Mix of veteran leadership, talented newcomers, to lead Panthers in 2018
PLYMOUTH, N.H. – The Plymouth State University baseball team was voted to finish eighth in the Little East Conference (LEC) after the league released its annual Preseason Coaches' Poll on Wednesday.
The University of Massachusetts Boston, defending LEC and NCAA New England Regional tournament champions and 2017 College World Series participants, were picked to finish first by two points over the University of Southern Maine. Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth finished tied for third, with Keene State College, Western Connecticut State University, Rhode Island College and Plymouth State filling the fifth through eighth spots.
Last spring the Panthers finished an even 19-19 overall while going 4-10 in LEC contests, though the season came to a close a little earlier than the Panthers had hoped after narrowly missing the playoffs by one game. The 2018 squad, led by third-year head coach Clay Jenkins, is looking to change that.
"We have a valuable mix of tenured upperclassmen who blend nicely with the newcomers we have added to our roster for 2018," said Jenkins. The Panthers return the majority of both their offense and pitching staff. "Although we lost a few of our key players from last season we have ready-to-play newcomers, including some who already have collegiate experience."
The pitching staff is deep and riddled with both experience and talented youth. Juniors David Sampson (Bellingham, Mass.) and Dylan Gaita (Melrose, Mass.) will create a formidable front end of the rotation. Sampson went 5-1 with the Upper Valley Nighthawks in the NECBL over the summer, while Gaita is stronger than ever after coming off a knee injury. Sophomore Tyler Brown (Littleton, N.H.) is expected to compete for some valuable innings, along with freshman lefthander Marc Phinney (Gloucester, Mass.) and Southern New Hampshire University transfer sophomore Tyler Shemick (Foster, R.I.).
Sophomore Sean Engel (Tyngsboro, Mass.), coming off Tommy John surgery, is close to being ready to dominate with a hard fastball and command of the zone with three pitches, according to Jenkins. Senior Kyle McCarthy (Nashua, N.H.) and junior Cam Cossette (Milford, Mass.) will both compete for starting roles.
Graduate student and captain Dallas DeFrancesco (Meriden, Conn.) returns for his final campaign after leading the Panthers' staff with a 1.80 ERA last spring. Senior Ryan Perro (Glen Head, N.Y.) could also see a large number of innings for the staff.
The relief corps will be anchored by brothers Alex Larson (Brunswick, Maine) and Brady Larson (Brunswick, Maine) after both gained valuable experience last year. Additionally, junior Alex Libby (Freeport, Maine), freshman Will Austin (Sunapee, N.H.), the defending N.H. Division IV Co-Player of the Year, and classmates Josh Guptill (Belmont, N.H.), JP Somers (Manchester, N.H.), and Trevor Delesdernier (East Lyme, Conn.) will all compete for innings.
"Our pitchers will be smart and effective," said Jenkins. "We work very hard on throwing strikes, keeping runners close and learning the craft of pitching." PSU has led the Little East in pick-offs and stolen bases against each of the last three years.
Junior Ryan Richard (Berlin, N.H.), an All-LEC Second Team selection last spring, will continue his pesky competitiveness at the plate and on the base paths, said Jenkins. Richard will likely hold the leadoff spot, with junior Geoff Kayo (Londonderry, N.H.) expected to follow in the two-hole.
Senior captain Luke Mancini (Scotia, N.Y.), a 2016 All-LEC member, will patrol centerfield, while PSU stolen base record-holder junior Josh Goulet (Nashua, N.H.) and a combination of sophomores Andrew Salta (Laconia, N.H.), James Salta (Laconia, N.H.), Jimmy Zimolka (Londonderry, N.H.) and Ben Curry (Derry, N.H.) will compete for time.
The catching core is arguably the deepest that Plymouth State has had in recent history. Senior captain and All-LEC First Teamer Cam Ruziak (Sterling, Mass.) threw out 40% of attempted base stealers in 2017 while allowing just four passed balls. Sophomore Gavin Cook (Littleton, N.H.) has made strides and is expected to tandem with Ruziak behind the plate, while sophomore CJ Bilodeau (Rindge, N.H.) and junior Chris Mansour (Lowell, Mass.) provide additional depth at the position.
A re-vamped infield has focused on solid defense, according to Jenkins. Kayo will lead the infield at shortstop with Richard expected to hold down second base. Seniors Mitch Sytulek (Raymond, N.H.) and Nate Frederick (Worcester, Mass.) will battle for the third base position, but both bats are expected to be in the lineup. Junior Ryan Boldwin (Manchester, N.H.) looks to nail down the starting first baseman role, but freshman Andrew Wasilefsky (Willington, Conn.) will compete for time. Freshman Joe Routhier (Nashua, N.H.) has looked solid defensively and can move around the infield, while the Salta brothers are able to provide infield depth.
"We have an extremely talented team this year," said Jenkins in closing. "There is no doubt that we are working as hard as any team out there. The combination of those two things, mixed with the level of education our players are receiving, is a recipe for success in 2018."
PSU will open the season with a pair of neutral site games before heading to Fort Myers, Fla. for its annual spring break trip. The Panthers will face Framingham State in the opener on Mar. 7. Plymouth State is scheduled to open its home schedule on Apr. 11 against Salem State.
2018 LEC Baseball Preseason Coaches' Poll
(First Place Votes in Parentheses)
|1||UMass Boston (5)||47|
|2||Southern Maine (3)||45|
|7||Rhode Island College||15|
Note: Coaches are not permitted to vote for their own team.
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