HAWKS SET TO OPEN PLAY WITH NEW AND FAMILIAR FACES
Feb. 19, 2009
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - After a tough 2008 season, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) baseball team is looking to its solid corps of returners along with some promising newcomers to establish itself as a team to be reckoned with in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).
The Hawks, under the direction of third-year head coach Will Gardner, finished 6-50 overall and 4-12 in the MEAC, bowing out of the conference tournament with losses to eventual conference champion Bethune-Cookman and Norfolk State, respectively.
The Hawks can only improve in 2009 after losing just three seniors from last year's squad. Gardner has been able to fortify the program with a crop of young talent to compliment the leadership expected from eight seniors.
"It's a new year," Gardner said. "The team has more depth, more speed, and a renewed spirit. With the seniors challenged to create a vigor that was lacking throughout the course of 2008, we are determined not to let history repeat itself in back-to-back seasons."
Gardner will also rely on a first-year assistant coach Eric Armstrong. Armstrong joins UMES after a solid collegiate career at NCAA Division II Peachbelt Conference member, Francis Marion.
UMES hosts 34 games at Hawks Stadium in 2009, including contests with no fewer than 10 teams that advanced to last season's NCAA Regionals. One of those tournament participants is Rider, which comes to Princess Anne to open the season Feb. 21-22 for a three-game series.
The Hawks also face Mount St. Mary's in doubleheaders at home (March 28) and on the road (April 30). Bethune-Cookman, the MEAC's 2008 NCAA tournament representative, visits Princess Anne for a three-game set April 25-26.
UMES also plays four games against ACC competition, traveling to Maryland (March 11 and April 1) and Duke (March 17-18).
Three Patriot League teams dot the schedule as well. Lehigh travels to UMES for two on Feb 25, as does Lafayette for three games, March 7-8, with Navy coming March 12 for a single game, before the Maroon and Grey return the favor with a trip to Annapolis, April 22, to complete the home-and-home.
UMES is on the road against Temple and George Washington March 4-5 and then hosts LaSalle March 12 to round games with the Atlantic 10. The Hawks also face the Big East's West Virginia on the road April 13.
Other non-conference games are against Niagara (Feb. 28-March 1), Binghamton (March 14-15) St. Peter's (April 8), Longwood (May 2-3) and North Carolina Central (May 8-9).
MEAC play begins at home versus Coppin State on March 21-22, a three-game series, and concludes against BCU.
"We've been able to maintain a pretty consistent and competitive schedule since I've been here," said Gardner. "We try to keep it fresh by adding some different programs, but, at the same time, we want to maintain relationships with some of our long-time foes, especially our in-state rivals."
The infield from last year will stay relatively intact. Russel Deutschmann (Baden, Ontario) is expected to compete with fellow senior Jorge Pichardo (La Vega, Dominican Republic) and sophomore Bryan Chaikowsky (Bethlehem, Pa.) for the spot at first base. All three could be inserted into the middle of the order for power, while Chaikowsky is the only left-handed hitter of the group.
Pichardo, who posted a .280 batting average last season, the highest of the returnees, has been brought back to the infield after manning right field for the Hawks last season. Chaikowsky is coming off of a redshirt year due to arm surgery.
The middle has been shuffled slightly with Orsini and senior Josh Dunham (Des Moines, Iowa) switching sides. Orsini was the everyday second baseman last season, while Dunham spent most of the year at shortstop. Senior Tyler Love (Palmyra, Pa.) and freshman Shaquille Bagwell (Atlantic, Va.) will also see time up the middle.
Incumbent third baseman Hercinger will be challenged by junior college transfer and sophomore Elliott Alston (Littleton, Colo.). Hercinger owned the third spot in the batting order last season, but Alston, limited by a hand injury in the fall, made his offensive presence known during the annual Maroon-Gray World Series.
The catching position will be shared by senior Mike Guy (Lake Ariel, Pa.) and freshman Ben Vasko (San Diego, Calif.). Guy had three of the team's eight pickoffs from behind the plate last season, but Vasko adds a more offensive punch.
One of the many offseason improvements to Hawks Stadium is the installation of a new infield surface. The Hawks should see improved numbers in their fielding statistics this season because of that improvement.
Vaughn is slated to start once again in center field. The reigning MEAC stolen base leader swiped 23-of-29 and should return to the top of the lineup for the Hawks.
Love and Pichardo are also viable options to fill the corner outfield spots, while sophomore John Goray (Pittsburgh, Pa.) as well as freshmen Franklin Armstrong (Trenton, N.J.) and Dajuan Stallworth (Virginia Beach, Va.) may see spot starts. Both, Love and Pichardo collected much-needed experience in the outfield during last season while Goray served as a late-inning reserve.
The UMES pitching staff is looking to improve upon a team earned run average of 10.38. The Hawks should be able to do just that with two young starters on the front end of the rotation. Emerging as frontrunners for early-weekend starts are freshman Karim Gonzalez (Mexico City, City) and sophomore Cameron Zimmerman (Harrisburg, Pa.).
Gonzalez comes in as highly touted import with a wide array of pitches and ability to keep the ball down in the zone. Zimmerman, like Gonzalez will command the zone and work in and out.
Junior Carl Huber (Mount Airy, Md.), although expected to return to the bullpen, could by time until sophomore Matt Witte (Westminster, Md.) is more prepared. Witte is rehabbing an off-season injury. Huber had impressive outings in the fall, but needs to show the ability to own the zone.
Another pitcher that may vie for early starting time is freshman lefty John DesChamps (Virginia Beach, Va.).
Senior Brian White and junior Jervonta' Wright are both expected to provide short stints out of the bullpen from the left side. Deutschmann and Armstrong will also be called upon to help solidify the bullpen for the Hawks as well.
UMES tests the new faces and the familiar ones starting on Saturday, Feb. 21 with a noon doubleheader against Rider University at Hawks Stadium in the opener for both teams. They play the third game of the series Sunday against Broncs at noon.