Season Preview: Baseball aims at return trip to World Series with mix of new and returning talent

Season Preview: Baseball aims at return trip to World Series with mix of new and returning talent

SALISBURY, Md. – The No. 4 Salisbury University baseball team did not lose a step when Head Coach Troy Brohawn stepped in for his first year at the helm in 2015, advancing the NCAA Division III tournament for the 16th-straight season. After winning the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional, the Sea Gulls advanced to their second-straight and fifth-overall trip to the NCAA World Series.

Now with his second season at the reins getting underway, Brohawn has been able to increase his imprint on the program with the addition of many new faces to develop in the Salisbury way.

"It's kind of rejuvenating. Last year I came into a situation with a very senior-led team. We had some teaching moments, but they were really fixed into how the program had been run before," Brohawn said. "This year we have added 16 or 17 new kids to the program. There is a lot more teaching going on, which my staff and I love, and it is a lot of introducing the guys to the tradition and the culture that the baseball program has produced over the years."

With the mixture of a strong returning core from 2015 and young, incoming talent, the Sea Gulls expect not to skip a beat and improve on an already impressive track record.

"They are the same goals every year. We want to play very well in the conference, do well enough to earn a regional berth, and to get back to the World Series," Brohawn said. "We've been very fortunate here to get to 16-straight regionals and now three of the past five DIII World Series. It is not going to change here just because we lost 11 or 12 seniors that were a big part of this team."

PITCHING

Despite the losses of two of the team's top pitchers from last season in Brett Collacchi and Dan Fein, the 2016 pitching staff will still feature two returners that tied for the team lead in wins last season.

Senior Connor Shockley and junior Ryan Daiss both tallied six wins last season and will provide some versatility to the staff as they have experience as starters and coming out of the bullpen.

Daiss, a second-team All-Capital Athletic Conference player, tied for the team lead with 54 strikeouts in 2015, while finishing first among starters with a 2.68 earned-run average in 12 outings and 53 2/3 innings pitched.

Shockley appeared in 10 games, starting six, and he was the only starting pitcher to not lose a decision on the season. His 34 strikeouts were good for fourth on the team.

"Connor is a crafty lefty. He is an 83-84 guy that just has a lot of run on his ball, can mix it up, and is very deceptive," Brohawn said. "You will probably see him back in the rotation, but I wouldn't be surprised if he is out of the bullpen, as well."

Also looking at a spot in the starting rotation is junior Pete Grasso. Grasso, a two-way player who will also play shortstop when not on the mound, pitched in nine games last season, tallying one win and one save. He finished third on the team with 39 strikeouts.

"My challenge to Pete this year was to believe that he is the best. He has to get on that mound and use his stuff which is tremendous, but he has to from the neck believe 'I am going to dominate today,' even if you don't every pitch," Brohawn said. "He is just an athlete that we are going to find a spot for him in the lineup, we are going to find a spot for him on the mound. He is going to be an everyday player somewhere."

Junior Jeff Oster, who Brohawn considered one of the best arms out of the bullpen last season, has earned his way into the starting rotation to begin the 2016 season. Oster pitched in 15 games last season, most on the team, while boasting a 2.92 ERA and 35 strikeouts. He also only allowed 10 walks in 24 2/3 innings pitched.

Returning to the bullpen after missing the end of the year last season due to injury is senior Jon Schmedel.

"We lost him late in the season last year, and he was throwing probably better than any pitcher we had," Brohawn said. "Now he is healthy, and those guys that stepped up have some more experience which is great. Throw him back into the mix and it really bolsters our bullpen."

Schmedel pitched in 10 games before going down, striking out 22 and only walking three. He posted a 2.33 ERA, which was the lowest on the team, while allowing only one-of-four inherited runners score.

Sophomore Brad Keith is another two-way player who will see time on the mound and in the outfield, and freshman Caleb Johnson looks to make an early impact for the Gulls.

Johnson could find himself in the rotation to start the season who Brohawn describes as a player with a phenomenal determination to be great.

"We have some guys that can flat out throw the ball," Brohawn added. "I am looking forward to working with them, looking forward to developing them and am looking forward to some good things."

CATCHING

With the departure of Austin Barefoot from 2015, junior Tom LaBriola will slide into the starting spot behind the plate for Salisbury this season.

"Tom learned from a great leader. I always say that to be a great leader, you have to have great followers," Brohawn said. "Last year, Tom was a great follower, and this fall he has made the transition to becoming a great leader now. I think he has taken over the team in a leadership role."

