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2008 York College Baseball Preview

The York College baseball team enters the 2008 campaign with very high expectations coming off a CAC regular season championship and a run deep into the NCAA Tournament. Paul Saikia’s Spartans finished last year with 32 wins and placed third at the Ferrum Regional of the NCAA Tournament.

Saikia welcomes back a large core of last year’s team as the green and white looks to capture a return trip to the NCAA Tournament and another CAC championship.

“I like the fact that we have so many guys who experienced the success we had in 2007. Hopefully, the desire and expectation of our returners to do more great things will help keep us on path. I think another great effort could result in a championship and another bid.”

Saikia’s everyday lineup features seven returners while the pitching staff returns three starters and a few members of the bullpen. In addition to a quality core, Saikia has added a very talented cast of newcomers who will have the opportunity to make an impact for York.

“We only graduated a few seniors from last year’s team. But they were key components—including the school’s all-time wins leader and a guy who signed a professional contract. I certainly don’t expect anyone to take their place. I think our success this year will require all those returning starters to play a year better and for a few of our freshmen to make a solid contribution. I feel confident we have the personnel to do that.”

The Spartan lineup should be an impressive one. Senior Mike Santoro returns behind the plate while the right side of the infield, sophomore Anthony Anzalone at first base and junior Ryan Craig at second, also returns intact. Last year’s left side of the infield, third baseman Bryan Bednarzyk and shortstop Jeff Young, must be replaced by Saikia, but the Spartan mentor feels he has a talented group of players who will be able to replace the talented duo. The York outfield also returns as junior Ryan Poff is back in center. He will be flanked in left by sophomore Mike Connolly and in right by
senior Dennis Maxim.

“We should score some runs. We have decent power and good left-right balance. One of the ways to gage a lineup is to look at the bottom. We think the guys who are going to be hitting in the eight and nine spots for us are pretty good hitters, which probably says a lot about the heart of the order.”

Santoro returns for his second year in the green and white looking to build on a year in which he earned second-team All-Capital Athletic Conference accolades. Mike hit .321 with 35 runs scored, 31 RBI, 11 doubles, and four home runs in 2007. He has devoted much of his off-season work toward strengthening his defense, and has made significant improvement, particularly with his throwing. Mike provides leadership for the Spartans behind the plate as one of the team’s captains. After calling on him to catch almost every inning last year, Saikia hopes to be able to rest Santoro a bit more this season by turning to sophomore Jim Meehan, who has made tremendous strides since his freshman year. Meehan has blossomed into a quality understudy to Santoro and should have the opportunity to see field time behind the senior. Meehan has a strong arm and has improved in his decisions in pitch selection, his blocking, and his framing of pitches.

“I think we are in good hands behind the plate. Mike has a lot of experience and a very good sense for
handling our pitchers. Coach Scappa and I are impressed, as well, with the emergence of Jimmy Meehan and feel he has developed into a reliable alternative.”

Anzalone anchors the Spartans at first base as the sophomore hit .302 with 38 RBI, 24 runs scored and nine doubles in 2007. Anzalone is an outstanding defensive first baseman who makes his other infielders better with his ability to pick balls in the dirt. He will hit at the top of the lineup, as his plate discipline should provide York with a good left-handed hitter in a key position in the line up.

C.T. Stanley will be Anzalone’s backup at first but Stanley will have the opportunity to get at bats in the designated hitter spot. Stanley has tremendous offensive potential at the plate. He uses the whole field and hits with great power all around the park. Saikia will work hard to find at bats for the talented freshman.

“We were fortunate to have Anthony last year as a very refined freshman first baseman. We look to him to keep developing as we do C.T., who gives us a legitimate right-handed stick with power. They are both outstanding players.”

Craig comes off a breakout sophomore year that saw him hit .312 with 38 RBI, 31 runs scored, and team-highs with 17 doubles and four triples. He also had one home run for the year. He was outstanding for the Spartans defensively as well, committing only four errors in 190 chances in the field. Craig is slated to hit in the two spot where his patience and bat control should provide the heart of the order with plenty of RBI opportunities.

Freshman Brian Reutter provides Craig with a talented understudy who is solid defensively while also possessing the ability to drive the ball at the plate. Reutter is a hard-nosed player.

“Ryan does a good job of taking care of the ball—nothing flashy, but very steady. I like the fact that he is so adept at driving the ball to all fields. It gives us some pop, not just a bat handler in the two hole. Brian is still learning, but we like his aggressiveness and his balanced swing.”

