REVAMPED ROTATION, VETERAN OUTFIELD TO GUIDE HAWK BASEBALL IN 2014
Feb. 12, 2014
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. – It has been a busy and exciting offseason for the University of Maryland Eastern Shore baseball team as the Hawks have put all the pieces together for a successful 2013-14 campaign. Despite the brutal string of bad weather this winter, Head Coach Pedro Swann is excited about the prospects of UMES improving on last season’s eight win season. The Hawks will need their veteran core to help nurture a group of promising newcomers, where if meshed together, could see the Hawks take over the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s North Division.
“We are prepping this year to win the MEAC,” said Swann. “That is the goal for this team. We know errors will happen, but I know the team will play solid defense. I am expecting the pitching to hold up as well. If we put it all together, the team is going to open some eyes. It is going to be a good run.”
Let’s take a look at the Hawks this year:
The 2014 season will see UMES roll out one of its most talented and experienced outfields in recent times. Despite the loss of UMES’ all-time hits leader, Tre-von Johnson, the team returns seniors Stephen Bull (Millsboro, Del.) and Byron Campbell (Waldorf, Md.) Bull is set to take over in centerfield, while Campbell stays in right and junior Greg Turlik (Gaithersburg, Md.) will anchor leftfield.
“This is a great group,” said Swann. “We have been preaching to our pitchers that with the outfield we have and size of our park to just challenge hitters. They have the speed and talent to go get the ball. Anything can get caught between them.”
Campbell was last season’s Most Valuable Player after he hit .291 with a team-best 18 extra-base hits. The right-handed hitter will hit third in the lineup. After spending the last two years in left, Bull moves to centerfield and will stay in the leadoff spot. The local product started 41 games in 2013 and hit .309 with 30 runs. He was named a 2014 College Sports Madness Preseason All-MEAC Second Team selection last week.
Turlik will be the new starter in leftfield, where he hopes to build off a successful two-year campaign at Montgomery College. The junior was named a 2013 NJCAA All-American after hitting .333 in 53 games with four homers and 39 RBI. He helped lead Montgomery to the NJCAA World Series in 2012 and 2013.
Freshman Brock Long (Middletown, Del.) and junior Tim Gray (Dover, Del.) add depth to the group. Long is a speedy outfielder that won back-to-back state championships at St. Mark’s High School. He was named to the All-State baseball team in 2012. Gray looks to build off of an outstanding 2013 summer season, where he hit .304 with six doubles and 15 RBI in the Beach Collegiate Summer League with the Murrells Inlet Tide. His effort helped him named to the league’s All-Star Team. Gray will also see time in the designated hitter’s role as he had six hits and two RBI for UMES a year ago.
A year ago, UMES was very unsettled at three of its four infield spots. The options for the Hawks were two freshmen, one converted outfielder and a couple of reserves from the previous season. Mike Escanilla (Waldorf, Md.) won the shortstop spot, while Joshua James (Milford, Del.) claimed second base and Connor Breslin (Saylorsburg, Pa.) took third. Fast forward one year and the group is much more confident, polished and experienced.
“Last year was a big learning experience for our infield,” said Swann. “We are expecting a lot more double plays this year and less errors. Escannila and Breslin have both improved a lot. They have more confidence and the experience has helped them.”
Escanilla started all 53 games at shortstop last season and hit a .265 clip with a team-high 15 stolen bases and 12 RBI. He was named a 2014 College Sports Madness Preseason All-MEAC Second Team selection after recording 143 assists with a .921 field percentage in 2013. Breslin had 46 starts at the hot corner with five doubles and nine RBI.
James was named to the All-MEAC Second Team last season and is currently riding an 11-game non-conference hit streak. He made a solid conversion from outfield to infield in 2013 and carried a .302 on-base percentage in 52 starts.
Senior Jeffrey Fleetwood (Delmar, Del.) brings a powerful left-handed bat to the middle of the Hawks’ lineup this year and is slated to be the opening day first baseman. He hit .266 last year with 24 RBI and looks to have fully regained his health following knee surgery in 2012. Fleetwood had a solid summer with the Winston-Salem Crushers after he hit a team-best four doubles.
Freshman Skylar Murray (Georgetown, Del.) will see extensive action at first base and in the outfield. He brings a sound glove at first base and the coaching staff is confident with inserting him in the Hawks’ lineup. Junior Nick Cooper (Delmar, Del.) will be a reserve off the bench at first base, while sophomore Steffen Wilkens (Baltimore, Md.) and freshman Troy Anderson (Bridgeport, W.V.) could see time at third. Freshman Chris Adams (Brentwood, Md.) will give UMES an extra glove up the middle.
