- The Plymouth State University baseball season gets underway this weekend when the team makes its annual trip to Fort Myers, Fla., for the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic.
The Panthers will play 10 games in six days in the Sunshine State, with a day off in the middle. PSU has 30 more games on tap back in New England with 14 Little East Conference affairs. The LEC, which includes perennial powers Eastern Connecticut and Southern Maine, is one of the toughest conferences in the country.
PSU's Little East opener is Saturday, Apr. 2, at defending champion Eastern Conn., and the first home game at Panther Park is targeted for Sun., Apr. 3, against Saint Joseph's College (Maine). The regular season wraps up on May 7th, 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.
Plymouth State is looking to rebound from a disappointing season in 2004. The Panthers, led by 21-year veteran coach Dennis McManus, have 14 returning veterans and a strong group of newcomers, including what McManus calls his best pitching class in years.
2005 PSU Baseball Outlook
Plymouth State is eager to start the 2005 season, and hopefully win some ball games and forget about the 2004 campaign. The Panthers and McManus are optimistic about improving this season, and they key should be an upgrade in the pitching department. The pressure is off, according to McManus, because no one expects much from the Panthers this spring.
"What was our weakness last year could turn out to be our strength this year," said McManus. "Last year pitching and catching was our nemesis and we've improved in those areas a great deal. I know it sounds corny, but we just need to play hard, take it one game at a time, concentrate on that game, and see what happens."
The staff is young and inexperienced, but the group of newcomers has been impressive in preseason. Freshmen Chip Hale (Londonderry, N.H.), Jim VanGyzen (Foster, R.I./Ponaganset) and Ben Pietro (East Dennis, Mass./Dennis-Yarmouth) have already earned spots in the rotation, and classmate Steve Wheeler (Lancaster, N.H./White Mountain) is lined up to be a closer. Freshman Ryan Lavelle (Middleboro, Mass.) will also get a chance.
"This is as good a group of newcomers as we've had at once in a long time," said McManus. "We've had some good pitching staffs before, but not such a strong freshman class."
Senior John Perkins (Nottingham, N.H./Dover) and sophomore Tim Conway (Bedford, N.H./ West) are returning veterans to the staff. Sophomore Scott Cote (Manchester, N.H./Memorial) and freshman Billy Post (Danville, N.H./Timberlane) could also have an impact on the pitching staff, most likely out of the bullpen.
McManus is also pleased with the young crop of catchers. Sophomore Nick Jaskolka (Manchester, N.H./Memorial) returns after batting .323 in 14 games last year, and freshmen John Pogorzelski (Hillsborough, N.J.) and Brandon Hodge (Bradford, Vt./Oxbow) have been impressive in the early going.
"This trio greatly improves our defense behind the plate," said McManus. "I'm comfortable with all three. They'll all play until one proves he should be playing more than the others."
The middle infield includes familiar names in senior co-captain Matt Gabellieri (Lincoln, R.I.) and sophomore Trevor Hall (New Boston, N.H./Goffstown), but the two will switch positions, with Gabellieri moving to 2B and Hall taking over at SS. "We knew that Trevor was our shortstop of the future, so we decided to make the switch now," said McManus. Sophomore Dylan Mullin (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton) provides a suitable backup at either position.
Sophomore Jamie Aceto (Cumberland, R.I.) is set to take over at 1B for the Panthers, and classmate Joe Annese (Winchester, Mass.) has the inside track on the job at 3B. Senior Vinny Smith (Alvord, Iowa) and junior Adam Kobeski (Walpole, N.H./Fall Mountain) could also fill in at 1B or DH, and freshmen Doug Urquhart (North Andover, Mass.) or Billy Post (Danville, N.H./Timberlane) could be a factor at 3B.
The starting outfield returns intact for PSU, with juniors C.J. Rousseau (Merrimack, N.H.) and Scott Begalle (Rumney, N.H./Plymouth) in left and center and senior co-captain Derek Guimond (Lewiston, Maine) in right. Sophomore Steve Campo (Londonderry, N.H.) will see action as a fourth outfielder and/or DH.
"Defensively, this is as good a team as we've had in a long time," said McManus. "If the young pitchers can gain experience by fire and hold their own, we hope to be playing pretty good baseball by the second half of the season."
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