February 15, 2011

Baseball Ready To Return To The Top In 2011

By Meredith Cook
Special to goholycross.com

Holy Cross looks toward the 2011 season with excitement and high expectations, knowing that it was one step away from making its first NCAA tournament appearance in over 30 years last season and returning a lineup filled with championship-level experience. The 2011 Crusaders hope to continue their record-breaking offense while returning a core of players who are solid defensively and strong on the mound.

This year's squad returns a total of 20 letterwinners, all who were critical parts of the team that broke school records in nine batting categories in 2010, including batting average (.319), slugging percentage (.477), at bats (1,785), runs (367), hits (569), doubles (114), home runs (45), total bases (852) and RBI (340). Leading the group of returners will be senior captains Jack Laurendeau (Sudbury, Mass.) and Eric Oxford (Danvers, Mass.), two players who have the experience and ability to direct the team back to the Patriot League Championship series.

The 2011 Holy Cross team possesses talent at all aspects of the diamond and will rely on the familiarity and talent of its returners. Twelve newcomers add critical depth and will join the veterans with hard work ethic and skill, leading the team to another shot at the Patriot League title.

PITCHING
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 8/5

The Crusaders will look no further than three junior starters to lead the rotation. Juniors Matt Croglio (Fayetteville, N.Y.), Nate Koneski (North Dighton, Mass.) and John Pedrotty (Portsmouth, R.I) have earned their spots in the squad's starting rotation and all possess the experience needed to get the job done on the mound.

"My biggest hope is that everyone gets a little bit better than they were last year," said head coach Greg DiCenzo. "If everyone comes back a little bit better than how they were at the end of last season, then we are in really good shape. And that's the case with all of our pitchers; each one of them has definitely gotten better."

Koneski comes back as the team's top starter, earning second team All-Patriot League accolades after going 6-2 with five complete games and one save a year ago. He posted a 3.74 ERA in 77 innings of work, making 11 starts and striking out 51 batters. Koneski also spent the summer with the Cape Cod League, seeing time out of the bullpen and finishing with a 0.98 ERA in 18.1 innings of work. "Nate played really well over the summer and comes off a season where he pitched in some of his best games," said DiCenzo. "If he comes back with the same type of pitching caliber, and even better than where he left off, then we are in great shape."

Adding to the starting rotation will be Pedrotty and Croglio. Croglio started 10 contests as a sophomore, pitching a total of 44.1 innings and finished with an 8.32 ERA. Pedrotty spent all of his sophomore season coming out of the bullpen, making 22 appearances and collecting a 5-1 record. "Croglio has definitely worked on his consistency and if he continues to throw strikes, he is apt to have a very successful year," continued DiCenzo. "Pedrotty is an 88-92 mile-per-hour fastball guy with a good, hard slider. He comes back in the new starting role, and along with Koneski, has the ability to deliver the punch outs we need," finished DiCenzo.

Mixing in to the fourth starter spot are sophomores Vaughn Hayward (Glendale, R.I.) and Tom Marra (Sea Cliff, N.Y.). Each saw time in the starting role last season, proving their capability to return to the mound as starters in 2011. Marra had an ERA of 6.43 in 21.0 innings of work while Hayward started four contests, collecting a 2-3 record.

Taking over the team's closing role will be sophomore John Colella (Herndon, Va.), replacing Ryan George, who finished his career with the program's top number of saves (13). After making nine appearances on the mound as a freshman Crusader, Colella blossomed over the summer, playing for the New York Collegiate League's Elmira Pioneers. There, he posted an ERA of 0.00, mounting 13 saves and 37 strikeouts. DiCenzo looks for Colella to continue his success into 2011, saying, "Colella is an upper 80's guy, with a good changeup and slider.He spent the entire summer in the closing role, earning All-NYCBL accolades, proving to us that he can close out our games as well."

The squad also looks to sophomores Andrew Boyce (Avon, Conn.), Josh Hauser (Dallas, Texas) and Chris Kono (Greenwich, Conn.) to fill in the rest of the pitching duties while newcomers Nate Walker (San Diego, Calif.), John Kearns (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Conor Moynihan (Worcester, Mass.) bide for playing time.

