SALISBURY, Md. – After making its fourth appearance in the College World Series in 2014, the Salisbury University baseball team is looking to rely on a strong group of returners and a reliable class of newcomers to make it back to the World Series.
"I think we have a senior-led class this year that is very special, and they have a lot of goals that they have set," Head Coach Troy Brohawn said. "I know they want to make it back to the World Series."
The Sea Gulls exited the 2014 season with a 6-3 loss to then-No. 12 University of Southern Maine, ending the season with a 37-9 overall record. SU also captured its third-straight, and 12th overall, Capital Athletic Conference title, defeating Christopher Newport University, 5-1 in the championship game.
Salisbury comes into the season with an experienced group of leaders at several key positions in the field, which gives Brohawn high expectations for the year.
"I am very confident with the group that we have because we have a bunch of great leaders that are willing to help the younger guys learn," he said. "You can look all around the field and see senior leadership in some key positions, which is going to help us later in the season."
"Fein and Collacchi are two of the rocks behind the pitching staff," Brohawn said.
Collacchi is coming off a season that saw him lead the country in wins with 12, recording a 2.57 ERA in 94 2/3 innings and striking out a team-high 59 batters. For his performance last year, the Bear, Delaware native was honored with a bevy of awards including ABCA All-Region First Team, D3Baseball.com All-Region First Team and All-CAC First Team.
"Brett Collacchi, who led the country in wins last year, is another great student and leader on the team and I expect him to play well again this season," Brohawn said.
Fein finished the season last year after compiling an 8-2 record on the mound with a 3.74 ERA and 58 strikeouts. The lefty also earned several academic awards last season, including the Elite 89 Award and being named to the Capital One Academic All-District team.
"Dan Fein is a great leader on this team because he is a model student that works hard on and off the field and he is going to expect the same work ethic from his teammates," Brohawn said.
Junior Connor Shockley is another left-handed pitcher that will see a lot of starts on the mound this season. After earning an 8-0 record in 13 appearances and posting a 2.12 ERA, the Salisbury, Maryland native will be expected to build on his success from last year and continue to improve at the position.
"Connor Shockley is a left-handed starter who has some of the best throws on the team as far as three pitches go," Brohawn said. "As soon as he turns that corner believing and gets that little cocky arrogance on the mound, he is going to turn the corner and become a totally different pitcher."
Senior Kyle Hamby is coming off a productive year that saw him receive ABCA All-Region Third Team, D3Baseball.com All-Region Third Team and All-CAC Second Team. In the past, Hamby has taken the role of the closer and has performed well at the spot. The Laurel, Maryland native boasted nine saves and recorded a 2.45 ERA in 2014, but he is not a shoe-in for the role just yet.
"With what Hamby has done in the past, he is our top relief pitcher as of right now, but I believe in competition," Brohawn said. "As long as he maintains that, it's great and I would love to have him in that role."
"Daiss, who is coming of an injury from last year, has looked great in the fall and phenomenal in the spring and Grasso, who is a shortstop, is going to see some more time on the mound as well," Brohawn said.
Overall, Brohawn is content with his pitching staff as a whole, and is counting on their experience with hard-fought pitching battles to give them an edge against the competition.
"We have a collection of guys that have been through war and have been in some tough games and aren't going to be intimidated with situations that they are put in," Brohawn said.
Catcher is another solidified position for SU, with senior Austin Barefoot returning behind the plate. Barefoot is coming off a successful 2014 campaign after notching 192 putouts, which was second on the team, and marking 32 assists. The La Plata, Maryland native also played well on the offensive side, scoring 23 runs off of 32 hits and recording a .302 batting average.
"Out of any position on the field, I expect the most out of a catcher, and I think the catching position is often an extension of the coaching staff," Brohawn said. "They have to be on the same page as us, and when they get on the field and step between the lines, they have to have the tough love mentality of being a teammate's best friend, but also his worst critic."
