Rider Broncs athletic logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Courtesy Rider Sports Information
LAWRENCEVILLE, NJ – The Rider University baseball team is set to open the 2017 season with a road trip to the Tar Heel State to square off with the Charlotte 49ers in a four-game series this weekend, February 24-26. The series marks the start off a tough non-conference slate that includes games against Georgia, Campbell, Radford and Rutgers.
“We’ve got a difficult schedule right from the start,” Rider University Head Coach Barry Davis said. “The non-conference, early-season schedule is challenging and it will prepare us for MAAC play which it does every year.”
Three keys to watch for this season for the Broncs will be their starting pitching, the play of new shortstop Richie Tecco (Drexel Hill, PA/Monsignor Bonner) and overall team defense. Last season, the Rider starting rotation had an ERA of 4.88 in over 270 innings of work and the defense committed 91 errors. The Broncs will also look to be more consistent in pushing runners across in 2017 as well.
“Our expectations this year are to improve,” Davis added. “We have a good recruiting class, our returners have a year of experience and I feel we are better. Pitching and defense are going to be our keys this year.”
Entering his 13th season at the helm of the program, Davis is in search of his third MAAC Championship. With a good mixture of experienced veteran players and young talented student-athletes in 2017, the Broncs will look to contend for another conference crown.
Rider has several players that will compete for the role of weekend starter of this season, highlighted by the return of Second Team All-MAAC performer Nick Margevicius (North Royalton, OH/Saint Ignatius). Margevicius will look to be the team’s ace and No. 1 starter come conference play again this year after posting a 4-6 overall record with a 2.78 ERA in 2016. In MAAC play he was stellar, going 3-2 with a 1.53 ERA in 47 innings of work. Margevicius led the Broncs in ERA (2.53), strikeouts (67), innings pitched (77.0) and batting average against (.263) as a junior.
Junior Paul Sparano (Ewing, NJ/Ewing), classmate Harrison McClure (Atlanta, GA/South Florida State/North Atlanta) and freshman Pete Soporowski (South Amboy, NJ/Sayreville War Memorial) are also poised to see time on the weekend come conference play for the Broncs. Sparano was mainly used out of the bullpen last season, picking up a team-high five saves and striking out 28 hitters in just 32.2 innings of work. McClure, a transfer, and Soporowski will see their first action for Rider this season. The Broncs will look for these three to emerge as starters this spring.
Freshman John Yocum (Easton, PA/Freedom) will be in the mix as well for Rider. Junior Andrew Tumbelty (Westampton, NJ/Rancocas Valley) will have a new role this season, taking on closer duties at the back of the bullpen. He’s a hard thrower and he got some quality work in the role over the summer and in the fall. Senior southpaw Dalton Mayberry (Chadds Ford, PA/Cumberland CC/Garnet Valley) and classmate Josh Sharik (Ewing, NJ/Plumstead Christian School) provide depth to the pen and will see plenty of innings this season.
Senior Mike Diorio (Middletown, NJ/Middletown HS South) and sophomores Anthony Arneth (Pine Beach, NJ/Central Regional), Dylan Simcik (Newtown, PA/Holy Ghost Prep), Nick Payesko (Yardville, NJ/Holy Ghost Prep) and Jordan Silverman (Holland, PA/Council Rock HS South) are all set to be solid contributors.
With the contingent arms, Rider aims to return to the conference tournament and postseason play.
Senior Lee Lipinski (Glen Arm, MD/Calvert Hall) provides leadership behind the dish and in guiding the Bronc pitchers in 2017.
“There is nothing Lee hasn’t seen behind the plate for us,” Davis added. “His leadership will have a positive impact on this team and teach the younger players how to handle both good and bad days.”
In 47 games last spring, Lipinski smacked 13 extra-base hits (five of which were homeruns) and he racked up a team-leading 27 RBIs. Lipinski is the strongest defensive catcher on the roster as well, registering a .985 fielding percentage and throwing out a team-high 19 runners attempting to steal.
Sophomore Brennan McAllister (Middletown, DE/Middletown) and freshman Tyler Stockwell (LaPlata, MD/LaPlata Memorial) will back up Lipinski and see time as well. McAllister had a strong freshman campaign, hitting over .300 in 15 games with a homer and three RBIs.
“I like our maneuverability around the horn in the infield,” Davis noted. “We have six solid guys in our rotation of players and every one of them has the ability to play more than one position.”
Junior Jake Bender (Ellicott City, MD/Marriotts Ridge) and sophomore Riley Mihalik (Churchville, PA/Chestnut Hill Academy) will each play first. Bender, a former middle infielder, isn’t the prototypical first basemen, but he is versatile with good hands and quick release. Mihalik will mostly see time at DH due to his strong bat. Last season, Bender had a team-high 52 hits and 12 stolen bases as a sophomore, while Mihalik had four homers and 25 RBIs a year ago.
Freshman Kyle Johnson (Jackson, NJ/Jackson Memorial) will look to give the Broncs improved production at second base. The speedy newcomer will start the season near the top of the Rider lineup.
Sophomore Richie Tecco (Drexel Hill, PA/Monsignor Bonner) is moving over and will start at short. His experience will help the team and his defensive play will be a major key in the squad’s success behind their pitchers.
Senior Mike Volaski (Oxnard, CA/Ventura CC/Oxnard) anchors the infield at the hot corner. He has a strong arm and his mobility will help the team as well. Volaski started 48 games in 2016 and hit .280 with 46 hits (11 extra-base hits), 20 RBIs and a .343 on-base percentage.
Junior Christian Estevez (Rive Edge, NJ/River Dell) adds depth for the team and has the ability to play several positions. Last year, he hit .255 with three stolen bases.
Besides seeing time on the bump, McClure will also be a key cog in the Bronc outfield. His instincts defensively and at the plate will help Rider.
Senior Tyler Kaiser (Moorestown, NJ.Moorestown) is making the transition from infield to left this season. Kaiser hit .263 in 2016 with a team-best 22 extra-base hits and 24 RBIs. Junior Brian Uliana (Bethlehem, PA/Freedom) is a speedster that will roam center for Rider. His raw talent, tools and above average arm will help lockdown the Bronc outfield defensively. Mayberry will also see time in the outfield when he’s not pitching and junior Dallas Clark (Moorestown, NJ/Moorestown) will provide depth for the team.
Freshman Joe Simone (Wayne, NJ/Wayne Hills) is looking to make a splash in his first year on campus. He will likely be the first Bronc off the bench and tracks to be a future starter for Rider.
Rider was picked to finish eighth in the MAAC Preseason Poll with 43 points. The poll, which is voted on by the league’s 11 head coaches, was released in late January. Defending conference champion Fairfield was tabbed to repeat, earning 116 points thanks to seven first-place votes.