HOBOKEN, N.J. (February 22, 2011) – Despite the loss of a trio of All-Conference honorees in graduated seniors Anthony Andrews, Mark Rasulo, and Joe Finora, the Stevens Institute of Technology baseball team enters the 2011 season with a wealth of experience and hopes of capturing its first-ever Empire 8 conference title. With six of eight position starters and the bulk of last season’s pitching staff returning for another season at Castle Point, the Ducks, under the tutelage of 11th-year head coach John Crane, will look to improve upon last year’s 21-19 mark and semifinal berth in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Metro Tournament.
“Despite the losses of Rasulo, Andrews, and Finora, I think we have a really good group coming back. We have the rest of our rotation back in the fold and we have six of eight position players back, so I certainly think we’ll have guys ready to step in to fill their shoes. The biggest change I think I see this year is the confidence in our team. I feel like we’ve had the ability and talent to capture the league championship over the last couple of years and that is our goal every season, but there’s a different attitude with the guys, who really believe they can take the next step this year,” said Crane. “I think a lot of that confidence just comes from experience. We have guys that have been through it and have seen top-flight programs both in conference and out over the years and having that experience to fall back on can be a big difference for us this season.”
Looking to help lead the Ducks during the 2011 campaign are a three seniors in Denis Ackermann (Rutherford, N.J.), Russ Grimes (South Brunswick, N.J.), and Ken Meerendonk (Sussex, N.J.), who comprised the heart of an explosive Stevens’ lineup that ranked first in the conference in doubles, home runs, and slugging percentage, and second in hits, RBI, runs scored, and total bases.
“It’s nice having that veteran presence in the middle of the order. Kenny and Ackermann have been hitting in the middle of our order since day one and while it may have been a little too much for them to handle as freshmen, they now have those three years of experience to fall back on, so we certainly expect them to play with confidence and lead us this year,” Crane said. “Kenny’s been a four year starter for us. He’ll see time at first base and he’s our number one pitcher. We expect him to have a great season. He’s been consistent offensively for us and he’s gotten better each year on the mound as well, so we’re comfortable with him being our workhorse on the staff this year. Ackermann is also a four-year starter and I don’t know if there’s a better defensive catcher anywhere. He gives us some power from the left side of the plate and has a great approach. He is an excellent leader as well. Russ has gotten better every year and is coming off a tremendous season. I think this year he has a shot at putting up All-America-type numbers.”
A first-team All-Empire 8 selection, Ackermann hit .328 a year ago, with two home runs, 11 doubles, 24 RBI and a .458 slugging percentage. A tremendous presence behind the plate, he amassed 182 putouts last season, moving into fifth-place on the program’s career charts.
Meerendonk, a second-team all-league pick that also earned third-team NJCBA third-team accolades, enjoyed arguably his best season in Cardinal and Gray, hitting .326 with five home runs, eight doubles, and 29 RBI in 2010. Also a workhorse on Stevens’ pitching staff, the Sussex, N.J. native tied for second on the team in wins with four, posting a 4.73 earned run average.
Grimes, who earned second team all-conference recognition and third-team ABCA All-Region honors, thrived in the heart of the Ducks’ order last season, belting a school record 10 home runs, while finishing in the top-five of the Empire 8 in five offensive categories. Starting all 40 games in right, he hit .316, while his 42 RBI and 87 total bases ranked second and third in the conference, respectively. A native of South Brunswick, N.J., the senior also tallied a team-best .572 slugging percentage with 37 runs scored.
Hoping to set the plate for the Ducks at the top of the order this season are second baseman Tom Phillips (Spring Lake Heights, N.J.), an Empire 8 honorable mention awardee last season, and shortstop Corey Linden (Hawley, Pa.). Phillips hit .299 last year in 36 starts, tallying a .416 slugging percentage and a .373 on-base percentage with 32 runs scored. Linden came on strong as the year went on in 2010, hitting .315 with a .427 OBP and a .438 slugging percentage with nine doubles and 20 runs scored. The duo also combined for nine steals last year, as the team finished second in the conference in stolen bases.