CATCHING
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 3/0
Starters Returning/Lost: 2/0

Holy Cross enters the 2011 season with a more practiced duo behind the plate than it did one year ago. Sophomore Stephen Wadsworth (Wayland, Mass.) made 39 starts at catcher as a freshman in 2010, won Patriot League Rookie of the Year and was named to the second team All-Patriot League. "Wadsworth was a great first year player for us," commented DiCenzo. "He handled the pitching staff very well and he's an ultra competitor. I'm expecting him to be even more polished defensively this year."

Junior Steve Tkowski (Bourne, Mass.) was also a second team All-League selection as a designated hitter, registering a Holy Cross single-season record with 21 doubles last season. Both finished with a batting average above .300, as Wadsworth hit .348 while Tkowski batted .333. "Tkowski returns as one of our best middle lineup guys," says DiCenzo. "He had a really good offensive year for us last year and I think we'll see big jumps from a defensive standpoint with him this season. I definitely see both Steve and Stephen splitting time behind the dish for us and doing well."

INFIELD
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 3/3
Starters Returning/Lost: 2/2

With the graduation of Matt Perry and John Sills, the Holy Cross infield will definitely make use of some fresh legs, guided by senior captain Eric Oxford at first base. Oxford leads a young infield after making 50 starts last season, recording a Holy Cross single season record of 414 putouts and turning a squad-best 37 double-plays. He is also a threat at the plate after batting .302 and knocking in 38 runs last season. "Oxford is one of the best defensive players I have ever coached," commented DiCenzo. "He is a hard-nosed, blue collar type player that I can build my program around."

The other familiar face in the infield will be sophomore Alex Maldonado (Brooklyn, N.Y.), who will spend most of his time at the shortstop position. Maldonado made 36 starts as the team's shortstop last year and will look to be a huge factor in the team's defense, improving on his 16 errors from his freshman year. Maldonado also adds important speed, as he stole 13 bases in 2010, second-highest on the squad. "Alex is ready to settle in at his shortstop position," continued DiCenzo. "He had an up and down year for us defensively last year. When he was up he was as good as it gets and when he was down, most of his mistakes were freshman mistakes. He's learned from that and I don't think will miss a beat for us this year."

Filling in the gaps at second base and third base for Perry and Sills will be a young crowd, all who are more than ready to step up to the challenge of taking on a starting role. Freshman Andrew Barry (Puyallup, Wash.) leads the list of potential starters at second base, coming to Holy Cross after playing four season of varsity baseball at Puyallup High School. While there, Barry won the team's Golden Glove Award as a senior and was named first team All-South Puget Sound League as a sophomore and junior. "Barry will definitely help us out there defensively," said DiCenzo. "All in all I don't think our middle infield will have any problems handling the ball once it hits the ground. We've worked hard at it and these guys are the best ones to make outs."

Four young players will vie for the starting role at third base, including sophomore Zach Burdeau (Andover, Mass.) and freshmen Mike Ahmed (East Longmeadow, Mass.), Ryan Doerhoff (Flower Mound, Texas) and Kyle Stearns (Orland Park, Ill.). Burdeau made eight appearances last season, recording two RBI in nine plate appearances. Ahmed comes to Holy Cross after playing three seasons of varsity baseball at East Longmeadow High School, garnering first team All-Western Mass. accolades as a junior and senior. Doerhoff spent four seasons as a varsity third baseman at Trinity Christian Academy and was named the 2010 TAAPS 5A Conference Offensive Player of the Year and first team All-District. Stearns rounds out the contenders, coming from St. Rita High School where he spent two varsity seasons as a middle infielder, batting .415 his senior year and leading his team to a second place finish in the state championship. "Each one of these guys is as capable as the other to handle their role at third base," finished DiCenzo. "Whoever settles in to this role will be there for long run as they all have honed in to their skills defensively, proving that they can all battle for the top spot on the diamond."

