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SPRING PREVIEW: Pitching and defense will be key for 2010 Juniata baseball

(Posted March 5, 2010)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The Juniata College baseball team is looking to repeat the success it had throughout the 2000's when it won 20-or-more games in six separate seasons.

Third year head coach Tom Gibboney will rely on an experienced pitching staff and a tough, gritty defense to get the job done throughout the 2010 season.

"Everyone that saw time on the mound last year is back. We have a lot of experience coming back up and down the staff." Gibboney also likes the depth on the defensive side of the ball. "Where we don't have experience in the field, we have competition, which brings each player's level of effort up, because they want the chance to play."

Senior RHP Tyler Clifford (Homer City, Pa./Homer Center) will lead the pitching staff this season. He went 4-4 in nine appearances, eight of which were starts. His 27 strikeouts were third on the team last year.

"Clifford can compete very well in this league when he is healthy," Gibboney explained. "We will have to stay on top of him and watch his pitch counts so we can utilize him late (in the season) and keep him healthy."

Sophomore RHP Matt Regan (Downingtown, Pa./Devon Prep) led the team in earned run average (5.15) among pitchers with more than 10 innings pitched. He also had a team high 35 strikeouts as a freshman.

The team's Spring Break trip to Port Charlotte, Fla., will give the coaching staff ample opportunity to decide on rotational placement, but each returning pitcher has Landmark Conference experience.

Other returning pitchers that Gibboney will call heavily upon will be junior RHP John Love (Loysburg, Pa./Northern Bedford), junior RHP Marty Hauck (Bethesda, Md./Walt Whitman), junior LHP Chad Kulik (Johnstown, Pa./Richland), junior RHP Nathan Burkey (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley), and sophomore LHP Will Hoffman (Phoenix, Md./Dulaney).

The new arms of freshmen Josh Green (Hagerstown, Md./Clear Springs) and Andrew Groninger (McAlisterville, Pa./East Juniata) give the team two more lefties and two different looks out of the bullpen.

Anchoring the infield will be senior shortstop Andrew Kriss (Forest Hill, Md./John Carroll). He finished last year's campaign batting .267 in 105 at-bats. Defensively, he had a .930 fielding percentage, committing just nine errors in 128 chances. Kriss is a two-time honoree on the All-Landmark Conference Second team.

"He is one of the better defensive players in the conference. We expect him to be a leader in the infield but we will need a good year offensively out of him if we are going to compete," Coach Gibboney expressed.

Five players are battling to fill spots at second and third base. Senior Kyle Saxman (York, Pa./York Suburban) has the most experience at either position, but has been hindered this preseason with a sore throwing shoulder. He played in 35 games as a junior, batting .221.

Sophomore Thomas Eck (Columbia, Pa./Lancaster Catholic), junior Andrew Hirsch (Annandale, Va./Falls Church), junior Ben Sealy (Seneca Falls, N.Y./Mynderse Academy) and newcomer Cole Walter (Mt. Union, Pa./Mount Union) will compete daily for the two open spots.

The coach likes the competition that each player puts on one another. "Sealy has probably improved the most since he has arrived here at Juniata, and somehow, someway he will get an opportunity to show what he has. All five have different abilities and bring something to the table that can help this team win."

First base has a talented pool of players that will only get better with game experience. A transfer from Slipper Rock University, sophomore Russell Gray (Johnstown, Pa./Richland) will provide pop with the bat, while freshman Evan Pappas (Potomac, Md./Thomas Sprigg Wootton) is excellent with his glove. Another first-year student, Ryan Edley (Hershey, Pa./Hersey) gives much needed depth at such a demanding position.

Senior catcher Greg Hoffman (Phoenix, Md./Dulaney) will be the main signal caller for the Eagles. Hoffman, slowed offensively by a wrist injury in 2009, hit .243 with 22 runs batted in. He also threw out 15 runners trying to steal a base while sporting a .975 fielding percentage behind the plate.

Sophomore Zach Risso (Millville, Pa./Millville), freshman Chris Budd (Hollidaysburg, Pa./Bishop Guilfoyel), and Walter provide depth at the position, to give Hoffman a break from doubleheaders.

"Our catching situation is as good as it has been since I have been here. Our league has a number of good catchers, and Hoffman definitely is one of them," Gibboney stated.

Junior Johnny Martinez (Mount Union, Pa./Mount Union) will roam in centerfield. He is moving from first base to the outfield, helping to stabilize the defense. A year ago, he led the team in batting average (.347), doubles (11) and slugging percentage (.515) and was second in RBI's (29), steals (6), and homeruns (2).

Gibboney says that the offense will go as Martinez goes. "He is going to be a huge part of this team and our success. He can compete with any player in the Landmark Conference."

Playing to Martinez's right will be senior Ian Thorne (Germantown, Md./Seneca Valley). He batted .300 in 35 games, while reaching base 43.5 percent of the time.

Right field will have a host of players see action throughout the 2010 campaign. Junior Kevin Campbell (Germantown, Md./Poolesville) and freshman Chase Dykstra (Somerset, Pa./Somerset Area) are out in front as preseason comes to an end. But a deep talent pool will allow Coach Gibboney to make defensive replacements in late game situations.

The fresh faces of senior Will Houser (Harrisburg, Pa./Susquehanna Township), sophomore Matt Fritz (Schnecksville, Pa./Parkland), and freshman Mike Biglin (Cresson, Pa./Penn Cambria) supply the team with speed and athleticism off the bench.

The Eagles season will start when they travel to Florida for their annual Spring Break trip. They kick off the season against John Carroll University on March 6. Their first home event is scheduled against conference foe, Moravian College on March 20.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.