“Phillips and Linden should provide us with a lot of speed and some pop at the top of the order and defensively I think they have the potential to become one of the best double play combinations in the region, if not nationally. They’re both really good athletes and they both have plus arms,” explained Crane. “I think we really started to take off last year once Corey got a chance to consistently play and I think having him for a full season is going to be a real plus for us. We’re expecting some big things out of him. It’ll be Tom’s third year at second base and he’s the quintessential leadoff hitter. He has a good eye, excellent speed, hits for both average and power and can really do a lot of things for us and is great defensively as well.”
Also returning to help the Ducks build on last season’s success are a core group of veterans in seniors Mike Caruso (Orefield, Pa.), Shawn Dorman (Weehawken, N.J.) and Mike Pagliaro (Duncannon, Pa.), juniors T.J. Alcorn (Turnersville, N.J.), Sal Amato (East Northport, N.Y.), Matt Glassman (Basking Ridge, N.J.), and Ryan Kiczek (Rutherford, N.J.), and sophomores Chris Daniele (Colts Neck, N.J.), Michael Donovan (Long Grove, Ill.), and Cory Stryker (Kenilworth, N.J.).
Alcorn hit .310 a year ago with 26 RBI and 39 runs scored, making 38 appearances as a designated hitter and first baseman, while Stryker, who saw limited action as a reserve centerfielder, will look to improve upon a year in which he notched a .333 average and a .417 slugging percentage. Caruso, Pagliaro and Donovan will look to play an increased role in the Ducks’ infield, while Daniele and Kiczek should compete for time in the outfield.
As a team, Stevens enjoyed a record-breaking 2010, setting new school marks in runs (283), RBI (251), doubles (88), home runs (34), total bases (602), and slugging percentage (.456).
“We have a deep lineup and power-wise this could be one of the best we’ve had,” said Crane. “Top to bottom we have a lot of guys with experience and also some younger guys who can contribute right away.”
Headlining the Ducks’ starting rotation that ranked second in the conference in innings pitched (322.1), while posting a school record 212 strikeouts with a league-low 106 walks, are Meerendonk and sophomore Tyler Courter (Glenwood, N.J.). Also competing for starting spots this season are sophomores Donovan and Mark Poinsett (Ocean Gate, N.J.), senior Dan Anunziatta (Schenectady, N.Y.), and juniors Vincent Vinci (Howell, N.J.) and Chris Tucci (Calverton, N.Y.), and sophomore Kevin Mathews (Jackson, N.J.).
Meerendonk ranked second on the team in strikeouts (43) and complete games (3) last season, while Poinsett, who earned a place on the NJCBA Division II/III All-State Rookie team, went 4-0 in his first year with the Ducks, posting a 3.82 ERA. Donovan went 2-0 last year in seven appearances, making one start. He finished with a 2.35 earned run average, allowing just four earned runs in 15 and a third innings, while Courter logged the third-most innings for Stevens a year ago with 35.0.
“Our defense is certainly one of our strengths. Up the middle, with Ackermann, Phillips, and Linden and our centerfielders I feel like we’re in great shape. This is also probably one of the deepest pitching staffs we’ve had even with the loss of Joe Finora,” Crane said. “I think one of the exciting things is that our staff, while relatively young, should be intact for the next three years. We have guys that are going to be here and have already improved a lot in the time they’ve been with us and will only continue to get better. We only have five starting spots, but have eight or nine guys to choose from, which is a credit to our depth and is a nice problem to have.”
Hoping to make an impact out of the Ducks’ equally deep bullpen are senior hurler Kyle Hanas (Garland, Texas), juniors T.J. Griffin (Livingston, N.J.), Jeff Hart (Greenwood Lake, N.Y.),John Martelle (Colonia, N.J.), and Rudy Morin (Dumont, N.J.), and sophomore Craig Leopold (Edison, N.J.).
Rounding out Stevens’ roster this season is a talented freshman class that boasts several student-athletes who will look to make an immediate impact in: Dan Allen (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.), Jose Arismendi (North Bergen, N.J.), Jason Fiore (White Plains, N.Y.), Andrew Golding (Pleasant Valley, N.Y.), Curt Lowenstein (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.), Matt O’Brien (Goffstown, N.H.), Shane Raymond (Easton, Pa.), and Matt Shubeck (Linden, N.J.).
