HOBOKEN, N.J. (February 19, 2013) – After a 10-win improvement from 2011 to last season, the Stevens Institute of Technology baseball team looks to maintain its consistency and make a run at an appearance in the 2013 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship. The improvement of 7.5 games (in accordance to the NCAA record book) was one of the 25-best turnaround seasons in the nation last year which resulted in first-year head coach Kristaps Aldins being named Co-Coach of the Year in the Empire 8 Conference.
Stevens completed the 2012 campaign with a 24-18 overall record which was a vast improvement from a 14-23 ledger in 2011. The Ducks notched three key victories over St. John Fisher College, who topped the No. 1 team in the country during the Mideast Regional last season, and also picked up wins against Ramapo College (ranked 21st at the time), Farmingdale State University, Ithaca College and Drew University. All five opponents made the NCAA Tournament in 2012 with a combined record of 149-70-1.
Four of those five opponents (Fisher, No. 29 Ithaca, No. 21 Ramapo and Drew) are on the slate for 2013, with the addition No. 24 Eastern Connecticut State University, William Paterson University and SUNY Brockport. Those three schools are traditionally mainstays in the NCAA Regional Tournament. Also on the docket will be CUNYAC members, Baruch College and the College of Staten Island, who finish atop the conference year in and year out.
The Ducks swept Baruch and Staten Island last season, and will look to avenge losses against William Paterson and Brockport.
Stevens has some voids to fill from the 2012 season, but with a freshmen class of 18 student-athletes and an experienced group of upperclassmen, the future looks bright for the Cardinal and Gray. The Ducks will most certainly lean upon a strong pitching staff to compete throughout a grueling 40-game schedule over a two-month period.
Here is a look at how the Ducks will approach 2013 by positional breakdown.
Junior Curt Lowenstein (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.) appeared in 37 contests with 33 starts in 2012 and brings a rare form of athleticism behind the plate for Stevens. Lowenstein threw out 15 base runners in 67 tries last season and recorded 21 hits and seven stolen bases offensively.
Fellow junior Matt O’Brien (Goffstown, N.H.) will be the main backup to Lowenstein and is reliable behind the dish. O’Brien hit at a .333 clip in 30 at bats last season and took advantage of his opportunities. He drove in 11 runs and scored seven times with three doubles.
Freshman Ryan Donovan (Frisco, Texas) is coming off an injury in the fall but the coaching staff is eager to see his development at the catching position.
Gregg Nickels (Simpsonville, S.C.) will play an emergency role as catcher but is arguably the most versatile player the team possesses in 2013. Nickels, a sophomore, is mainly a utility infielder and boasted a .962 fielding percentage last year while driving in eight RBI in 43 trips to the plate.
Freshman James Sinodinos (Staten Island, N.Y.) is out for the season due to injury.
Stevens’ infield returns the most experience by defensive positions, and this group led the Ducks to a .964 fielding percentage in 2012 which ranked 47th nationally out of 364 teams.
Senior Tyler Courter (Glenwood, N.J.) leads the infield into 2013 as a two-way player. Courter is the early favorite to be the Ducks’ everyday third baseman. When he was not pitching in 2012 Courter batted .305 in 59 at bats with a homerun and 12 runs scored.
Classmate Michael Donovan (Frisco, Texas) has made a smooth transition to the other corner infield position after spending all of 2012 at third base. Donovan brings solid range, an above average arm, and a steady glove to first base. He ranked fourth on the team last season with a .325 average and drove in 21 runs on 39 hits, including seven for extra bases.
Sophomore Marc Calleo (Bayville, N.Y.) unexpectedly won the starting role at shortstop in 2012 and shined at the position in his first season. Calleo committed just five errors in over 200 chances at short as a freshman. He also contributed at the plate with 29 hits and 16 RBI, to go along with six sacrifices.
Nickels will fill in at any of the infield positions and is a steady defender at all of them. Nickels made numerous spectacular plays as a defensively replacement in 2012.
Three newcomers Jayson Yano (Foothill Ranch, Calif.), Nicholas Sieber (Shrewsbury, Mass.), and John Sideris (Whitestone, N.Y.) will compete for time in the infield. Yano is a promising middle infielder for the Ducks and has made a push for playing time early in his career. Sieber will contribute to the squad on the left side of the infield with an excellent glove and throwing arm. Meanwhile Sideris is a quality bat from the second base position. Infielder Michael Yorita (Irvine, Calif.) will sit out until 2014 due to a fall injury.
