PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Spring break begins at Plymouth State College Friday, and that can only mean the Panther baseball team is headed to Florida for some sunshine, green grass, fly balls and the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers.
PSC will play nine games in Florida, beginning Sunday with a twinbill against Roger Williams (4:00 p.m.), followed by doubleheaders on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday against Framingham State, New England College and Trinity College. After wrapping up the trip with a single game Friday against Suffolk, the Panthers return home to New England for a week off to prepare for the Little East Conference opener on Saturday, Mar. 29 at Eastern Connecticut.
The first three games of PSC's season in New Jersey last weekend, a doubleheader at Richard Stockton and a single game at Rowan, were wiped out due to snow on the fields.
The Panthers have 28 games on the slate after the Florida trip, including 14 conference contests. The regular season wraps up on May 3rd, with the annual LEC Tournament the following week. The Little East Tournament champion receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship Tournament.
2003 P.S.C. Baseball Outlook
There will be plenty of offense for Plymouth State, with big bats up and down the line-up. Veteran head coach Dennis McManus has 16 returning players, including a group of nine seniors that will provide valuable leadership. It's the offense, though, that has McManus beaming heading into the season.
"We were one of the better hitting teams in the league last year, and we bring just about everyone back," says McManus. "We have a strong batting order from one through nine. I wouldn't want to face our offensive line-up."
The Panthers, who finished 16-20-1 last year, will likely again display their solid defense, so the prospects of this season could rest with the pitching staff. PSC lost its top two starters from last year, seniors Jeff Morgan and Nate Provencher, but McManus is confident with the group he has this spring.
"We have three seniors on the staff with quite a bit of college experience," says McManus, "along with a couple of newcomers, including two transfers, who should give us a boost. We don't have the "Big Two" like we did last year, but I think we have a much more balanced staff, with quite a bit of potential."
PSC returns starters at every position except second base, including three All-New England selections. The heart of the batting order is the six senior starters - Scott Hodsdon (Somersworth, N.H.), Jay Zinis (Manchester, N.H./West), Robbie Burr (Concord, N.H./Plymouth Reg.), Matt Salokangas (New Ipswich, N.H.), Matt Price (Epping, N.H.), and Sy Tebbetts (Hollis, N.H./Manchester Trinity). Hodsdon is a co-captain and a First Team All-New England pick at third base who will move to 2B this season, and Burr, who was named Second Team All-New England as a DH, takes over at third. Zinis, a Third Team All-New England selection, and Salokangas give the Panthers solid veterans in the outfield. Price is a co-captain and four-year starter at 1B, and Tebbetts blossomed behind and at the plate last season.
The other returning starters include sophomore RF Derek Guimond (Lewiston, Maine) and sophomore SS Matt Gabellieri (Lincoln, R.I.). Other returning veterans include three juniors -- catcher Jay Morgan (Laconia, N.H.), 1B/C and co-captain Michael Campo (Londonderry, N.H.), and infielder Nick Libera (Cromwell, Conn.). The freshman class includes 1B Adam Kobeski (Walpole, N.H.), 3B/C Tim Mounsey (Concord, N.H.) and OF Scott Begalle (Rumney, N.H.) and C.J. Rousseau (Merrimack, N.H.)
With the nature of PSC's schedule, McManus will need as many as six starting pitchers. Seniors Owen Burke (Sanbornton, N.H.), Jon Rich (Londonderry, N.H.) and Jason Egan (Sharon, Mass.) will all take their turns, along with juniors Josh Forest (Manchester, N.H./Trinity) and Brad Wilby (Haddonfield, N.J.). Transfer Steve Libera (Cromwell, Conn.) could also join the rotation. Bullpen duties will likely go to junior Mike Bradbury (Chatham, Mass.), sophomore Mike Dreesen (Boxford, Mass.) and freshman Gaylon Lucas (Woodsville, N.H.).
"Our goal is to make the play-offs, and ultimately, win the Little East Conference Tournament," says McManus. "With baseball, there has to be an element of luck, but we have the offense. Pitching is always the question, but with the staff we have, if we can get into the tournament, I think we have the depth this year to do pretty well."