by Jon McMenamin
The Rowan University baseball team enters the 2013 season looking to build upon a successful 2012 campaign. Last year, the Profs went 31-15 overall and 12-6 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC). The baseball team earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Newport News Regional.
“Our expectations are always through the roof,” said head coach Juan Ranero. “We want to play in the postseason every year. Time will tell how well we will perform this year. We lost a lot of key players and guys need to step up. We should be a better team at midseason than we are at the start.”
The Profs’ infield will look a little different this season. Shortstop Marc Magliaro and second baseman Brandon Winkler will both need to be replaced in the middle. Winkler was a NJAC All-Conference first team selection, while Magliaro earned second team honors. Magliaro batted .365 with 37 runs scored, 32 RBIs, 16 doubles and two triples. He signed a professional contract as a pitcher with the Colorado Rockies and will report to spring training in March. Winkler hit .350 with a team-high 38 runs scored, 17 RBIs, five doubles and one home run. He produced a .973 fielding percentage.
Veteran Mark Benak (jr. South Plainfield, NJ/South Plainfield) is the likely starter at second base. Last year, he compiled a .357 batting average with 24 runs scored, 21 RBIs and seven doubles. His backups are rookie Evan Hughes (fr. Wilmington, DE/Alexis I. duPont) and returnee Danny Lang (sr. Williamstown, NJ/Williamstown). As a junior, Lang batted .304 with 14 runs scored, five RBIs and five doubles.
“We are looking for Benak to settle into a position after playing everywhere his first two seasons,” stated Ranero. “He has good pop at the plate and is a top of the order hitter. Hughes has impressed the coaches with his work ethic. He is a steady infielder that will serve as a backup with the potential to crack the lineup. Lang is trying to keep the consistency he showed early on last season. He needs to stay healthy.”
Transfer Ryan Williams (so. Southampton, NJ/Seneca) and Lang are battling for the starting job at shortstop. Veteran Rich Powelson (so. Shamong, NJ/Seneca) will also provide depth. Williams played in the fall at Hofstra University and previously attended Burlington County College. In 13 games, Powelson hit .217 with six runs scored, four RBIs and two doubles.
“Williams was a great high school player,” commented Ranero. “We are expecting him to have an excellent career. He has good tools and athleticism. He could be the long term replacement for Marc Magliaro. Powelson will see time in both the infield and outfield this year. He is very versatile and will be used where he is needed. He brings a lot of potential on offense.”
Casey Grimes (so. Gibbstown, NJ/Paulsboro), Sean Kelly (sr. North Bergen, NJ/North Bergen) and Rich Fagan (sr. Nutley, NJ/St. Benedict’s Prep) will all see time at first base. In his first season, Grimes posted a .288 batting average with 11 runs scored, five RBIs, two home runs and one double. Kelly batted .268 with 31 RBIs, 23 runs scored, 10 doubles and three homers. In 14 games, Fagan scored four runs.
“As a sophomore, Grimes is coming into his own,” remarked Ranero. “He is a middle of the order hitter that can drive in runs. He has improved defensively. Kelly will see time at first base and catcher. He has made dramatic strides since last year. He had a great fall with the bat and should be a top hitter. If Kelly plays like we know he can, he will have a breakout season. Fagan will get the opportunity to be the designated hitter as well. His bat will determine his playing time. We will give him a shot early in the year.”
Reigning NJAC Rookie of the Year, Kevin McMenamin (so. Maple Shade, NJ/Maple Shade) is the starter at third base. Depth will be provided by Johnny Dunn (so. Pitman, NJ/Pitman) and Powelson. McMenamin led the team with a .381 batting average. He collected 25 RBIs, 18 runs scored, seven doubles and one triple. He was chosen the Eastern College Athletic Conference Metro and New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association Division II/III Rookie of the Year and to the D3baseball.com Mid-Atlantic All-Region second team.
“McMenamin is an outstanding player,” praised Ranero. “We are looking for him to continue to improve on what he showed us last year. He is very good offensively. The experience he got through playing time and the maturity he has shown will help him become our every day third baseman. Dunn had a great fall and preseason. He swings the bat well. Dunn will provide depth as he continues to develop.”
Rowan has to replace catcher Nick Turano. He received NJAC All-Conference honorable mention after hitting .374 with a team best 41 RBIs, 36 runs scored, 19 doubles, five home runs and one triple. The Profs have three experienced catchers ready to fill the void in co-captain C.J. Szymczak (sr. Maple Shade, NJ/Maple Shade), Connor Grant (jr. Shrewsbury, NJ/Red Bank Reg.) and Kelly. Newcomers Stephen Petriello (fr. South Plainfield, NJ/South Plainfield) and Greg Myers (fr. Haddon Twp., NJ/Haddon Twp.) will also be in the mix. In 2012, Szymczak batted .324 with 13 RBIs, 10 runs scored and three doubles. Myers earned All-Conference honors at Haddon Township High School. Petriello was an All-State third team honoree. He was a two-time All-Group III, All-Conference and All-Division selection.
