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Plymouth State Baseball opens 2009 season in Florida

            PLYMOUTH, N.H. - The Plymouth State University baseball season gets underway this weekend when the Panthers head to Florida for its Spring Break trip to Fort Myers and the annual Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic.

            The Panthers will play five doubleheaders during the week, beginning this Saturday against the University of Scranton (Pa.) and continuing Sunday vs. Illinois College and Monday against Fredonia State (N.Y.).  After Tuesday and Wednesday off to give the pitchers ample rest, PSU completes the week Thursday against the University of Minnesota Morris and Friday vs. Plattsburgh State (N.Y.).

            Plymouth State opens its 30-game New England slate with single games at Babson College on Wednesday, Mar. 25, and Salem State on Friday, Mar. 27.  The Little East Conference opener is on tap for Saturday, Mar. 28, at Western Connecticut State University, and the home opener at Panther Park is slated for Wednesday, Apr. 8, vs. Middlebury College.

            The Little East Conference tournament has a new format this spring, with all eight schools participating.  The top four teams will host the bottom four in a best-two-out-of-three series the first weekend in May, with the survivors advancing to a double-elimination tournament May 7-9.  The Little East Tournament champion receives an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament.  Last year, the top three teams from the LEC received bids into the NCAA Tournament.

2009 PSU Baseball Outlook

            Veteran head coach Dennis McManus, now in his 25th year in the Panther dugout, welcomes back 14 returnees from last year, but says this year's squad is young and somewhat inexperienced.

            "There have been a lot of changes, and we're excited about the season," said McManus (right). "Sixteen of the 24 players on the roster are first- or second-year players in our program, and some positions are still up in the air.  I'm almost like a kid opening a present at Christmas... I don't know what I'm getting but I think I'm going to like it."

            The Panthers have more depth than usual in the pitching department, according the McManus.  A new-look rotation will likely include six guys, including four newcomers, and a big difference is the retirement of Guy Kenneson, PSU's pitching coach for over two decades and a member of PSU's Athletic Hall of Fame as a former pitcher.           

             "Coach K was a big part of our pitching staff for a long time," said McManus, "and it remains to be seen how much he will be missed.  I'll miss his camaraderie and expertise with the pitchers."

            McManus says the pitching staff should be balanced and keep the team in games, no matter who is on the mound.

            "We have six starters who are all very capable," said McManus, "three lefties and three righties. We've avoided labeling them one through six because they're pretty well balanced.  We don't have to set certain guys up to face certain teams; we can just go six in a row."

            Senior right-hander Taylor Ketchum (Fairhaven, Mass.) and sophomore southpaw John Andersch (Concord, N.H.) are the two returnees to the rotation.  They were two of the top three starters a year ago, and McManus expects them to pick up from where they left off.  Sophomore Bryant Lausberg (Somersworth, N.H.), a lefty transfer from Saint Joseph's College (Maine), and three freshmen, righties Jonathan Bishop (Woburn, Mass.) and Joe Hudson (Greenfield, Mass.) and lefty Bobby Chatfield (Sharon, Conn./Housatonic Valley), comprise the rest of the rotation.

            "The new guys have shown an awful lot of poise and maturity for this stage of their careers," said McManus.  "We have a lot of confidence in them."

            Senior Chris Welch (South Burlington, Vt.) leads the group of pitchers coming out of the bullpen.  Welch consistently throws strikes and McManus is comfortable turning to the big right-hander.  Sophomore Mike Moody (Manchester, N.H./Central) will also see innings in relief, as well as several field players such as seniors Nick Englert (North Woodstock, N.H./Lin-Wood) and Jim VanGyzen (Glocester, R.I./Ponaganset) and sophomore Matt Koban (Bradford, N.H./Kearsarge).

            There will be several familiar faces in the Panther infield.  Senior Josh Roberti (Cranston, R.I.) is a returning three-year starter at second base and classmate Jay Kleponis (Reading, Mass.) is a two-year returning starter at third. Sophomore Grant Livingston (Niantic, Conn./Saint Bernard) is expected to take over full-time at short after splitting time there last season, and sophomore defensive standout Ben DiZoglio (Hudson, N.H./Alvirne) will likely share time at first base with junior transfer Garrett Brewer (Rutland, Vt.) and freshman Mike Cappiello (Westfield, N.J.).  Freshmen Marcus Joyce (Scituate, Mass.) and Joe Eramo (Shirley, Mass./Worcester Academy) are middle-infield reserves, and junior Steve Picco (Marshfield, Mass.) or Englert could fill in at third base.

            McManus has as many as six players who could handle the job behind the plate. Sophomore Dan Eagan (Norwich, Conn./Saint Bernard) will get plenty of playing time, along with Eramo and junior transfer Anthony Fallacaro (Niskayuna, N.Y.).  Veterans Englert and Marc McGinnis (Hanover, Mass.) can also fill in, while sophomore Anthony Vadalla (Medford, Mass.) is recovering from off-season surgery.

            VanGyzen, a former pitcher who played first base last season, moves to the outfield this spring and will likely start in left.  Lausberg will see a lot of playing time in right field when he's not pitching, and Koban has the inside track on the starting spot in center.  McGinnis, Englert and Picco are all veterans who can provide punch to the line-up as outfielders.

            "Our defense is solid, from what we can tell in preseason," said McManus.  "We're very optimistic about our pitching, and we usually have good hitting.  We know we're in the conference tournament, and if our pitching is as good as we hope it can be, we could be in good shape entering the tournament." 

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