Feb. 17, 2005
The Black Knights of Army received all 10 possible first place votes and a total of 50 points in the 2005 Patriot League baseball preseason poll, as head coaches and sports information directors can not pick their own team. The success the Black Knights enjoyed last year have earned them the top spot in the poll, as the team will look to return to the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row. Lehigh was selected to finish second and received the two remaining first place votes en route to 36 points. Holy Cross came in third with 28 points, while last year's tournament runner up, Lafayette, was fourth with 26 points. Rounding out the field was Navy in fifth and Bucknell in sixth, receiving 22 and 18 points, respectively.
Army captured the 2004 regular season title in its most successful season ever. Under the direction of head coach Joe Sottolano the Black Knights finished 37-10-0 overall and 17-3 in the League, during a season in which the squad equaled or tied 83 team and individual, school and conference records. Sottolano's peers deemed him the 2004 Patriot League Coach of the Year for his efforts. Army led the PL in both team batting with a .317 average and pitching with a 3.44 ERA overall and boasted a PL-best .320 batting average and 2.92 ERA in League play. The Black Knights ended the 2004 season ranked 12th in the NCAA in ERA, 17th in winning percentage (.712) and 27th in batting average.
The Black Knights return 17 letterwinners, six positional starters and nine of their top 11 pitchers, including three of four weekend starters. This bunch includes the 2004 PL Co-Player of the Year, Schuyler Williamson (Pensacola, Fla./Pensacola Catholic) , Pitcher of the Year, Nick Hill (Bluff City, Tenn./Sullivan East), and Rookie of the Year, Milan Dinga (Tampa, Fla./Robinson). Also back in an Army uniform is Nate Stone (Bellefonte, Pa./Bellefonte), who was named to the 2005 Wallace Watch List released recently by the College Baseball Foundation. The Brooks Wallace Award is presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year.
Not only do Patriot League coaches and sports information directors predict a repeat season for the Black Knights, but Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball, the country's premier college baseball publications, have the same vision as well, having selected the team to again win the League championship in recent editions. Additionally, Army was among 40 teams receiving votes in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll following its listing of the nation's Top 40 schools.
A key to all this excitement is the return of preseason All-American selection, Hill, to the mound. Hill became the first freshman in League history to be named Pitcher of the Year, after becoming the first-ever Black Knight to register double-digit wins, and the only player in the PL to do so all-time with a 10-3 record. The lefthander led the League with an outstanding 81 strikeouts and ranked second with a 2.60 ERA on his way to being named a Louisville Slugger All-American Third Team member last season. Sharing pitching duties with Hill will be 2004 All-League first team player, Justin Kashner (Effort, Pa./Pleasant Valley). Kashner boasted a League-best 2.57 ERA and an even better average in PL games at 2.45 last year. He led all pitchers with five wins in League matchups, striking out 23.
Also headlining this year's roster is Stone and Williamson. Stone, the team's second baseman, batted .414 with six home runs, 18 doubles and 53 RBI last season and was selected to the American Baseball Coaches' Association/Rawlings NCAA Division I All-America Third Team. Williamson led the League with 52 runs scored and ranked second behind Stone in both team batting average (.357) and runs batted in (48). The senior catcher was first in the PL with 12 home runs, second in hits (71) and stolen bases (18), and third in both RBI and slugging percentage (.437). Williamson recently joined Hill on Army's preseason All-America list when he was selected to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason 2005 All-America third team, the first Black Knight so honored by the NCBWA.
The Mountain Hawks will also be a force this season, coming off a 25-21-0 campaign, a season in which their win total was the second-best in school history. Lehigh has a strong contingent back in Brown and White this year, led by pitchers senior Jack Muscalus (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin ) and junior Kyle Collina (Bethlehem, Pa./Notre Dame). Muscalus owned a 7-3 record in 2004, with a 4-2 mark in League games. The 5-10 righthander worked 77.2 innings with six complete games; both marks were second in the League. His 20 career wins ties for fourth all-time in the League, needing only five more to share top honors. Collina battled through an arm injury last year, but went on to post a 2-4 record with a 4.71 earned run average in 13 appearances. He started three games, striking out 46 batters in just over 36 innings of work. As the team's closer, he was tops on the squad with four saves, which has drawn him serious interest from professional scouts.
Offensive threats for Lehigh this season are All-Leaguers sophomore Matt McBride (Bethlehem, Pa./Liberty Arts and Sciences) and senior Forrest Doane (Annandale, Va./McLean) . McBride was one of three Patriot League players to be recognized on the 2004 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team for his efforts behind the plate. He was sixth in the PL with a .366 batting average and accumulated a League-best 20 doubles, which was one shy
of tying the Patriot League record of doubles in a season. At the end of 2004 he was ranked sixth in the nation in doubles, producing 0.44 per game. Doane is coming off a season that saw him as the team's leader in runs batted in and home runs. His 43 RBI were fourth-best in the League, while his seven long balls were a tie for fifth.
Last year's fourth place finisher, Holy Cross, has been selected to end the 2005 season in third place. The Crusaders went 14-22-1 overall and 9-11 in the League, but with first year head coach Craig Najarian now at the helm the team is aiming for winning records all around. HC's only All-Leaguer from a year ago returns in Tucker Frawley (New Haven, Conn./Hopkins School). The junior second baseman paced the Crusaders with 24 runs and 20 RBI, while batting .328, second best on the team. In Patriot League competition Frawley was among the League's leaders in walks (11) and runs scored (16).
