(Posted February 21, 2006)

Huntingdon, PA - For the Juniata College baseball team, the famous expression from baseball great Yogi Berra can just about sum up the 2006 season, "it's like deja vu all over again." For the second-consecutive season the Eagles enter the season with a talented, experienced roster and with expectations at a very high level. The main difference comes in that this year's team has the added motivation that despite setting a program record for wins in a season in 2005 the team missed claiming a second-consecutive berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Fresh off a disappointing conclusion to last season, and with as much talent as any team in the conference, the Eagles are prepared to make sure that they don't end this season with any expectations they did not meet.

The Eagles return 21 players from the roster that posted a 25-17 record last season and claimed 15 conference victories. There are also 19 returnees who made at least one start either in the field or on the mound. Included in that group are 10 seniors who hope to make the most of their final collegiate season when the team begins the year Friday Feb. 24 in a tournament at Emory University in Atlanta. And while there is the chance that the weight of expectations and the pressure that exists with a team that looks good on paper might be troublesome, Juniata Head Coach George Zanic believes that it will prove to be a positive.

"The guys on this team have seen a lot of different things and have played some tough teams during their careers," Zanic said. "We've got some great leaders in our seniors, and they've been extremely dedicated in trying to make this a great season for us. We know people are going to come after us, but I believe in our experience and this team, I think they will handle the challenge."

There is also plenty of talent to go with the experience that fills the Eagles roster. Six players on the roster have earned All-Conference recognition during their careers and will all be a big part of the team's success. Seniors Troy Beaver (Bellwood-Antis/Bellwood), David Saintz (Titusville/Titusville), Will Russell (Tyrone/Tyrone) and Walt Goedkoop (Manheim Township/Lancaster) will join sophomore Dan Kauffman (Penn Manor/Conestoga) to fill out the top of the Juniata batting order. Each has been an All-Conference player and helped Juniata rank second in the conference in runs scored last season.

"With the group we have coming back I expect our offense to be as productive as it has ever been since I've been here," Zanic said. "We've got a lot of power in the middle of the order and guys who can get on base with speed at the top. We made big strides offensively last season, and if we continue that improvement we should score a lot of runs."

Kauffman and Russell will help anchor an infield that also brings back starters Darren Hake (Red Lion/Red Lion/) and Jason Enoch (Hempfield/Landisville) along with senior catcher Zach Sternberg (McCaskey/Lancaster) who all provide solid bats and steady play in the field. Saintz and Beaver will be joined in the outfield by senior Jesse Leonard (Shade/Johnstown) or sophomore Josh Lingenfelter (Claysburg-Kimmel/Claysburg). Sophomore transfer Steven Wilk (Blairsville/Hollidaysburg) could also find time in the infield for the Blue and Gold. All of the returning starters in the field should help the team address a slight weakness from the previous season which was team defense.

"We had some injuries last season and I don't think we ever got comfortable defensively," Zanic said. "If we can keep guys healthy and try and keep a fairly regular lineup, it should help our defense. It's definitely been a focus this preseason because with our pitching strength we need to play defense behind it.

Strong pitching has been a staple of the Juniata program over the past few seasons, and that is likely to continue again. Senior Cody Zong (Lewistown/McVeytown) captured All-Conference honors as a junior and will be one of the staff anchors. Enoch was picked as the Commonwealth Rookie of the Year as a freshman and he matched Zong with a team-high five wins in 2005, while fanning a team-best 51 batters. Seniors Drew Michanowicz (Bishop Guilfoyle/Altoona) and Eric Bridenbaugh (Central/Martinsburg) are both experienced hurlers who should find time in the Juniata rotation. Also in the mix will be junior Darius Reed (Juniata Valley/Alexandria) if he can overcome some injury issues, and sophomores Andrew Snyder (Punxsutawney/Punxsutawney) and Paul Dunklebarger (State College/State College) who have impressed the coaches with their improvements this season. The group gives Juniata the depth needed to survive the rigorous conference schedule.

"It's critical to have depth in the pitching staff with the way our conference schedule sets up, and I think we can match just about anyone in the conference in terms of pitching depth," Zanic said. "There may be teams that have a better number-one guy, but from top-to-bottom I like our staff."

There is also returning depth in the bullpen where sophomore Jeff Hayes (Indian Valley/Lewistown) returns as the closer and Brian Markovich (Northern Cambria/Northern Cambria) and Tyler Brown (Southern Huntingdon/Orbisonia) also bring varsity experience.

All-in-all it looks like the Eagles have all the pieces to put together a successful season. The experience of a senior class that has won 69 games over three seasons. There is also experience in both the lineup and the pitching staff, along with a strong desire to make up for some failed expectations from a season ago. It seems the only thing left to do is make it happen on the field. Because the coaching staff and players all realize that expectations don't equal wins.

"This team has a lot of things going for it, but the key will be how focused and dedicated we are during the season," Zanic said. "The Commonwealth Conference is always tough, and there are a lot of tough teams on our schedule. This team believes it can win the conference and make it back to the NCAA Tournament, but we've got to go out and get the job done."


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