A new and revamped pitching staff has made its way to Princess Anne this season. The Hawks have brought in a new pitching coach in James Starling and improvements look to be made all around. The group is young as a whole, but will be thrown into the mix of things early to gain valuable experience for MEAC play.
“The pitching staff will be much better than last year,” said Swann. “We are young, but a lot of guys got their feet wet last year. I like to consider us an experienced young team.”
Leading the way this season will be sophomore J.P. Black (Elkton, Md.) and freshman Jesse Stinnett (Madison Heights, Va.). The pair will be the one-two punch for the Hawks in weekend contests and will be the first starters UMES rolls out against South Florida. Black had a 5.48 ERA a year ago in a team-high 61.2 innings. The sophomore had a team-high nine starts and picked up his first collegiate win with a complete-game, nine-inning, one run effort in a 4-1 win over George Washington.
“J.P. got better in every start that he had last year,” said Swann. “He is not afraid to use his fastball and we had great reports on him this summer. We are going to count on him to do big things this year,”
Stinnett comes into the year as the No. 2, but may have one of the highest ceilings of any pitcher to don the maroon and gray in quite some time. The right-hander was electric this fall with a fastball/curveball combo that saw him carve up hitters for five strikeouts in two innings against Salem in October. He went 9-1 as a senior at Amherst County High School and was named All-Region III Pitcher of the Year in 2013.
“He is a frontline guy,” said Swann. “What separates him is his ability to want the ball. That is unique for a freshman. Jesse has a good shot at being MEAC Rookie of the Year.”
The Hawks will roll with junior Devin Repine (Salisbury, Md.) as their third starter after he moves from the closing role. Despite leading the Hawks with four saves and a 4.20 ERA in 2013, the Hawks feel good with moving him to the starter’s role as they want to get him more innings. His big frame (6’9, 225) and high 80’s fastball could pay dividends for UMES.
UMES has three players that will split time between the starting and relief role in sophomore left-hander Jordan Bone (Pittston, Pa.), freshman Philip Berry (Milford, Del.) and junior Chipper Smith (Florence, S.C.). Bone is the lone left-hander on the Hawks and will see action in a number of roles. Berry is coming off of a solid high school career in Delaware, while Smith was second on last season’s squad in appearances (16) and innings (52.1).
Sophomore Will Turley (Greensboro, Md.) will convert to the closer role, while senior Bernard Parker (Waldorf, Md.), sophomore James DiBuo (Berlin, Md.), freshman Kameron Raison (Newark, Del.) and junior Michael Epps (Pottstown, Pa.) round out the bullpen. Parker had a team-high two wins in 13 appearances and Turley threw 54.1 innings with a 5.13 ERA.
Following the departure of Brandon Schott, UMES has a trio of players looking to seal the starting catcher’s job this year. Schott was a 2013 Johnny Bench Award nominee and kept the pitching staff in check each of the past two seasons. Although he will be missed in Princess Anne, the Hawks are confident that their batch of catchers will be ready for the start of the year.
Freshman Justin Dattilo (Pittsburgh, Pa.) will start opening day for the Hawks after impressing the coaches this offseason. He was a Rawlings Preseason All-American as senior at North Alleghany High School and played with the Evoshield Canes. Dattilo is set to hit fifth for UMES.
Anderson will also see time at catcher this year. The West Virginia product was an All-State first-team selection a year ago and will see a split in action with Dattilo. Junior Dustin Aigner (Melfa, Va.) can also expect to see time as he is the most experienced of the three. Aigner hit .217 last year with five RBI and 13 hits in 19 starts. He had 13 assists and 55 putouts with a .986 fielding percentage in 2013.
“Dattilo and Anderson have great arms and will get better with playing experience,” said Swann. “The group gets along well with the rest of the team and is working hard. I see Anderson also playing a little third base as well. The loss of Brandon hurts, but we are sure that between the three they can get the job done.”
The Hawks are young this season and feature just four seniors, three of which are position players. The lineup offers a little bit of everything from speed at the top, to power in the middle and situational hitting at the back end. It is diverse in playing experience, but the veteran core should lead the way in helping several make the adjustment to college ball.
UMES will need its freshman to step up early and often this year as the Hawks look to improve on last season’s record. The experienced gained by the infield last season is important and the group has impressed this offseason working together.
The biggest question mark is at the catching position, but Swann has been impressed with the hard work and adjustments made by his three catchers. Although Dattilo won the opening day job, he expects the others to see valuable action too.
The revamped pitching staff may be the second strongest unit on the team, behind the outfield core, with three solid starters and a good deal of depth in the bullpen. The team has a couple hybrids that can fit in a couple different roles and that could be valuable down the stretch.
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