“It’s one of the most talented classes we’ve ever had, which I think is saying something because we’ve had some really good classes over the last four or five years. I think they are all really coachable and they’re receptive and make adjustments quickly,” Crane explained. “Dan Allen is a guy that’s going to be a two-way guy for us as a starting pitcher and an outfielder. Shane Raymond is very good defensively as an outfielder and is very coachable and has a plus arm out there as well. Jose has a chance to be a great offensive player for us and has great hands as well and brings the total package for us as an infielder. We have two freshmen catchers in Curt Lowenstein, who will be our back-up this year and reminds me a lot of Ackermann, and Matt O’Brien, a fundamentally sound catcher that’s technically good receiving, has a quick release and is really coming along offensively as well. We also have a pair of freshmen pitchers in Matt Shubeck, a right-hander who’ll see some time in the bullpen, and Andrew Golding – who will be in the bullpen to start but we can see developing into a starter. He has good command and can throw three or four different pitches for strikes.”
Stevens will open its season against preseason No. 3 Kean University in Union, N.J. on Wednesday, February 23. The Ducks then square off with former Skyline Conference rivals College of Mount St. Vincent and Mount Saint Mary College on February 26-27, before hosting 2010 NCAA Tournament participant Skidmore College for a doubleheader on March 6.
Stevens will then embark on its annual Spring Break trip to Auburndale, Fla., from March 13-18, where the team will square off with six opponents, including preseason No. 4 SUNY Cortland and NESCAC power Amherst College. The Ducks return home for home dates against the City College of New York and preseason No. 25 SUNY Plattsburgh on March 20 and 24, respectively, before facing New Jersey Athletic Conference contenders Rutgers-Newark and William Paterson University.
After a home contest against John Jay College on March 30, the Ducks open up Empire 8 play with a four game homestand against defending conference champion St. John Fisher College on April 2-3. Following a non-conference contest with Gwynedd-Mercy College, Stevens returns to league play with four games against nine-time Empire 8 champion Ithaca College on April 9-10.
The Ducks close out the regular season with Utica College on April 30 and May 1 before facing the College of Staten Island on May 4.
Coach Crane’s Corner:
#31 Denis Ackermann * C * Sr. * L/R
#23 TJ Alcorn * IF/DH * Jr. * R/R
#50 Sal Amato * C/DH * Jr. * R/R
#3 Jose Arismendi * INF * Fr. * R/R
#4 Mike Caruso * INF * Sr. * L/R
#33 Tyler Courter * INF * So. * L/R
#18 Michael Donovan * INF * So. * R/R
#5 Shawn Dorman * INF * Sr. * R/R
#8 Jason Fiore * INF * Fr. *R/R
#41 Matt Glassman * INF/DH * Jr. * L/R
#2 Corey Linden * INF * Jr. * R/R
#1 Curt Lowenstein * C * Fr. * R/R
#21 Ken Meerendonk * INF * R/R
#25 Matt O’Brien * C * Fr. * R/R
#6 Mike Pagliaro * INF * Sr. R/R
#11 Tom Phillips * INF * Jr. * L/R
#15 Chris Tucci * INF * Jr. * L/L
“We expect a lot of leadership from our seniors. Denis particularly, as our catcher, provides a lot of energy for us behind the plate and has been helpful with the younger guys, but I think all the upperclassmen have played a role in their development and have provided the leadership necessary to get some of our newer student-athletes up to speed. Kenny (Meerendonk) is going to see time at both corner spots, but ideally we’d like to get him more work at first base and behind him we’ll have TJ Alcorn who should also see some time. At third base we have Michael Donovan and Tyler Courter, while Mike Pagliaro and Mike Caruso should see time as back-ups at second base behind Phillips. Freshman Jose Arismendi should be in a reserve role at shortstop behind starter Corey Linden.”
