Feb. 18, 2009
Interview with Head Coach Gene Depew
2009 Bucknell Baseball Schedule
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Despite snow flakes falling to the ground in Lewisburg on Wednesday, it is officially baseball season for Bucknell as the Bison open their 2009 campaign this weekend with a four-game set at Virginia. Bucknell and the Cavaliers will square off in a 4 p.m. game on Friday. On Saturday the two squads will play a doubleheader, while Sunday will feature a single contest.
The Bison, who are picked to finish in a tie for fourth with Lafayette in the Patriot League Preseason Poll, are coming off a year when they won 30 games for the third time in program history, claimed their fourth Patriot League title and won an NCAA Tournament game over Florida State.
Led by sixth-year head coach Brian O'Connor, Virginia returns 19 letterwinners from the 2008 squad which went 39-23 while reaching the ACC Championship Game and earning the program's fifth straight NCAA tournament berth. Four of the Cavaliers' top six hitters from that team are back for 2009.
Bucknell is in a fortunate situation this year, having played a school-record 56 games in 2008 as it claimed the Patriot League Tournament title and won an impressive 7-0 NCAA Tournament matchup with powerhouse Florida State behind the pitching of then-senior Mathew Wilson. The Bison played 11 of those games after May 1 and went 8-3 during that postseason stretch, gaining valuable experience during that time.
"Last year's postseason run gave the younger guys who are now the cornerstone of this year's team a chance to work and develop, and as a coaching staff we saw a lot of progress in the players," commented Bucknell head coach Gene Depew, who enters his 28th season just two wins shy of 500 in his career. "Final exams ended in early May and then we got to concentrate solely on baseball. The four weekends we got to play in succession gave us a chance to make progress and that is going to carry over into this year."
While many current Bison performed well last year, six starters departed, leaving a number of holes to fill. The largest of those holes resembles a crater as five-time All-Patriot League player Jason Buursma graduated and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals last June. The most decorated player in program history, Buursma, who led the team in hitting and led the Patriot League in ERA, is listed among the top 10 on 17 Bison career lists and 10 single-season lists.
Despite the loss of Buursma and his classmates, Bucknell returns three of the top six hitters from last season's squad that became the first No. 4 seed in Patriot League history to win the postseason tournament. Additionally, half of the team's starting rotation returns with another year of experience.
"Our goal is to take the potential we have and make progress throughout the year so we can compete for the (Patriot League) title at the end of the year," said Depew, who has guided the Bison to four Patriot League titles since 1996. "That is pretty much what happened for us last year."
Buursma and Wilson will surely be missed, but the sophomore class is ready to step in and fill the gaps on the young pitching staff. Sophomores Eric Jarrett and Dylan Seeley started nearly half of the team's games on the mound and combined for nine victories as rookies in 2008. Both also earned starting nods in the NCAA Tournament and should move up in the rotation in 2009.
"Both Eric and Dylan showed great potential last year," said Depew. "Dylan, especially, this fall looked like he has made progress and I have high expectations for them."
Additionally, Depew sees fellow second-year hurlers Trey Frahler and Daniel Hart challenging for spots in the rotation. Frahler earned three starts last year and came on in relief 15 times, while Hart started once in his eight appearances.
"Trey and Dan are both tall, hard-throwing right-handers who work hard," praised Depew. "We are hoping one, if not both, of those guys can step up."
Senior Sean Driscoll, who along with classmate Chris Yamaguchi missed 2008 due to Tommy John surgery, could be the veteran leader in the rotation.
"Sean was a contributor for us as a sophomore and he continued to show improvement throughout the fall as he got more comfortable," said Depew. "I think Sean could step up and be one of our starters."
Yamaguchi, senior Jimmy Murphy and junior Michael Dallanegra will provide a veteran presence in the bullpen, while junior Andrew Clarke has the ability to start or relieve. That experienced quartet has 60 career appearances to its credit, with most coming out of the bullpen.
