Baseball 2014 Season Outlook
Experienced. Depth. Veteran. Hungry. Determined.
These are all words that were commonly repeated by the Wilmington University baseball coaching staff about the 2014 team.
That’s how close the Wildcats were to reaching their first NCAA Division II World Series last year, falling in the NCAA Division II East Regional Tournament championship game after earning the number seed for the tournament.
The only coach to lead the team in the NCAA era returns for his 10th season at the helm of the Wildcats as Brian August has accumulated a 277-183-1 overall record, and three straight Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Tournament championships and NCAA Division II East Regional Tournament appearances.
August will once again be helped on the bench by longtime assistant Rich Groff who has been around for all of August’s 10 seasons, and begins his 13th season overall on the Wildcat bench. Doug Nowell returns to the bench for his fifth season alongside August and Groff while Billy Crowe suits up for his third season on the staff. Veteran Delaware high school coach Dennis Walker joins the Wilmington staff for his first season as does Jordan Johnson, who recently played two seasons under August.
“Our goal as a coaching staff is to get better every day, starting from day one of fall practices and finishing all the way through our season,” August said. “Our staff gets the most of our players every day and hopes to instill the enthusiasm we bring into every aspect of their game. Rich, Doug, and I have been together a long time and we work off each other well. The addition of Coach Walker will bring another veteran knowledge and a new spin for the older guys. Jordan was a big part of our program the past two years and his energy and enthusiasm in the dugout is second to none.”
Prior to the start of the season, the Wildcats have already been noticed both regionally and nationally. Wilmington has been picked second in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) East Region Preseason Poll, as well as 19th in the Preseason National Poll. The Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, the poll in which the NCAA.com lists during the season, has the Wildcats 26th in the preseason while the College Baseball Lineup poll put the Wildcats eighth to start the season.
The 2014 version of the Wildcats returns 18 student-athletes from last year’s squad, all playing a part in getting the team to its deepest point of any season.
The pitching staff may be the most experienced and deep aspect of the 2014 team. Although losing an Honorable Mention All-American from last year’s team, the Wildcats return former All-Region lefty Jamie Treml who only appeared in four games last year due to an injury. Fellow junior and left hander Ray Gambone had a tremendous season as a sophomore, earning Second Team All-Region recognition in all three organizations. Junior Frank Samluk was an All-Region utility player last year and will once again be leaned on to start games both on the mound and in the infield. He was named the CACC Tournament MVP last year after batting 4-for-7 for the tournament and pitching seven scoreless innings in the championship game.
Junior lefty Rob Gore saved his best performance for the Regional Tournament last year, tossing six scoreless innings with five strikeouts against Southern New Hampshire in an elimination game. Gore and newcomer Jay Kluka, the EPAC Pitcher of the Year and All-Region 19 performer at Montgomery County last year, will be counted on as starters as well.
The back end of the bullpen will be once again anchored by senior Nick Marics, a First Team All-CACC performer last year with eight saves. He already holds the program record for career appearances, making a single season record 31 as a junior. In charge of getting the ball to Marics for the final inning will be senior Jarrett Shaffer, junior Tyler Fries, and junior transfer Ryan Douglas. Freshmen Jake Wersinger and Tyler Newton provide the ability to eat up multiple innings out of the bullpen while returners senior Tim Racek and sophomore Peter Monahan, as well as sophomore transfer from NCAA Division I UMES Chris Lopez will add valued and experienced depth when called upon.
On the offensive side of the ball, seven of the nine projected starters return from last year’s squad. All-Region sluggers Samluk, Josh Hampton, and Matt Lopes will once again anchor the batting order which led the CACC in almost every offensive category.
With Lopes handling the pitching staff and catching duties, he will be joined in the infield by Hampton at third base, Samluk at second base, and returning senior Joe Marciano (CACC All-Tournament Team member) at first base. The lone newcomer of the group will be NJCAA All-American Josh Swirchak who played the past two seasons at Frederick C.C.
The corner outfield positions will be occupied by returning juniors Sam Goines (NCAA East Region All-Tournament Team) and Jon Castro, with newcomers Brody Tennant and Jesse Long competing for the spot in center. Senior Kyle Lindstrom’s experience provides August with another strong starting option in the outfield.
Lindstrom will also battle for time as the designated hitter along with infielders Brendan Fallers, Mike Annone, Christian Adorno and Tyler Hawthorne, backup catchers Mike Jerminski and Nick Trimarco, and outfielders Tory Manfre and JR Gregory.
“We are going to use the first two weeks, our two spring trips, to let guys fight for spots in the lineup,” August continued. “By the second week of March, we really know what our identity is and can go into the CACC portion of schedule from there.”
The season starts with three games in Petersburg, Va., allowing the team to get out of the Northeast and onto a diamond. The team will play PSAC opponents Mercyhurst and Mansfield, as well as NE-10 foe St. Rose.
The first chance to catch the Wildcats at Wilson Field at Jim Sherman Sr. Stadium is now on March 11 against West Chester, as the weather has moved the four game series against Indiana (Pa.) to Diamond Nation in Flemington, N.J.
The Wildcats have unanimously voted to lead the pack going into the CACC Tournament, looking to make it a fourth straight Conference Tournament Championship. The path to the tournament starts with their first CACC game scheduled on March 13 at Chestnut Hill, last year’s CACC Tournament runner-up.
“The preseason rankings are not surprising after the year we had last season,” August concluded. “But they still have to play the games. They have put in the work starting in the weight room and this spring, and now it’s time to play some baseball.
“This team is hungry. We have guys that have won every CACC Tournament since they’ve been here. We were at the brink of the World Series last year and a taste. They have high goals and want to get back and make even more noise in the regional.”