PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Spring is officially just around the corner, and that means the Plymouth State College baseball season is about to begin.
The Panthers are in their final week of indoor workouts, with the regular season set to start this weekend at the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers, Fla. PSC will play 10 games in six days, beginning Sunday (Mar. 17) and running through Friday, with an off day on Wednesday. The New England portion of the 40-game regular season schedule is slated for Panther Park against Norwich on Friday, Mar. 29, weather and field conditions permitting.
The Panthers of 2002 will have another solid offensive line-up and sound defense, with the return of 16 veterans and a strong group of newcomers. The question mark is again pitching, but veteran head coach Dennis McManus thinks he has some strong arms and enough versatility in the bullpen to help the Panthers reverse last year's fortunes.
"We lost only five guys from last year," said McManus, "so the nucleus of the team is back, along with some freshmen that got quite a bit of experience in our fall program."
The Panthers finished 17-21 overall last season, but won 13 of their final 17 to make the record respectable. PSC also made some noise in the LEC Tournament, winning two games, and McManus hopes the momentum carries over to this season. 2002 P.S.C. Baseball Outlook
The 2002 edition of Panther Baseball is hoping this season mirrors the second half of the 2001 campaign rather than the one that limped out of the starting gate last spring.
"We started very slowly last year, and lost some close games early," said McManus, who's now in his 18th season, "but we really came on down the stretch. Obviously we want to improve on last year's record. We want to go back to the Little East Tournament, and win it. That's still our ultimate goal."
Plymouth State returns a pair of veterans behind the plate, and McManus says both players will see plenty of action. Junior Sy Tebbetts (Hollis, N.H./Manchester Trinity) started 25 games last season, and has the inside edge on the starting job, but sophomore Jay Morgan (Laconia, N.H.) got 12 starts last spring and is capable of handling the job. Both are steady behind the plate, while McManus is hoping they can add a little pop at the plate this year.
The Panthers have returning veterans at three of the four positions, so McManus is confident with the unit as a whole. Former shortstop and team captain Dakota Smith has graduated, but McManus is pleased with the newcomers who will fill the hole.
Junior captain Matt Price (Epping, N.H.) and classmate Scott Hodsdon (Somersworth, N.H.) give the Panthers solid players at the corner positions. Price, who handles first base duties, batted .359 with 19 extra-base hits last season after missing 2000 with a broken wrist. Hodsdon, who earned All-LEC honors at third base last season, had a team-high .362 batting average last season after transferring from Saint Anselm. They will be two of the bats in the heart of the Panther order.
Senior captain Jon Albertini (Franklin, Mass.) returns as starter at second base. He is a solid fielder and posted a .434 on-base percentage, third best on the team. His middle infield partner will be either freshman Matt Gabellieri (Lincoln, R.I.) or sophomore Nick Libera (Cromwell, Conn.) Gabellieri has the inside edge on the starting nod, but Libera, a transfer from Eastern Connecticut, could push him for the job.
Infield reserves include sophomore Michael Campo (Londonderry, N.H.), who can catch or play first base, sophomore Richie Miller (Manchester, N.H./Burlington H.S.-Vt.), who can handle the job at second or third, or several of the outfielders, who can fill in at third base.
With two returning starters and one of PSC's top newcomers, the Panthers should field a quality outfield this season, according to McManus. Junior Jay Zinis (Manchester, N.H./West) is in his third year as starter in left field. He batted over .300 his first two years, leading the team in home runs as a freshman and in doubles last season. Junior Matt Salokangas (New Ipswich, N.H.) took over as starter in center last spring and batted .333 while playing strong defense.
Freshman speedster Derek Guimond (Lewiston, Maine) will start in right, and likely the top of the batting order, says McManus. Junior Robbie Burr (Concord, N.H./Plymouth Reg.) earned All-LEC honors as a DH last season, but he can also play outfield or third base, if needed. Sophomore Shawn Manfredo (Beth, Maine) could also see playing time as a reserve in the outfield, as well as behind the plate.
The Panthers have more versatility than in recent years, with five right-handers and four leftfies on the nine-man staff. McManus is looking at a pair of seniors to lead the unit - starters Jeff Morgan (Laconia, N.H.) and Nate Provencher (Wilton, N.H.). An All-LEC pitcher in 2000, Morgan has won 16 games in his first three seasons and already owns the PSC career strikeout record. Provencher has been inconsistent, but has the tools to be an outstanding starter for the Panthers.
"They have both been impact pitchers since their freshman year," said McManus, "and we're expecting a lot from them."
PSC has four other returnees that will get the ball, either as starters or relievers. Juniors Jon Rich (Londonderry, N.H.), Owen Burke (Sanbornton, N.H.) and Jason Egan (Sharon, Mass.) and sophomore Brad Wilby (Haddonfield, N.J.) all have experience, and the confidence of the coach. Burke is the lefty in the group, and will likely work more out of the bullpen.
McManus is high on the three newcomers, who are all southpaws - sophomore Josh Forest (Richmond, VA/Trinity-Manch., NH) and freshmen Dan Dixon (Limington, ME/Bonny Eagle) and Corey Wentworth (Freeport, Maine). They had strong efforts in the fall season, and they give McManus several options.
"As usual, I expect our strength will be hitting," says McManus, "and we'll field more than adequate. Pitching might be the question mark, but we should be OK and we're as deep as we've been in a long time. It's easy to be enthusiastic this time of year, but these kids are pretty optimistic and excited about this season."
2002 PSC Baseball Roster 2002 PSC Baseball Schedule