“Szymczak has a strong bat and we have to find a way to get him on the field,” continued Ranero. “He will see time at catcher, first base, right field and at designated hitter. Szymczak is a vocal leader that grinds and works hard. His teammates really respect him. Grant was our most improved player during the fall. He hit the ball well and became better defensively. He is pressing for playing time behind the plate. Petriello has done a great job so far. He will probably get a lot of starts at catcher as a freshman. Myers is a very good defensive player but he needs to improve offensively. We will probably have a big rotation at catcher to keep guys fresh.”
The Profs need to fill holes in center and right field with the departure of Felix Colarte and Matt Hill. Colarte hit .261 with 20 RBIs, 19 runs scored, seven doubles, three home runs and one triple. Hill registered a .338 batting average with 37 RBIs, 31 runs scored, 12 doubles and one homer. The only returning starter is left fielder Nick Kreiger (so. Manalapan, NJ/Manalapan). Scott Bruno (jr. Middletown, NJ/Middletown S.) and Powelson are pushing for playing time as well. As a rookie, Kreiger batted .281 with 21 RBIs, 13 runs scored and two doubles. Bruno had a .262 batting average with nine RBIs, seven runs scored and a double.
“As a freshman, Kreiger did a good job for us in tough situations,” said Ranero. “He looks to continue his growth as he sees a lot of time in the outfield. Bruno is a spark plug that brings a lot of energy to the team. His playing time will depend on his offensive consistency.”
Veteran Eric Perez (jr. Fords, NJ/Woodbridge) is the starter in center field with Bruno and Kreiger backing him up. Perez recorded a .291 batting average with 18 runs scored, two RBIs and one double. He also stole seven bases in seven attempts. Szymczak will most likely start in right field. Newcomers Eric Sellitto (jr. Medford, NJ/Shawnee) and Bobby Romano (so. Vineland, NJ/Vineland) are pushing for playing time. A transfer from Gloucester County College, Sellitto posted a .286 average with 38 runs scored, 29 RBIs, five doubles, three home runs and one triple. In seven games at Gettysburg College, Romano batted .333 with two RBIs and one run scored.
“After getting some playing time last year, Perez is moving to center field where he can cover more ground,” commented Ranero. “We are expecting him to pick it up offensively. Sellitto is an experienced outfielder. He hits for power and can drive the ball. His bat will determine how much he plays. Romano is very athletic, explosive and has great speed. He is still learning how to play in our system.”
There are six players competing for five spots in the starting rotation, including co-captain Steven Melchiorre (sr. Atco, NJ/Hammonton), Carlos Ruiz (jr. South Plainfield, NJ/South Plainfield), Kyle Brown (sr. Southampton, NJ/Seneca), Brian Sietsma (jr. Mahwah, NJ/Eastern Christian), Mike Behar (sr. Staten Island, NY/Tottenville) and Ryan Easterday (so. Westmont, NJ/Haddon Twp.). In 2012, Melchiorre went 5-2 with a 3.60 earned run average (ERA). He struck out 55 batters in 75 innings, while holding opponents to a .248 batting average. Ruiz moves from the bullpen where he produced a 1.50 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 12 innings. He only allowed six hits. Brown saw time as a starter and a reliever. He was 4-3 with a 3.23 ERA. Brown limited hitters to a .237 average and tallied 23 strikeouts in 30.2 innings.
“It is comforting to have a four-year starter that knows the program like Melchiorre does,” praised Ranero. “His experience and success are needed. Melchiorre is a quiet player that leads by example. He holds the team accountable. He is one of our top pitchers and we are looking for another great season out of him. Ruiz is throwing well and with a lot of velocity. He has the type of arm where he can do some good things for our team. Every time Brown has had the opportunity to start, he has done well.”
Sietsma registered a 3.21 ERA with nine strikeouts in 14 innings. Behar compiled a perfect 6-0 record with a 3.21 ERA. He had 20 strikeouts in 42 innings. Behar was named to the NJAC All-Conference second team. Easterday appeared in 13 games in relief with 11 strikeouts in 13.1 innings. This year, he will also see time at designated hitter.
“Sietsma took a tremendous jump in the fall,” mentioned Ranero. “His velocity is up, along with better command. He will compete as a starter and may also see time in relief. Behar did an excellent job for us last year. We are looking for him to be a steady force on the mound again this season. Easterday had a great fall on the mound and at the plate. He made great strides as a pitcher to become a probable starter.”
