton, N.H.) and Kevin Locke (Pike, N.H.). Provencher is looking to rebound from a mediocre season in 2000 following off-season surgery, hoping to return to the form that posted a 4-2 record with a 3.73 ERA in 1999. Locke is a Panther newcomer who arrives via the junior college route.
The next three spots will be a battle between sophomores Jonathan Rich (Londonderry, N.H.) and Owen Burke (Sanbornton, N.H.) and freshman Brad Wilby (Haddonfield, N.J.). Rich won a pair of games last season in nine appearances, and the lefty Burke gained experience with six starts. Wilby, the starting keeper on PSC's men's soccer team, makes his college baseball debut this spring.
McManus should have a half dozen arms to turn to in the Panther bullpen. In addition to the fifth and sixth starters, there is a pair of righthanders in senior Brian Neff (Salinas, Cal.) and sophomore Jason Egan (Sharon, Mass.) and two southpaws in senior Arlan Freeman (Portland, Maine) and freshman Brandon Stocker.
"We have a new line-up," admitted McManus, "but we were 11-5 in the fall and I was pretty impressed. We've got some good experienced guys in there. I know pre-season doesn't make a season, but this has been one of the best pre-seasons in recent memory. I think it can be a really good year."
2001 PSC BASEBALL SCHEDULE 2001 PSC BASEBALL ROSTER