(Posted February 10, 2005)

Huntingdon, PA - It seems that in today's sports world, the success of the past is often quickly forgotten, and a team will almost immediately begin looking towards the future. So when the Juniata College baseball team's record-breaking 2004 season ended in the NCAA Tournament Mid-Atlantic Regional, the Eagles turned their sights towards reaching even greater heights in 2005. And while those goals may seem lofty based on the remarkable success of the previous year, a look at the pieces that the Eagles have in place suggests that even the team's highest goals may be within reach.

Juniata claimed the 2004 Commonwealth Conference Championship for the first time since 1990 and earned the program's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991. The Eagles also established a new program record for wins in a season with its 24-17 record. Now this season, Juniata brings back three of its primary starting pitchers, along with seven regulars in the field. That experience along with an infusion of new talent has the Eagles and head coach George Zanic expecting big things in 2005.

"We really like the team we have coming back this season," Zanic explained. "We lost some big leaders from last year's team, but I think this group is as talented as any team I've had. They know what it takes to win games, and they want to reach the levels they reached last year. Our conference is very tough, but I think we should be right in the mix."

Juniata made its living last season with pitching and defense. After struggling defensively in 2003â�"particularly on the infieldâ�"the Eagle "D" was improved with the play of junior shortstop Darren Hake (Red Lion/Red Lion) and All-Conference second baseman Will Russell (Tyrone/Tyrone). First baseman Walt Goedkoop (Manheim Township/Lancaster) also earned All-Conference laurels last season and helped shore up Juniata's defense. Though Goedkoop will likely move to a designated hitter spot this season, Juniata's defense should once again be a strong suit and will help support the team's strong pitching staff.

Juniata enters the season with 14 pitchers on the roster, including seven who have collegiate experience. Senior Jayme Fye (Philipsburg-Osceola/Philipsburg) was an All-Conference choice last season, while juniors Cody Zong (McVeytown/Lewistown) Andrew Michanowicz and Eric Bridenbaugh (Central/Martinsburg) combined for seven wins, 92 strikeouts and had three of the four best ERAs on the team last season. That core group will be bolstered with the return of senior Paul Evans (Huntingdon/Huntingdon) who last played for Juniata in 2001, and with addition of six freshmen hurlers. Juniata ranked second in the Commonwealth Conference in team earned run average last season, and with continued development of the returning pitchers, and the addition of the freshmen it's not unfathomable that Juniata's staff could be better this year.

"The depth we have with our pitching is going to make us real tough, especially during the conference season," Zanic stated. "We may not have a top-level pitcher to match the best ones in the conference, but from top to bottom with our staff, I think we can match any team in the conference. We've got enough mix of veterans and younger guys that our freshmen won't have to deal with a lot of pressure early on which I think will make them better later in the year when the schedule gets tough."

While Juniata's pitching and defense look to match last year's achievements, offensively the Eagles will be looking to raise the bar from a year ago. Juniata showed some inconsistency at the plate in 2004, though the team showed a penchant for clutch hits to win tight games. The Eagles were 15-3 in games decided by two runs or less, and picked up several wins in the team's last at-bat in 2004.

Pacing the offense in 2005 should be Goedkoop who led the team in nearly every offensive category last season and finished with an impressive 72 total bases. Also being counted on for big contributions will be junior outfielder and two-time All-Conference choice David Saintz (Titusville/Titusville) who had a team-best .324 batting average last year. Hake and Russell both finished the season hitting near .300, while junior catcher Zach Sternberg (McCaskey/Lancaster) hit .291 with 18 runs scored which ranked fourth on the team. The addition of freshman first baseman Dan Kauffman (Penn Manor/Conestoga) is expected to add more power to the Eagle lineup, while junior Troy Beaver (Bellwood-Antis/Bellwood) will serve as the table-setter at the top of the order. Senior's Matt Garner (Bellwood-Antis/Bellwood) and Paul Berry (North Hagerstown/Hagerstown, Md.) will also be expected to bring some pop to the Eagle lineup.

"Last year we tried to do a lot of things to create offense like bunting and moving runners," Zanic explained. "I think this year we should be a little more versatile offensively. We still have some good speed, and some guys who can bunt and steal bases, but I think we also have some more power this year. Hopefully those things combined with guys continuing to develop at the plate will make us more consistent offensively."

It would seem to be the perfect recipe for a successful season. A deep, talented pitching staff complimented by a steady experienced defense. Add to that an offense that expects to score more runs and a roster that boasts a solid mix of veterans and newcomers and things seem to be in place for another run at a conference championship. But this Eagle squad has enough experience to know the road will not be easy. The key for the Eagles may be to forget the success of last season, and look towards the future. And it's a future that looks very bright for the Juniata baseball team.


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Contact April Feagley at feaglea@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3131 for more information.