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PSU Baseball headed to Florida to begin 2008 campaign

            PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University baseball team is set to open the 2008 campaign, heading to Florida later this week to participate in the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic in Fort Myers.

            The Panthers will play six doubleheaders in seven days, beginning this Saturday, March 15, against the University of Scranton (4:00 p.m.)  PSU will also face Salve Regina University, Amherst College, Illinois College, Nichols College and the University of Minnesota-Morris over the course of the week, and wraps up the trip next Friday, March 21, against SUNY Fredonia, with the team returning to New Hampshire on Saturday.

            PSU opens its 28-game New England slate at Babson College on Wednesday, March 26, with the Little East Conference opener on tap for Saturday, March 29, at Rhode Island College.  The home opener at Panther Park is scheduled for Wednesday, April 9, vs. Middlebury College.

            The regular season wraps up on May 3rd, with the top six teams advancing to the annual LEC Tournament the following week.  The Little East Tournament champion receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship Tournament.

2008 PSU Baseball Outlook

            With 15 returning veterans and a strong group of newcomers, 24-year veteran head coach Dennis McManus is optimistic about this year's campaign.

            "We have a lot of versatility," said McManus (right).  "We have several guys who can play several positions.  Defensively, we should be very good.  Offensively, we lost some punch from our line-up but we're capable of hitting for a higher average and we can do some things with our team speed. Pitching will be our question mark, as it often is.  That's not a mark against our pitchers, but playing 28 games in six weeks after we get back from Florida is tough.  We'll have to rely on the ability of the guys to adjust to this kind of schedule."

            McManus is confident in the offense, led by senior Brandon Hodge (Bradford, Vt./Oxbow), who led the team with 16 extra-base hits last season.  Junior Jay Kleponis (Reading, Mass.) and senior John Pogorzelski (Hillsborough, N.J.) should be regulars in the Panther line-up, and junior Marc McGinnis (Hanover, Mass.) and sophomore Steve Picco (Marshfield, Mass.) could also be solid contributors.

            "Those are the mainstays in the line-up, but we also have some good young players," said McManus.  "And because of our versatility, some of those key guys will be playing different positions."

            Hodge, for example, will see action at both catcher and center field.  McGinnis will likely start in right field, but will also see time behind the plate.  Pogorzelski is the likely starter at catcher, and freshman Dan Eagan (Norwich, Conn./Saint Bernard) provides depth.

            "All four of those guys will get work at catcher," said McManus.  "They're all good catchers, and we want to take advantage of that."

            While Hodge and McGinnis will log time in the outfield, McManus says several others are vying for an outfield spot, especially in left.  Picco, sophomore Nick Englert (North Woodstock, N.H./Lin-Wood) and freshmen Mike Moody (Manchester, N.H./Central) and Matt Koban (Bradford, N.H./Kearsarge) will all see playing time with the chance to prove themselves.

            The infield should be a mix of veterans and newcomers.  Kleponis returns as starter at third base and junior Josh Roberti (Cranston, R.I.) is back at second, but both will be pushed.  Picco could also see time at third, as will freshman Seth Labossiere (Lincoln, R.I.), and freshman Collin Wade (Colchester, Conn./Bacon Academy) will challenge Roberti at second base. Junior transfer Kevin Levandowski (Derry, N.H./Pinkerton) and freshman Grant Livingston (Niantic, Conn./Saint Bernard) are battling it out for the shortstop position.  Senior Jim VanGyzen (Glocester, R.I./Ponaganset), a former pitcher, has the edge over freshman Ben DiZoglio (Hudson, N.H./Alvirne), a defensive standout, at first base.

            McManus has six pitchers who will start games, with six others coming out of the bullpen.  Senior Chip Hale (Londonderry, N.H.) and junior Taylor Ketchum (Fairhaven, Mass.) will start out at the top of the rotation.  Freshman John Andersch (Concord, N.H.) has looked impressive in pre-season and will likely hold down one spot, and junior Chris Welch (South Burlington, Vt.) should also be in the mix.  Labossiere and junior Joey Brayton (Medfield, Mass.) will also get the ball.

            McManus says the bullpen will be "by committee," with up to six guys getting a chance to prove themselves. "If we can get an inning or so out of each guy, we can keep them fresh and they can pitch more often, which will be key with our schedule."

            The bullpen includes seniors Justin Flanagan (Hingham, Mass) and Ryan Lavelle (Middleboro, Mass.), junior Ryan Hannon (Bow, N.H.), Englert, Moody and freshman Chris Bryant (Lebanon, N.H.)  Flanagan, when he regains his full health, could also compete for a starting role.

            "Our goals are to win more than we lose, and to qualify for post-season play," said McManus.  "I think we can do that with the hitting and fielding we have.  We'll have to see how the pitching holds up."

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