p. For many American sports fans February is a time of unbridled optimism. All across the nation, professional, collegiate and high school baseball teams are dusting off the rust of winter and preparing for their spring return to the diamond. Every team has a blank slate, leaving one common thought to run through each player’s mind: this could be the year.
The scene is no different in Williamsburg, as 2008 sees the Tribe take the field with hope of a breakout season. The club returns six starting position players and a slew of starting pitchers from last year’s 29-25 squad that missed the CAA tournament by a mere game and a half, a factor contributing to the steady optimism permeating the lead in to head coach Frank Leoni’s third campaign. With seven players starting for the third consecutive season and a talented pitching staff leading the way, the Tribe is poised to successfully cap consecutive years of rebuilding with a return postseason play.
At the plate, the College hopes to maintain last season’s CAA-leading team batting average while minimizing the loss of CAA co-player of the year and third team All-American Greg Sexton.
While Sexton spearheaded the 2007 attack with his .455 batting average and 10 home runs, a deep, tenacious 2008 lineup will ensure that the Tribe bats do not go silent. Senior catcher Tim Park, who hit .391 and belted 10 home runs in 2007, and junior first baseman Mike Sheridan, who sported a .340 batting average and 39 RBI last season, will lead the offense. Statistically, Sheridan was the NCAA’s toughest player to strike out a year ago.
“He refuses to go down on strikes and that is what we are all about,” Park said.
The Tribe’s starting rotation remains mostly intact as well, as the team returns several successful starters from a year ago. However, questions about depth remain.
“While the pitching staff has increased its quality, the depth is still a question mark right now with only eleven healthy pitchers,” Leoni said.
Senior pitcher Pete Vernon will anchor the rotation, looking to build upon last year’s 8-5 mark while providing steady, quality outings to begin each conference series.
“Pete Vernon is the pinnacle of consistency,” Park said, while touting sophomore pitcher Kevin Landry and freshman pitcher Logan Billbrough as the remaining pieces in the College’s rotation.
While youth will be served among the starters, veteran guile will rule the bullpen behind a pair of hardthrowing seniors in Pat Kantakevich and southpaw Sean Grieve.
The Tribe will face its first test this weekend when non-conference foe St. Joseph’s travels to Plumeri Park for a four-game series. In a pair of doubleheaders, Leoni will throw Vernon and Landry against the Hawks Saturday, while Billbrough and sophomore Tyler Truxell will take the hill a day later.
“It will be an exciting year,” said Leoni. “Our team is focused and eager to get started.”