PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University baseball team is looking to get a head start on the 2004 season this weekend with a couple of games on Cape Cod.
The Panthers, who normally begin the campaign during the annual spring break trip to Florida, are slated for one or two games Sunday at Mass. Maritime (12:00 p.m., weather permitting). PSU was scheduled to play Castleton State College and Lyndon State College on Saturday in Harwich, Mass., but those games have already been cancelled due to field conditions.
PSU will head to the Sunshine State on Mar. 20 for the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers, where they will play 10 games in six days. The Little East Conference opener is Saturday, Apr. 3, at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and the first home game at Panther Park is targeted for Sun., Apr. 4, against Saint Joseph's College (Maine).
Plymouth State has 27 games on the slate after the Florida trip, including 14 conference contests. The regular season wraps up on May 8th, 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.
2004 PSU Baseball Outlook
Even with 11 returning veterans from last year's team, Plymouth State coach Dennis McManus says the Panthers will be a much different squad in 2004.
Gone from last year's team are nine seniors, including the top six bats in the middle of the Panther line-up. McManus says this year's squad will rely more on the defense, pitching and manufacturing of runs that used to be the norm under McManus, the kind of team referred to in Plymouth as "hardball."
"We're much quicker than we've been," says McManus, "so we'll make up for the lack of power with more of an inside game... singles, doubles, running. We'll get back to playing the way we used to play before we had so much power the past few years."
A trio of seniors should anchor the pitching staff - lefthander Josh Forest (Manchester, N.H./Trinity) and righties Steve Libera (Cromwell, Conn.) and Mike Bradbury (Chatham, Mass.). They combined to throw 84 innings last year, and McManus is comfortable with all three.
"All three look better than they did last year," says the coach. "The large graduating class may have actually helped them. They're not getting out of the way for the seniors, but rather they're all taking charge and throwing strikes."
Joining them on the staff will be five others, who McManus says are interchangeable and will all get plenty of work. They are junior transfer John Perkins (Nottingham, N.H.) and freshmen Tim Conway (Bedford, N.H./West), Kalen Kangas (Claremont, N.H.), Joe Annese (Winchester, Mass.) and Jamie Aceto (Cumberland, R.I.). Anthony Palmieri (Peabody, Mass.) is another strong freshman, but could miss the season with arm troubles.
McManus says a couple of field players like Mike Dockx (Manchester, N.H./West) or Derek Guimond (Lewiston, Maine) might also see time on the mound, or some of the pitchers could play the field.
"We have lots of flexibility," says McManus. "You could see anyone just about anywhere, except maybe up the middle."
Junior SS Matt Gabellieri (Lincoln, R.I.) and junior RF Derek Guimond are the only returning regulars in the field, although senior 3B Nick Libera (Cromwell, Conn.) and senior C Jay Morgan (Laconia, N.H.) were part-time starters who got ample playing time.
There are a lot of new faces in the Panther infield. Trevor Hall (New Boston, N.H.) is one of the top freshmen and is the likely starter at second base, backed up by freshmen Dylan Mullin (Derry, N.H.) or Mike Dockx. Junior transfer John Perkins or freshman Joe Annese could spell Libera at third base, and junior transfer Vinny Smith (Alvord, Iowa) or freshman Joe Aceto could battle sophomore Adam Kobeski (Walpole, N.H.) for playing time at first base.
Veterans Morgan and Michael Campo (Londonderry, N.H.) will get most of the playing time behind the plate, with freshman Nick Jaskolka (Manchester, N.H./Memorial) serving as a capable back-up. Sophomore C.J. Rousseau (Merrimack, N.H.) will be the DH, and can also play the outfield.
The outfield will likely see Guimond in right, and sophomore Scott Begalle (Rumney, N.H.) taking over in center. Candidates for the vacant left field position include freshman Steve Campo (Londonderry, N.H.), senior Steve Libera and freshman speedster Jared Barrows (Marshfield, Mass.).
"I'm excited about the chemistry of the team, and I think we've got a pretty good squad," says McManus. "We've got some question marks, and a lot of kids will be getting experience under fire right away, but we've got some nice ballplayers. We should be as solid defensively as we've been in years, and I'm optimistic about the pitching."
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