February 16, 2012

Baseball Sets Sights On Successful 2012 Season

Check out the preseason video with John Colella and Nate Koneski

By Meredith Cook
Special to goholycross.com

The Holy Cross baseball team enters the 2012 season ready to bounce back from how it ended the 2011 slate. Just missing a fourth-straight bid to the Patriot League tournament, this year's Crusaders are hungry for another chance to reach the top. Although the squad did not have a chance to compete in the postseason, the 2011 team's overall record of 24-23-1 solidified the program's first winning season since 1991. With that in mind, all 30 members of the 2012 team have their sights set on continuing and enhancing the success laid out by the last few years of Holy Cross baseball. 

With 21 letterwinners returning, the 2012 team knows what it takes to be competitive. Amongst the 21 letterwinners, the team returns five members of the starting lineup and 10 pitchers. However, with four of the nine starters graduating, the team will turn its head to a group of new faces who did not have the chance to fully capitalize on a starting role. "I think one of the most exciting things about this team is the fact that we have a group of players that not a lot of people have seen in our league and throughout the country," began head coach Greg DiCenzo. "We have a lot of guys that are great baseball players that haven't been able to play a ton. I couldn't be happier with the guys that are fulfilling their new roles."

Leading the team in the 2012 season will be senior captains Matt Croglio (Fayetteville, N.Y.) and Chris Sintetos (Bethesda, Md.). Voted captains by last year's seniors, both players have the respect and authority to lead the team in fulfilling its goals. "Each guy has had significant playing time over their first three years," continued DiCenzo. "Croglio is definitely one of the best leaders I've seen in the captain role. He's one of the hardest working kids and wants to win more than anybody. Sintetos is a great motivator for our guys. He knows how to rally everyone one when times get tough."

Combining the experience and leadership of the team's upperclassmen and the eagerness to compete from the nine newcomers, the 2012 Holy Cross baseball team has, once again, the chance to not only make waves in the Patriot League, but around the entire New England region as well.

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

A catcher in baseball is like the quarterback in football and goaltender in hockey, a true team leader. The 2012 team's two starting catchers, senior Steve Tkowski (Bourne, Mass.) and junior Stephen Wadsworth (Wayland, Mass.) are poised to return to that crucial role. With a combined five years of experience under their belt, the two are set to not miss a beat behind the plate, anchoring a top defense. "We've positioned ourselves from a catching standpoint that if one of our guys is in need of a day off, we have another one or two guys to step in and do the exact same kind of work the first guy did," commented DiCenzo.

Tkowski, who missed all of the 2011 Patriot League season due to injury, returned to action over the summer, playing for the Brewster Whitecaps of the Cape Cod Baseball League. An All-Patriot League honoree his sophomore season, Tkowski will be the senior leader in the catching position. "Tkowski is ready to be our frontline catcher this year," continued DiCenzo. "He's worked extremely hard to get healthy and I'm expecting him to continue to thrive in the catcher role."

Wadsworth, who was named the 2010 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, returns after a productive sophomore season where her batted .310, driving in 25 runs from the plate. "Stephen is also ready to carry the load for us," said DiCenzo. "From a leadership standpoint, we couldn't ask for anything more from him."

Junior Jordan Enos (Stockton, Calif.) adds depth to the catcher spot, starting in four games from behind the dish last season. "Enos will be big for us when we need to give someone a day off," finished DiCenzo. "He caught a few games for us late into last season and did a real good job."

INFIELD
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 5/1
Starters Returning/Lost: 3/1

Three of the four infield spots will feature players that have at least one season of experience in a starting capacity. All four infield positions are the same in that there is not one senior in any of those roles. With the lone loss of first baseman Eric Oxford, the Holy Cross infield has a good mix of skill and practice, but has the capacity to grow and become the best infield in the Patriot League.

The infield's top returner will be junior shortstop Alex Maldonado (Brooklyn, N.Y.). As a sophomore, Maldonado led the team in hits (59) and runs scored (41). He's also quickly climbing the program's career stolen base record list as he added a team-best 17 steals last season to tally his career total at 30, fifth highest in program history. "Maldonado is a kid that will play down in the Cape League this summer," said DiCenzo. "Combined with his quickness and infield arm, he has the ability to make our team one of the best defenses in the region."

Sophomore Mike Ahmed (East Longmeadow, Mass.) will add to the strength of the team's left side infield. Starting in 32 games as a freshman, Ahmed is at full strength this season after dealing with the effects of a torn ACL last year. "A healthy Mike Ahmed combined with a seasoned Alex Maldonado puts us in the position to have one of the best left side infield combinations I've seen," quoted DiCenzo. "The talent of these two is crucial to our success."

Sophomore Andrew Barry (Puyallup, Wash.) returns as the team's starting second baseman. As a freshman, Barry started 45 of the total 48 games played; putting together 68 putouts and 105 defensive assists. "Barry is getting to the point where he's comfortable up the middle," commented DiCenzo. "His footwork has improved and he has worked extremely hard to become a frontline infielder for us."

Taking over the spot that four-year starter Oxford left will be Enos. Switching time between catcher and first baseman, Enos worked himself hard in the offseason to solidify the starting infield role. "Enos is an incredibly hard worker and really good around the bag," finished DiCenzo. "If we can get him solid at-bats, I think he will easily handle much of the role at first base for us."