The Profs have a strong cast of relief pitchers. The returnees are Dylan Johannink (so. Medford Lakes, NJ/Shawnee), Matt Nelson (so. Allentown, PA/Parkland), Christian Rahman (sr. Maple Shade, NJ/Maple Shade), Brian Rice (sr. Cherry Hill, NJ/Camden Catholic) and Ryan Sharkey (so. Rutherford, NJ/St. Mary). Joining them are newcomers Tyler Bayley (so. Mt. Holly, NJ/Rancocas Valley Reg.), Patrick D’Ascenzo (so. Haddon Heights, NJ/Haddon Heights), Corey Feigenbaum (fr. West Orange, NJ/West Orange), Dan Parra (jr. Tinton Falls, NJ/Monmouth Reg.) and Nick Henderson (jr. Pemberton, NJ/Pemberton Twp.).
“Johannink is trying to overcome an injury he suffered over winter break,” commented Ranero. “He is working hard and throwing well. He could serve as a spot starter, middle reliever or setup man. Hopefully the playing time Nelson got last year has helped him mature. We will look to him to fill the role of Ryan Peterson. Rahman has better command than he did last season. His experience in the bullpen will be key. Rice has really impressed us with his work ethic and we are looking for a great year from him. Sharkey will be our left-handed specialist out of the bullpen.”
Last season, Johannink played in six games and struck out seven batters in 7.1 innings. Nelson went 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA in 8.1 innings, while Rahman compiled a 4.05 ERA with six strikeouts in 13.1 innings. Rice posted a 2-2 record with a 2.78 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He held opponents to a .216 batting average. Sharkey pitched in two contests. Bayley collected All-Conference first team honors at Rancocas Valley Regional High School in 2011. D’Ascenzo will be the team’s closer. He transferred from Georgia Perimeter College and Burlington County College. Feigenbaum was chosen to the All-County and All-Conference first teams at West Orange High School. Henderson played at Ocean County College in 2011.
“Bayley throws from several different arm angles,” continued Ranero. “He pounds the zone and throws strikes. He is a perfect fit for the backend of the bullpen. D’Ascenzo is strong and big with a powerful arm. He has a devastating slider and fastball that can reach the mid 90s. He will be our closer. Feigenbaum is still developing and learning to pitch at this level. Parra is a command and location pitcher. Henderson got experience in junior college. His hard slider is in the mid 80s.”
Once again, Rowan faces a tough nonconference schedule. The Profs open the season with three games at Randolph-Macon College (20-19-1) on February 23-24. The baseball team hosts Alvernia University (31-14-1) on March 12. The Crusaders advanced to the 2012 NCAA Lakewood Regional. At the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational, Rowan takes on SUNY Cortland (41-9-1) on March 15 and March 16. The Red Dragons, ranked third in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Poll, won the NCAA Farmingdale Regional and reached the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament in Grand Chute, WI. Also on the spring break trip, the Profs play Western New England University (38-13) and Washington & Jefferson College (36-10) on March 18 and March 21 respectively. Western New England won the Commonwealth Coast Conference and advanced to the final game of the NCAA New England Regional. Washington & Jefferson fell to eventual national champion Marietta College in the NCAA Mideast Regional.
“Our nonconference schedule is so tough,” stated Ranero. “Randolph-Macon will be a big test to start the season. The conference is stacked from top to bottom. All the teams are very, very good.”
In the NJAC Coaches Preseason Poll, defending conference champion Kean University (37-12, NJAC 14-4) was first. The Cougars received six first place votes. Last season, Kean won the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional and advanced to the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament. Ramapo College (35-15, NJAC 10-8) was second in the poll with three first place votes. The Roadrunners reached the championship game of the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional. Rowan was picked to finish third, followed by Montclair State University (27-13, NJAC 9-9) with one first place vote. William Paterson University (29-13, NJAC 11-7) was fifth and chosen as the dark horse. The College of New Jersey (23-20, NJAC 11-7) and Richard Stockton College (21-18, NJAC 9-9) were sixth and seventh respectively. Rounding out the poll were Rutgers-Newark (15-24, NJAC 5-13), eighth, Rutgers-Camden (15-24, NJAC 7-11), ninth, and New Jersey City University (13-26, NJAC 2-16), 10th.
The Profs open NJAC play with a home doubleheader against Ramapo on March 30. Other key dates include twin bills versus William Paterson on April 6 and at Montclair State on April 20. Rowan plays back-to-back games against The College of New Jersey on April 25 and April 26. The baseball team finishes the regular season with a doubleheader at Kean University on April 27.
“Offensively, we should have a very good team,” praised Ranero. “We need to be better defensively and our pitching needs to improve from last year. If we can hit the same or better, we will be okay. I’m optimistic that the defense and pitching will be better. We should progressively get stronger. We have a shot at being a very good team.”