Sophomore Tom LaBriola and junior Joey Gumpman will also see time behind the plate, providing depth at the position. Along with their catching abilities, LaBriola and Gumpman will also lend to the offensive side of the ball.
The infield is probably the biggest question mark coming into the 2015 season because of the loss of the entire right side from last year. Following the graduation of first baseman Quinn Griffith, first base is still up for grabs and Brohawn is hoping that someone will step up and take the position.
"At first base, that was our biggest competition throughout the fall and I don't know if one person really jumped up and embraced the position yet, so we are going to toy around a little bit," Brohawn said. "We have some solid players there in Jake Dmiterchik, Mike LaBriola and Robbie Jones, and between those three guys, we are hoping that somebody really jumps up and solidifies that spot."
Alex Lipman, who made nine appearances last season, will be taking over as the second baseman.
"Alex Lipman has stepped up and really solidified himself at second base because he has stepped up his game defensively along with continuing to be a threat on offense," Brohawn said.
Although the right side of the infield still has a question mark with first base, the left side is another strong suit for the Sea Gulls. Senior Bobby Sanzone will start at third base again this year after earning All-CAC Second Team for his performance in 2014. The Forest Hill, Maryland native scored 32 runs off of 41 hits and led the team in RBI with 39. Grasso will be the starter at shortstop, after playing valuable time in the position as a freshman and putting up spectacular offensive numbers last season. Grasso was second on the team in runs with 50 and third on the squad in hits with 60 last year.
"The left side of the infield is remarkable with Bobby Sanzone and Pete Grasso loading it up," Brohawn said. "Their numbers and their work ethic speak for themselves."
Much like the infield, most of the outfield is experienced, with seniors Jordan Gowe and Kyle Hayman returning to left and center field after strong 2014 campaigns. Gowe was a key contributor for the offense last season, scoring 33 runs off of 58 hits and recording the third-most RBI on the team with 36. Gowe also played well in the field, notching 71 putouts in left. Hayman is coming into 2015 after leading the team offensively last year, capturing the most runs on the team with 56 and the most hits with 80. The Wilmington, Delaware native also showed off his speed, stealing 28 bases, which was also the most on the team. Hayman's 2014 success earned him All-American third team honors, along with ABCA First Team, D3Baseball.com All-Region First Team and All-CAC First Team.
While the left and center field spots are solidified, right field is another spot that Brohawn is still testing out.
"The right field is open after losing a senior in the position from last year, but we have a few guys that we are looking at out there in Tyler Hrycak, Danny Breen, Kevin Dean and Kyle Goodwin," Brohawn said. "Right field is another position that will see some competition, so we might put a couple players out there to see who takes the position and runs with it."
Salisbury will once again have a tough schedule ahead of it in 2015 with tough games riddled throughout the year both in non-conference and conference action. The Sea Gulls start the season at No. 6 in both the College Baseball Newspaper and D3baseball.com preseason polls and will take on No. 5 the State University of New York at Cortland at home on Saturday, February 21 at 1 p.m. and Sunday, February 22 at 12 p.m.
"Our non-conference schedule is going to be a challenge, with teams like Virginia Wesleyan, a preseason number five-ranked Cortland State, and you throw in Montclair State and Johns Hopkins in at the end and I think that makes for a good non-conference schedule," Brohawn said.
SU's toughest challenge in conference will be from Christopher Newport University, which sits right behind Salisbury at the No. 2 spot in the conference, but Brohawn is aware that every game in the conference will be a challenge.
"The conference is always tough," Brohawn said. "Anytime you have CNU, York, Mary Washington, and Wesley and St. Mary's, it's going to be tough."
With the season about to begin, Brohawn is excited to get on the field, and is confident that his team will do big things if they continue to work hard.
"Everybody wants to win the whole thing; all coaches are going to say that, but we just need to play hard and take care of our side of it and I think things will work out," Brohawn said.