OUTFIELD
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 5/0
Starters Returning/Lost: 3/0

Unlike the infield, the Holy Cross outfield will be full of senior leadership and experience as all three starters from last season return to their positions in 2011. Highlighting the Crusaders outfield spots will be seniors Nick Ciardiello (Edison, N.J.) in leftfield, Brendan McCrea (Hicksville, N.Y.) in center and Jack Laurendeau in right. The three are both on point defensively, but also make waves at the plate as Ciardiello ranked second on the team with a .368 batting average, driving in a team-high 57 runs and hitting 10 home runs to lead the team as well. "Nick comes back as one of our best bats and continues to work hard at pushing runs home," said DiCenzo. "He has that power at the plate that can scare pitchers and I expect him to capitalize on that this year."

Both Ciardiello and Laurendeau took home All-Patriot League honors, with Ciardiello a second team pick and Laurendeau earning first team accolades. Laurendeau had a breakout season for the team in 2010, finishing with a .355 batting average and stealing 18 bases in 22 attempts, placing his second on the Holy Cross single season records list for steals. He hit a team-high four triples and scored 46 runs. "Jack has worked real hard at maximizing his talents," commented DiCenzo. "He has worked on all of the elements to become a successful ball player, from base running, to executing offensively and from a defensive standpoint, I wouldn't want anyone out there other than him."

McCrea returns as the starting centerfielder for his fourth straight season. As a junior, McCrea made just three errors in over 100 chances while recording 101 putouts. He also scored 32 runs and recorded 27 RBI at the plate. "Brendan has seen a lot action for us in the outfield over his career. I am very comfortable with him out there and expect him step up with our other two seniors," said DiCenzo.

Sophomore Patrick Puentes (East Greenbush, N.Y.) and junior Chris Sintetos (Bethesda, Md.) will add to the team's depth in the outfield. Puentes returns as a key part of the team's record-breaking offense from last season, hitting out five home runs and recording 17 RBI in 77 at-bats as a freshman. He made 17 starts in the outfield as well, making just one error in 32 chances. Sintetos started nine games in the outfield as a sophomore and looks for more playing time in his third season as a Crusader.

SCHEDULE

Known for playing amongst some of the country's top teams at the beginning of every year, DiCenzo and his 2011 Crusaders take no break this season. A trip to Baton Rouge, La. to play the nationally-ranked Louisiana State Tigers starts things off, as the Crusaders travel for a three-game set beginning Feb. 25 and continuing through Feb. 27. "When we play big teams like LSU, who on paper are of the top tier, it exposes things you need to work on as a team," said DiCenzo. "From controlling the running game, to executing offensively and making routine plays defensively, all of those things are exacerbated when you play teams like LSU. That's why I enjoy playing those kinds of teams early in the season. It enables you to address those situations head on and get better from them."

In all, Holy Cross will play in 29 road games and 22 home games. After the trip to Baton Rouge, the Crusaders travel to North Carolina-Wilmington for a round-robin weekend against the Seahawks, Villanova and St. Joseph's from March 5-6. The team's early season road trips continue to Gardner Webb and finish with an appearance in the Terry Sisisky Classic, hosted by Virginia Commonwealth and also featuring Princeton from March 11-12.

The home slate starts with a series against Albany and St. John's on March 18 and 19. After a mix of home and away games against locally-based Connecticut, Boston College, Columbia, Massachusetts and Harvard, the Crusaders will open Patriot League play with a four-game  set at Army on April 2-3.

Holy Cross also travels to Lafayette for conference play, while hosting Bucknell, Navy and Lehigh. As has been the custom, Holy Cross' schedule will be lined with Tuesday and Wednesday 5:00 p.m. games against out-of-state non-conference foes, including Hartford, Marist, Central Connecticut, Dartmouth, Brown and Yale and Siena.

"I like to feel like I am changing the atmosphere of the program," finished DiCenzo. "We're going to flick the lights on and play later games, helping us get that home field advantage. I want teams to come off the bus and not want to play us at Fitton Field. And I think we are at the point where teams are not looking at us on their schedule and thinking we're an easy win. I believe that with the talent we have and the schedule that's in place will help us get back to where we were last year and even farther."