At short, Saikia will have senior Tim Frisch and freshman Kyle Cook share the duties. Frisch will start most days while Cook will take over the duties when Frisch moves to the mound to assume his spot in the starting rotation. Frisch spent last year behind Young, a three-time All-CAC performer, as Frisch was the Spartans’ number two starter. Frisch is a smooth fielder with a great arm. He got limited at-bats last year but Saikia is convinced he will hit in an every day role. Cook is a newcomer who Saikia believes has a high ceiling. Cook is a hard-nosed player and a leader on the field. He is a scrappy hitter who will continue to improve as the season progresses.

“My hope is that we won’t take a big hit at short like most teams would after losing a player like Jeff Young. Tim is a senior with very good tools and significant experience, and Kyle is a gamer who I feel is going to make a major contribution over his four years.”

Third base is another position where the Spartans will have a new starter but again, Saikia feels very secure about who will man the position. Sophomore Steve Pokopec and Rob Klinck will hold down the position. Pokopec has good hands and a solid arm. He is a mature hitter who brings some pop to the plate. Pokopec will also see some time on the mound. Klinck is solid defensively and is developing into a good line drive hitter. Klinck is a very balanced student-athlete with a great collegiate career ahead of him.

“Third base is such a critical spot and such a tough place to have a freshman, but I like our guys. If we can keep them loose and keep them both involved, I think we can mature at third pretty quickly.”

Poff returns for his third year as a starter. The former CAC Player-of-the-Year heads into his junior year as one of the top offensive players in the region. Poff hit .330 with 46 runs scored, 29 RBI, 11 doubles, two triples, and four home runs last year. He has continued to improve his play in center, becoming an above average defensive player. At the plate, he will hit in the heart of the lineup and has the potential to be a huge run producer for the Spartans.

Poff will be backed up by freshman Greg Case and freshman Joe Doyle. Case is a hard-working player who is a very solid defender and a tough out at the plate. Doyle, who will also see time out of the Spartan bullpen, is a good left handed stick with a physical presence.

“I think Ryan did an admirable job last year of playing through the pressure of his sophomore season. The expectations for him after maybe the greatest freshman year our conference has ever seen were unreal. I think he is in a better spot now, with more of the hitters around him having success and experience of their own. We like Joe Doyle a lot—one way or another I think he will be a factor this year.  Greg is one of those scrappy guys you love to have as an option.”

In left, Connolly returns after a stellar freshman year that saw him hit a team-leading .388 with 31 runs scored, 29 RBI, 10 doubles, and a pair of home runs. Connolly had a .485 slugging percentage while he had a solid .454 on-base percentage. He has worked hard to improve as an outfielder and is becoming a good defensive player. Connolly is a classic line drive hitter who is developing power to all fields.

Joining Connolly in left is freshman Devin Harbold. Harbold is another member of the Spartans’ outstanding recruiting class. He is a good athlete with excellent speed who will make himself into a factor for the Spartans.

“Mike is a great hitter. He needs to stay inside himself and do what he does best. When he does, he is a very tough out. We’re very excited about his development in the outfield as well. Devin has good wheels and drives the ball well to all fields. I think over the course of his career he should do some serious damage.”

In right, Maxim begins his final year in the green and white as a Spartan captain. He is a tough, physical presence who has the ability to drive the ball with great power. Maxim is a good outfielder with a plus arm in right. It is key for Maxim to get off to a good start as he can carry a team when he is hot at the plate.

Freshmen Chris Young and Cody Kaiser will provide great depth for the Spartans behind Maxim. Young is an outstanding prospect who will push Maxim both at the plate and in the field. He is a left-handed hitter with a great stroke and awareness for the game. Defensively, Young tracks the ball well in right and has a good arm. Kaiser is also a left-handed stick who can throw. With some development he could make a difference.

“Dennis has had flashes of greatness and he’s worked so hard—we all recognize his potential and are looking for a big payoff here in his senior year. I’ll tell you, the freshmen aren’t bad either. Young has a very mature approach and Cody shows a lot of positives as well.”

Saikia will have a wealth of choices at designated hitter as Matt Austin returns as the front-runner for the job after he finished last year strong. Stanley, Young, and Harbold will join Austin, as potential candidates for the job. The DH role will provide Spartans with a strong bat regardless of who fills the spot in the York lineup.