Jack Boehm, a right-hander with good potential, and Cal Tracy are the two pure pitchers from the freshman class and they will add depth to the solid pitching staff. A number of other first-year players will split time between other positions and pitcher.
Much like many other positions on the diamond, Depew will be working in a new starter at catcher. However, he is very comfortable with that idea given the veterans at that position. Senior Zachary Brown and junior B.J. LaRosa will likely battle for the starting position, while junior Kevin Drozin will be in the mix as well. Brown, who hit .413 in 46 at bats last year in a reserve role behind Shawn Hirsch, and LaRosa, who had a pair of doubles among his seven hits, are a little stronger offensively and could also DH, while Drozin's defense is slightly ahead of his bat. Additionally, freshman Scott Reed is talented and could earn some playing time.
"The experience at catcher is a bonus," explained Depew. "It is always good to replace a very good player with upperclassmen who have been in the system and have some experience. It's not like we are starting over."
Mark Angelo played in a Bucknell record 56 games at first base last year, leaving very little time for others to get on the field at that position. This year, sophomore Doug Shribman, who will likely concentrate on playing the field rather than splitting between the mound and first base like he did as a freshman, will likely begin the season as the starter. He appeared in just three games at first base a year ago.
Freshmen Ryan Ebner, who is a member of the Bison men's basketball team as well, and Russell Seidell are both two-way players who will see time on the mound as well as at first base.
Bucknell should be very strong up the middle this year with the return of juniors Ben Allen (SS) and Ben Yoder (2B). Both are two-year starters who were All-Patriot League selections last year. Allen hit .312 and scored a team-high 46 runs from his leadoff position in the batting order, while Yoder's .318 average was second-best among returning players.
"If you had to choose positions where you have experience, it would probably be those two," explained Depew. "They work very well together. Both are talented offensive and defensive players and we are pleased to have them."
Senior Hunter George, who hit .308 in limited at bats last year and could also DH, will back up Yoder at second base, while freshman Alex Cillo, who will also pitch and possesses possibly the best arm on the team, will play behind Allen at short.
Bret Sokirka, a former middle infielder who played second base in place of an injured Yoder during much of the postseason last year, will move to third base this season to replace two-year starter Ed Rubbo. The senior scored 13 runs and drove in eight more in limited playing time.
"As a senior and an everyday player for the first time, Bret should be set to have a solid year," predicted Depew.
Sophomore Billy Lupo and freshman David Duffett will also see playing time at third base.
Senior Dane Grandizio, who like Allen and Yoder was an All-Patriot League selection last year, is one of two returning starters in the outfield along with junior Andrew Brouse. Grandizio, a center fielder, hit .333, led the team with 13 stolen bases and was tied for third with 35 runs batted in last year when he appeared in 51 games.
"Dane has all the tools," commented Depew. "He put it together at the end of last season and we have high expectations for this year. He is the fastest guy on the team and might be the fastest in the Patriot League. He should hit somewhere near the top of the order and should be one of the keys as to how we go offensively."
Brouse is expected to hold down right field after hitting .292 with three home runs and 20 RBIs last spring. He is the lone returning starting position player to not earn All-Patriot League honors in 2008, but could have those honors in his sight with a solid year.
"We are fortunate that Andrew was pretty much an everyday player for us last year," said Depew. "He had a very good year and an excellent summer. He probably has the strongest throwing arm in the outfield."
Senior Andrew Loucks, who hit .320 in 25 at bats last year, gives Bucknell another experienced outfielder, while Drew Constable, who drove in the winning run at Army in the clinching game of the Patriot League semifinal round, and Joseph DeMarzo are a pair of talented sophomores who could earn playing time at any of the outfield positions.
Freshmen Bobby Donato, a native of nearby Williamsport, Mark Figgie, Matt Lamore and Gerald Runyan will also battle for spots in the outfield. Figgie and Lamore should also see some time on the mound.