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

The 2012 Holy Cross outfield is a perfect example of why coach DiCenzo is excited about the team's "undiscovered talent." With all three outfielders graduating after last season, a group of new faces will arise to take on the leadership role left by last year's senior class.

Starting up the middle, sophomore Brandon Cipolla (Abington, Mass.) has been appointed the team's go-to centerfielder. Making 29 appearances as a freshman, Cipolla prepared himself well enough over the summer and fall to take on the starting role. "Having Cipolla in centerfield is going to be huge for us," began DiCenzo. "He's a kid that's ready to take over. And with him, I don't think we'll miss a beat from the offensive or defensive side in center."

Junior Patrick Puentes (East Greenbush, N.Y.), who started 24 games in 2011, spent most of his sophomore season chasing a hamstring injury. Despite the setback, Puentes was a solid hitter, knocking in 22 RBI in 96 at-bats. He returns to the field 100 percent healthy this season and is ready to start in left. Sophomore Kyle Stearns (Orland Park, Ill.) spent most of his freshman season as an infielder, but made the switch over the offseason to join the outfield crew. "Stearns will definitely get some looks and games in one of the corner outfield positions," said DiCenzo.

The outfield talent also lies within a freshman. Newcomer Evan Ocello (Camarillo, Calif.) has made a solid impression on the coaching staff over the fall and vies for consistent playing time in the outfield. "From a defensive standpoint, Evan is as good as it gets," commented DiCenzo. "He's a tough kid who puts together tough at-bats. I'm excited to see how he handles our competition."

PITCHERS
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 10/1
Starters Returning/Lost: 2/1

The Holy Cross pitching staff features many of the same faces it did from last season. Besides the loss of junior John Pedrotty to the MLB draft, the majority of the pitchers are coming back with a good year of experience that will be essential for the success the team is ready to have from the mound. "There are lots of arms in this program who I know will aid in our accomplishments this season," said DiCenzo. "As a team, our pitchers have all had valuable playing time so I expect big things from them."

Seniors Nate Koneski (North Dighton, Mass.) and Croglio have been tabbed as two of the three starters for the season. Both have been part of the starting rotation for two years and are ready to thrive in their final seasons at Holy Cross. Koneski, who played in his second summer with the Cape League's Falmouth Commodores, was named the Top New England Prospect coming out of the Cape League. He returns to the mound after struggling with a high ERA during his junior season, knowing what he needs to do now to become the team's top slinger. "Nate has turned himself into one of the top left-handed arms in this region of the country," quoted DiCenzo. "His numbers were down a little bit last year, but I know he's ready to get back to where he was. His biggest attribute is his pitchability. He can throw three different pitches for strikes and knows how to locate pitches exactly where he wants to."

Like Koneski, Croglio has his goals set high for his senior season. Starting in 10 games as a junior, Croglio struck out 26 batters in 41.1 innings pitched. The senior captain, who has been a consistent starter since his sophomore season, will be the veteran guidance the pitching staff needs.

Along with Koneski and Croglio, six juniors will fill all of the other significant parts of the Holy Cross rotation. Andrew Boyce (Avon, Conn.), Chris Kono (Greenwich, Conn.), Tom Marra (Sea Cliff, N.Y.), Josh Hauser (Dallas, Texas), John Colella (Herndon, Va.) and Conor Moynihan (Worcester, Mass.) will use the important experience they gained as sophomores and turn it into even more success as juniors. "All of these guys will play big roles for us," said DiCenzo. "I expect to be able to lean on them in all aspects, whether out of the pen, starting games or closing them. Combined with our two seniors, this group of eight guys will provide the leadership we're looking for."

Sophomore Nate Walker (San Diego, Calif.) will be another familiar face in the rotation. As a freshman, Walker boasted a great strikeout-to-walk ration, collecting 18 strikeouts while only walking two batters in 20.1 innings pitched. "Nate makes teams put the ball into play," said DiCenzo. "I expect him to have a real integral role for us this year."

Adding to the mix will be five newcomers ready to vie for innings. Junior walk-on George Perrotta (Eastchester, N.Y.) will be joined by freshmen Jeremy Perron (Brandenton, Fla.), Donny Murray (Walpole, Mass.), Collin Manning (Charlotte, N.C.) and Ryan Filipowicz (Yardley, Pa.) as fresh faces ready to make an impact.

SCHEDULE

Known for playing amongst some of the country's top teams at the beginning of every year, DiCenzo and his 2012 Crusaders take no break this season. A trip to College Station, Texas to play the nationally-ranked Texas A&M Aggies starts things off, as the Crusaders travel for a three-game set beginning Feb. 24 and continuing through Feb. 26. A spring break trip follows with games at Campbell, North Carolina-Charlotte, Clemson and Winthrop. In all, the team plays in 15 games before opening up at Fitton Field on March 24 against Columbia. "Playing baseball in New England is something special," DiCenzo believes. "This team is not afraid to play home or away. These guys know what it takes to travel for the first half of the season, and it brings us that toughness that we're looking for."

The Patriot League season starts on March 31-April 1 at Bucknell and wraps up with a home series against Army on April 28-29. The Patriot League Tournament begins May 12 with the finals set for May 20. "We know that we need to compete for nine full innings in every game that we play in this season," finished DiCenzo. "With the talent we have and the experience put forth by our upperclassmen leaders, I have no doubt that we will continue to create a program built around success."