Stevens boasts arguably one of the top players in the region in its outfield. Junior Dan Allen (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.) will be the Ducks’ everyday leftfielder after an award-filled 2012 campaign. Allen started in 41 games, posted a .364 average and drove in 29 runs. He belted five round-trippers to go along with 44 hits and nine doubles. The junior also scored 40 runs and walked 37 times with 10 stolen bases en route to being named first-team all-conference, ABCA/Rawlings All-Region,D3Baseball.com New York All-Region and an ECAC Upstate All-Star.
Sophomore Brian Hennelly (Holbrook, N.Y.) makes the move from center to right field after a breakout freshman season. Hennelly posted the second-highest batting average on the team at .379 with 39 hits in 103 at bats. He drove in 21 runs and recorded nine extra base hits.
Sophomore Pete Prontnicki (Edison, N.J.) will mainly be used as a designated hitter but could find some time in the outfield or at first base occasionally. Prontnicki brings a strong left-handed bat to the lineup and stroked one homer with nine RBI in 2012.
Another sophomore, Ryan Mannello (Staten Island, N.Y.) could see time at all three outfield positions. In limited action in 2012, Mannello recorded 14 hits in 54 at bats with nine RBI and seven runs scored.
Just like the infield, the outfield has four ready and able freshmen who have been working hard to step in and contribute.Jonathan Toro (Sanford, Fla.), Tyler Bush (Bristol, Conn.), and Thomas Sheridan (Staten Island, N.Y.) add key depth and talent to the outfield unit. Toro could claim the starting job in center field due to a solid fall season. Bush will push for time as well and could add a promising bat to the lineup. Sheridan has impressed with his athleticism and speed and brings a quality lefty bat to the table. Bret Viola (Carmel, N.Y.) will sit out 2014 due to injury.
Courter is the ace of the staff after setting team-highs in wins (seven), innings pitched (78.2), starts (12), strikeouts (54), complete games (three), saves (two) and bolstered a 3.89 earned-run average.
Senior Kevin Mathews (Jackson, N.J.) also tallied seven wins in 2012 and will be a mid-week starter for the Ducks. Mathews is a big game pitcher and consistent strike-thrower. He tossed 55.2 innings last year with 31 punchouts and lost just once in nine starts.
Division I transfer Matt Buccheri (Little Silver, N.J.) is back on the field for Stevens after an injury sidelined him last season. Buccheri has one of the liveliest arms on the staff and should be a reliable starter throughout 2013.
Sophomore Gary Boardman (Staten Island, N.Y.) has the confidence of the coaching staff to go out on the hill and deliver big key performances. Boardman tossed 30.2 innings in seven appearances last season and is making a push to be a weekend starter for the Ducks.
Fellow sophomore Peirce Marston (Silver Spring, Md.) came on late in 2012 and tossed a shutout gem against #26 St. John Fisher towards the backend of the schedule. He pitched 22 innings as a freshman with a 2.86 ERA, surrendered just a .267 batting average and is coming off of a successful summer season in the Cal Ripken League
Junior Mark Poinsett (Ocean Gate, N.J.) was off to a solid 2012 before an injury derailed his season. Poinsett had started six contests and threw 24.1 innings before sitting out.
Dan Allen was a starter last season but will be looked upon to close games out for Stevens in 2013. He recorded 26 strikeouts in 32.1 innings and won three games. Allen will combine with freshman Jayson Yano for a potent closer combination. Yano has an excellent arm and some advanced secondary pitches.
Additionally four freshman pitchers have made a push for significant roles in 2013. Freshman right-handers Daniel McIntyre (Lakeway, Texas), Easton Obojkovits (Holmes, N.Y.) and Robert Robbins (Tallahassee, Fla.) have all been impressive in the early going and seem ready to contribute right away. Left-hander Greg Jakusik (The Woodlands, Texas) had a terrific fall and is expected to return from an off-season injury sometime in mid-march.
The remainder of the pitching staff will be mainly used to solidify the bullpen for the Ducks. All 6 of the following will be used as long or short relievers for the Ducks: juniors Craig Leopold (Edison, N.J.) and Ryan Mannello along with a slew of freshmenBridger Cohen (Chester, N.J.), Ryan Patterson (Staten Island, N.Y.), Alexander Osgood (Epping, N.H.), and Jordan Andrepont (Kingwood, Texas).
Stevens plays its first seven games of the season at Dobbelaar Baseball Field before heading off to play the City College of New York on March 13. The Ducks will then play in the SUNY New Paltz Tournament on March 16 and 17 and stay on the road for four more games. They finally return home for another string of six home tilts to wrap up March before another 11-game stretch of road contests. Seven of the final eight regular season matchups will be on the turf from April 20 to May 1.