Last season, LaBriola appeared in 17 games. From behind the plate, he threw out both runners that attempted to steal, while boasting a 1.000 fielding percentage. At the plate, he saw 33 at-bats, batting .333 and driving in nine runs.

The Gulls have added three freshman in Tyler Mayo, Andrew Mace, and Jack Decker to provide depth behind LaBriola.

INFIELD

Grasso and senior Alex Lipman return to the Salisbury infield as the only two players to play in all 40 of the team's games. The pair will mainly make up the Sea Gulls' middle infield; last season they combined for 41 double plays, while Grasso (shortstop) held a .922 field percentage, and Lipman (second base) tallied a .926 clip in the field.

Grasso batted .346 last season, which was second amongst returning players, and is the returning leader in hits (55), RBI (47), and slugging percentage (.541). He was named to the American Baseball Coaches' Association All-Region third team last season, along with earning a first-team All-CAC selection.

Lipman hit .340 in 2015 with 51 hits, nine doubles, and 27 RBI.

Senior Jake Dmiterchik and freshman Jack Barry will begin the season manning the corners for the Gulls.

Dmiterchik finished last season with a .983 fielding percentage and 229 putouts from first base. He played in 33 games and hit .313, while driving in 21 runs.

Barry joins the team this season, and is a player who Brohawn already sees starting at third base after a strong preseason.

"He came in this year in phenomenal shape," Brohawn said. "Defensively he was flawless. He really impressed all the coaches with the way he played."

The Sea Gulls have another highly-touted incoming freshman in Justin Meekins, who will look to make in impact in his first season, as well.

"Justin Meekins is a phenomenal athlete. He can play anywhere," Brohawn said. "He is a shortstop by trade, but, when we got him in here, I said 'I can't sit here and tell you that you will play shortstop every single day. You might play short one day, you might play second the next, I might have you at first base, and I might have you in the outfield but I am going to get you in there because of the type of athlete you are.'"

Adding more depth to the infield will be junior Scott Ardoin, who saw time in 15 games last season and did not make an error in the field in 38 chances. Brohawn considers Ardoin a part of the Sea Gulls' best defensive team and has seen improvements in other areas saying, "He has worked tremendously hard over the summer. He worked on his strength. We never had any doubt about his fielding; it was always his ability to hit and his ability to be vocal playing a middle-infield position. He has demonstrated that he has learned all of that."

Senior Mike LaBriola will also compete for time on the field, as well, after playing in eight games last season.

OUTFIELD

The Salisbury outfield will be led by returners Tyler Hrycak and Kyle Goodwin. Both seniors, Hrycak played in 38 games last season, primarily in right field, while Goodwin came on at the end of the season in 25 games of action. Goodwin makes the transition to the outfield this season, after playing first base last year.

Hrycak brings back a power bat that led the team with seven home runs in 2015. He hit .304 and drove in 32 runs, while slugging .552.

"He is going to move over from right to center. He got a taste of center last year when Kyle Hayman went down with an injury, and Tyler played tremendous in center field," Brohawn said. "He has great speed, a strong arm; he has great jumps on the ball. He is just a good athlete, and I think he will do very well there."

Goodwin batted .386 in 57 at-bats last season, while scoring 23 runs and driving in 10.

"He is a great story who was a kid recruited here. He was told that if he wanted to play in this program he would pretty much have to outwork everyone, get there before them and leave after them. He has done that for three years," Brohawn said. "He got his first taste of full-time play last year towards the end. He did a great job for us and has earned a spot in the outfield."

SCHEDULE

Salisbury opens its season on Saturday, February 6 at the SU Baseball Field against Gwynedd Mercy University at 12 p.m., opening up a schedule that features some of the top teams in the country.

The Gulls will take on three teams that earned spots in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division III Preseason Poll in the top 25, including defending national champion No. 1 State University of New York at Cortland, No. 6 Kean University, and No. 24 Johns Hopkins University.

"We have really good teams schedule every single year. This year, we added Kean, who is a perennial powerhouse, we got Cortland, we added Penn State-Berks, Hopkins is still on our schedule," Brohawn said. "Then you have the conference, which is tough every year, and I think got tougher this year with some of those teams getting a year under their belt."

CAC play begins on Wednesday, March 9, as the Sea Gulls travel to Christopher Newport University. Salisbury plays its conference home opener a week later on Wednesday, March 16 against Wesley College at 3:30 p.m.

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