“I believe we will get solid production from our DH spot with several left and right-handed options. I’m not sure who will take over, but considering the competition, I’m going to guess whomever it is will be pretty good.”

The Spartan pitching staff welcomes back three starters from last year’s squad. Sophomore Jason Christenberry, last year’s CAC Rookie-of-the-Year, headlines a talented pitching staff. Joining Christenberry are Frisch, Austin, and junior Jake Hughes. Christenberry was outstanding last year as he went 6-0 with a stellar 1.60 ERA. He was limited to 56.1 innings last year due to a mid-season injury. He struck out 36 as opponents hit a paltry .209 against him. After a great summer season and a strong fall, the coaching staff expects him to continue to be a front-of-the-rotation starter for the green and white. Frisch finished last year as a first-team All-CAC selection as he went 6-4 with a 3.55 ERA. He made 15 appearances with 11 starts while he also racked up three saves. Frisch will need to
balance being a starter with playing in the middle infield for the green and white. He is a big-game pitcher who has worked hard to improve his breaking ball, making him a tougher pitcher to hit for opponents. Austin finished last year with a mark of 8-3 as he posted an ERA of 2.75. He threw 75.1 innings, struck out 37 and walked just 14 as opponents hit under .250 against him. Austin is a control pitcher who changes speeds and spots his pitches very effectively. Hughes heads into his junior year moving to the starting rotation after being a very effective member of the bullpen the last two years. Hughes went 1-1 last year with four saves in 22.1 innings. He is a lanky, athletic lefty who brings intensity to the mound. His ability to hit his spots and throw all of his pitches effectively will determine his success as a starter.

“I think we have some great options to start our games this year. We do have to deal with the departure of Chris Brower (York College’s all-time winningest pitcher) who had become the anchor of our staff. Frankly, we’ll need other guys to bring that shut-down mentality to the mound, especially in big games. Nothing feels better than when you know, going in, that you have the advantage on the mound. Hopefully, we’ll be in that position a lot this year.”

The bullpen features a cast of talented, if not unproven, pitchers. Freshman Taylor Gunder is a big, athletic right-hander who brings tremendous potential to the bullpen. With good velocity and developing pitches, Taylor is smart and shows a good competitive streak. Sophomore Chris Frankenfield is one of the few returners in the pen. He made seven appearances last year, including one in the NCAA tournament, and posted an ERA of 0.82 as he struck out seven in 11 innings of work. Senior Lou Carminati is another returner who got limited innings last year. Carminati threw five innings last year and allowed just one hit as opponents hit just .063 against him. Freshman Michael Roberts is a solid left-hander who had a lot of success at the high school level. A good breaking ball and improving location and pick-off move should help him make a contribution as a freshman. Right-hander Andy Rosenzweig comes to the Spartans as a pitcher who should be able to get innings as a freshman. He is a solid pitcher who throws strikes and can spot his pitches to make life tough on opponents. Rosenzweig should be a reliable member of the pen in 2008. Left-hander Drew Rentzel has the potential to be a key reliever for YCP. He is a tough competitor with a great breaking ball and good game experience. Doyle and Pokopec are two position players who have the ability to contribute to the bullpen depending on the Spartans’ needs during the season.

“Our bullpen is young. Sometimes young is good. If we can keep these guys aggressive and in attack mode, I think they might surprise some people.”

The Spartans will face a different Capital Athletic Conference this year. Gone is Catholic University replaced by Villa Julie College and Wesley College. Also changing is the conference schedule, as the schools will now face off three times during the regular season. The schools will play one mid-week conference game followed by a double header at the other school on the weekend. The format for Saturday will be one, seven-inning game followed by a nine-inning contest.

York again faces a challenging slate as they begin the season at the Rawlings/Emory University Classic in Atlanta followed by a trip to Orlando, FL for five games. In addition to the conference slate, the Spartans face Emory, Johns Hopkins, Messiah, DeSales, Ithaca, North Carolina Wesleyan, Franklin & Marshall, Christopher Newport, Ferrum, and Montclair State, all programs that were in the tournament last year or have been in the NCAA tournament in the last three years.

“As usual, we have a very challenging schedule. More than ever, our conference series are going to require depth on the mound. Our out-of-conference schedule is outstanding as well. We will need to show a high level of toughness in order to persevere—bottom line. I think we have the ability to do some great things this year, but it is going to require something from everyone. Should be fun.”

The Spartans open their season on February 22 against Greensboro in the opening round of the Rawlings / Emory University Classic.

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