Bringing back a wealth of experience is senior Mike Marron (Huntingdon Valley, Pa./Mercersburg Academy) who is solid both offensively and defensively. Marron batted a team-high .346, while not committing a single error last season. Another offensive threat for the Crusaders is senior third baseman Mike Schell (Newtown, Pa./Lawrenceville) who started 34 games last year tallying up a .277 average with 35 hits, including two home runs. Schell's 20 runs batted in was a tie for team-best with Frawley.
The League's tournament runner-up from a year ago, Lafayette, was picked fourth, due in part to the loss of the 2004 Co-Player of the Year, Adam Rosenberg, and a trio of other top-notch athletes in Jason Boyd, Marcus Ward and Tom Soldan. All four former Leopards were among the League's leaders in numerous batting and pitching categories. The Leopards do return one All-League player from last year, as well as three other .300+ hitters. Frank Cortazar (Miami, Fla./Ransom Everglades) , a first team All-League selection, is back in action after hitting .309 with 30 hits and 11 RBI. Senior Adam Bucci (Trumbull, Conn./St. Luke's) and junior Ian Law (Linwood, N.J./Mainland Regional ) will step up as the team's offensive leaders, as they batted .302 and .300 last year, respectively. Bucci was third on the team with his 35 runs batted in and smashed six home runs, three of them in League play. Law recorded 48 hits with 31 runs scored and drove in 19. The 6-2 shortstop turned it up a notch during League competitions, hitting .353 and was tied for sixth in the PL with 16 runs scored.
The Leopards will rely on Brian Cope's (Whitehall, Pa./Parkland) pitching arm entering this season. Cope fared well in League games, posting a 2.87 ERA, a vast improvement from his overall 4.63 ERA. The sophomore righthander accumulated more strikeouts than any other player in PL games, with 38. His 37.2 innings pitched were the second most in the League, which in that time he held batters to a .206 average and went the full nine innings on two occasions.
Navy hopes to get back in the habit of appearing in the Patriot League tournament, after missing the postseason for the first time in school history last year. The Mids went 14-36-0 overall and 7-13 in the League in 2004, for their first-ever PL losing record while competing in the League. With a history of championship success, winning the PL crown five times, and the return of two 2004 first team All-Leaguers the Mids will focus on getting back on track.
Key to the 2005 lineup is sophomore Jared Munde (Rolling Hills Estates, Calif./Palos Verdes Peninsula), who garnered All-League accolades last year, after posting the best batting average on the Mids' squad (.356). Munde owned the second-best average in League play at .450, recording 18 hits, driving in eight and scoring six runs. Also back is Matt Lukevics (Tampa, Fla./Jesuit), who enters the 2005 season with a three-game hitting streak. Lukevics will provide consistency for the Mids, as the senior infielder recorded a team-high 10-game hitting streak during last season, scoring 21 runs and batting in 15. The only other All-League athlete from a year ago to suit up for the Mids is sophomore Burgess Nichols (Charlestown, Mass./Boston Latin), being one of three freshmen named to the first team in 2004. Burgess posted a 2-0 record in 18 appearances and inked a team-leading 3.54 earned run average. He led the team with four saves and fanned 24 batters.
The Bucknell team is full of youth ready to get a taste of Patriot League tournament action. After winning PL titles in 2001 and 2003 the Bison were unable to qualify for the postseason a year ago. BU's leadership will come from a trio of experienced players that all know what it feels like to bring home a championship.
Leading the pack is junior Kyle Walter (Mifflinburg, Pa./Mifflinburg Area) , who batted a team-best .372 last year. His totals in hits (58), runs scored (31) and runs batted in (25) were also team-highs. The 6-4 outfielder's average was good enough for fourth in the League, while his .647 slugging percentage ranked second. The 2004 All-League first teamer batted .304 in PL games with 24 hits and 10 RBI. He belted six home runs during League play, which tied for first. Senior first baseman Brian Day (Rochester, N.Y./Arcadia) returns to the lineup after finishing the 2004 campaign with a .294 average with 37 hits, including seven doubles and three home runs. Day, the 2003 Tournament MVP, scored 25 runs and recorded 19 RBI. Senior Phil Bunting (Bellaire, Texas/Bellaire) will resume his role behind the plate for the Bison this year. The veteran catcher hit .278 in 90 at-bats last season, with six doubles and two home runs.
The 2005 baseball season will kick off on Friday, February 18 when Army travels to the College of Charleston and Bucknell visits Virginia. Both teams will play the same opponent on Saturday, while Navy's season gets underway on February 19 with a doubleheader at Savannah State. The League slate will open on Saturday, April 2, pitting Army against Lehigh, Bucknell versus Navy and Holy Cross at Lafayette, as twin bill competition gets underway at noon.
For more information, be sure to check out the 2005 Patriot League Baseball Webguide, now available on the official Patriot League website, www.patriotleague.com.
2005 Patriot League Baseball Preseason Poll
|Rank||Team||Points (1st)||2004 Overall Record||2004 League Record|
|1. ||Army||50 (10) ||37-15-0||17-3|
|2. ||Lehigh||36 (2) ||25-21-0||9-11|
|3. ||Holy Cross||28||14-22-1||9-11|