#35 Dan Allen * OF * Fr. * R/R
#29 Chris Daniele * OF * Fr. * R/R
#12 Russell Grimes * OF * Sr. * R/R
#14 Ryan Kiczek * OF * Jr. * R/R
#10 Shane Raymond * OF * Fr. * R/R
#44 Cory Stryker * OF * So. * L/L
“Grimes will be our everyday right fielder. To start the year, we’re looking at platooning a couple players in center with lefty Cory Stryker and a righty Shane Raymond. Both guys should do well, with Stryker having done a nice job for us last season in limited time behind Rasulo. He has a good eye, good speed, handles the bat really well and has improved his arm strength in the offseason. Kiczek and Allen should be competing for time in left. Ryan works really hard and has all the tools. I think it’s just a matter of him getting more opportunities and I think he’s going to run with it. Allen is a great athlete and can even spell Grimes in right field from time to time. We also have sophomore Chris Daniele, who’s shown a lot of improvement from last year and will back-up both corner spots.”
#35 Dan Allen * Fr. * RHP
#38 Dan Anunziatta * Sr. * RHP
#33 Tyler Courter * So. * RHP
#18 Michael Donovan * So. * RHP
#16 Kevin Mathews * So. * RHP
#21 Ken Meerendonk * Sr. * RHP
#20 Mark Poinsett * So. * LHP
#15 Chris Tucci * Jr. * LHP
# 28 Vincent Vinci * Jr. * RHP
“Kenny is going to be our No. 1 starter. He’s pitched a lot of big games for us in the past. He’ll get a lot of innings and most of our tougher assignments. Tyler Courter should be our No. 2 and he pitched really well for us as a freshman, but didn’t get a ton of run support and I don’t think his record really indicated how well he pitched. He’s been throwing the ball really well so far. Beyond that we’re looking at Mark Poinsett, a sophomore lefty who’ll be in the mix and Dan Allen who has a shot at getting some starts as well. Kevin Mathews, who didn’t see a lot of time as a freshman last year, also returns after having a real strong summer. He came back with a lot of confidence, improved his mechanics and can throw three or four pitches for a strike. Michael Donovan and Vincent Vinci could also see some time. Mike has some of the best stuff on the staff and could be a starter or a short guy for us. It’s just a matter of balancing him playing third and pitching. Vincent pitched well as a starter during his freshman year and while last year he spent most of his time in the bullpen, he thrived in that role as well. We also have Dan Anunziatta, who’s had arm trouble in the past, but looks like he’s healthy and back to throwing like he was as a freshman and Chris Tucci vying for spots. It’s still early, but I think it’ll sort itself out and we plan on giving whoever is throwing the best a shot once we get into conference play and those are some of the guys in the mix as of right now.”
#50 Sal Amato * Jr. * RHP
#18 Michael Donovan * So. * RHP
#8 Jason Fiore * Fr. * RHP
#34 Andrew Golding * Fr. * RHP
#43 TJ Griffin * Jr. * RHP
#42 Kyle Hanas * Sr. * RHP
#40 Jeff Hart * Jr. * RHP
#30 Craig Leopold * So. * RHP
#26 John Martelle * Jr. * RHP
#16 Kevin Mathews * So. * RHP
#45 Rudy Morin * Jr. * RHP
#27 Matt Shubeck * Fr. * RHP
#15 Chris Tucci * Jr. * LHP
#28 Vincent Vinci * Jr. * RHP
“Kyle Hanas has been a go-to guy for us the last three years and we know when he comes in he’s going to throw strikes and get ground balls so as long as we make the plays behind him, he’s going to be really effective. Vincent and Donovan are also going to be guys that’ll come out of the bullpen for us with good velocity and a good breaking ball they can throw for strikes. Craig Leopold as a sophomore and John Martelle, Rudy Morin, and Kevin Mathews should also be in the mix. Chris Tucci could also be used as a lefty-specialist out of the bullpen if he’s not starting. TJ Griffin is another guy who was really effective for us last year. He made a big improvement from year one to year two, so we’re really looking to him taking the next step. Jeff Hart is coming off of shoulder surgery, but he’s worked his way back and he should also be in the fold. We have a lot of depth and our philosophy has always been that the guys that throw the best as the year goes on will get the innings, so I think it will work itself out.”