The York College baseball squad enters the 2011 campaign coming off back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances as they return a wealth of talent and experience. Combine that in with a strong group of newcomers and head coach Paul Saikia begins his 24th season with high expectations.
Saikia welcomes back six starters from last year's 28-win Spartan squad. His infield returns intact with senior starters CT Stanley at first base, shortstop Rob Klinck, and third baseman Kyle Cook. Stanley, Klink were all All-Capital Athletic Conference picks last year while Cook was an all-league player in 2009. Junior Dustin Worthman takes over at second base after handling the designated hitter duties last year.
Stanley had a good junior year as he hit .369 with a team-leading eight home runs, 46 RBI, 13 doubles, one triple and 33 runs scored. He had a .618 slugging percentage while he provided the infield with a solid defensive presence.
Klinck is a three-year starter for the Spartans. He hit .316 in 2010 with 29 runs scored, 10 doubles, seven triples, five home runs and 35 RBI. Klinck notched a .563 slugging percentage as he will likely hit in the lower half of the batting order in 2011, a spot where he can be very productive for the Green and White.
Cook was very good all year for the Spartans as the three-year starter hit .342 with 46 runs scored, 10 doubles, two triples and 22 RBI. He had a .430 on-base percentage while he also stole six bases during the year. He drew 21 walks and was hit seven times as he mainly hit in the two spot during the year.
Worthman hit .362 with 39 runs scored, seven doubles, a triple and 15 RBI from his leadoff position in the order. He also drew 25 walks and posted a .474 on-base percentage. Worthman stole 11 bases in his 42 games last year. He will combine with Cook to give York a formidable one-two punch at the top of the Spartan lineup.
"We are very experienced on the infield and those guys understand what is expected of them," states the Spartan mentor. "They have been to consecutive NCAA Tournaments and understand the challenges of a collegiate baseball season. I expect each of them to have very productive seasons and provide our progam with the leadership that successful teams need over the course of the season."
The Spartans have great depth on the infield. Senior Steve Bonitatibus and freshmen Daniel Dennison and Dan Solomon give Stanley a strong group of reserves at first base. Junior Adam Hegedus gives Worthman a strong back up and may have the opportunity to earn some at-bats as the Spartans' designated hitter in 2011. Senior Sean McCann and freshman Colin Porter give the Green and White outstanding depth at third base. McCann was 7-for-13 in his 14 games last year while Porter is a bright prospect for York. Junior Brian Aponte is another player who could contribute quality at-bats as the designated hitter as he is a mature hitter that has the ability to contribute immediately.
Saikia must replace all-CAC and South Region Gold Glove catcher Jim Meehan behind the plate this season. Sophomores Nic Long, Justin Cohen, and Jimmy King, teamed with freshmen Colbe Herr and Russ Patti give Saikia talented options. Cohen hit .333 in his 21 games last year. He had a .515 slugging percentage while he also had a good .476 on-base percentage. He has continued to progress defensively and will likely find his bat in the middle of the Spartan lineup. Long does an outstanding job handling the pitching staff and continues to show potential with the bat. King provides a left-handed hitting option with a short, line-drive stroke. Herr brings a strong arm, aggressive mentality, and solid offensive potential, while Patti has demonstrated the most consistent throwing arm and well rounded defensive skills.
"We graduated an outstanding catcher, but I believe the group of guys we have behind the plate can get the job done," says Saikia. "We were fortunate to have experience behind the plate last year, but I think each of these catchers bring something different to the table."
The Spartan outfield welcomes back right fielder Joe Doyle for his senior season. Doyle is a three-year starter who hit .307 with eight doubles, three triples and five home runs. Sophomore Steve Tretter will anchor the outfield defense as he takes over in centerfield. In limited action, Tretter demonstrated his capabilities as he batted at a .469 clip in 49 at-bats. He had 13 runs scored, eight doubles, a triple and 11 RBI. He had a .673 slugging percentage and a .500 on-base percentage Left-handed hitting senior Devin Harbold will be in the mix for starting job in left field. He provides solid power potential in the lower third of the Spartan batting order and he also posses a strong throwing arm. Freshman Andrew Hershey had a strong showing both offensively and defensively this fall as he looks to contribute with aggressive approach. Rounding out the OF corps includes junior Shaun Rutherford and a crop of freshman including Andrew Aquila, Richard Duffee, Hunter Whalen, and Jason Mitchell.
"We graduated two very reliable contributors from our outfield at the end of last season," says Saikia. "However, we feel confident that this year's group can blossom into a strong component of our success in 2011."
Senior Andy Rosenzweig and sophomore Joey Couch headline the Spartan pitching staff. Rosenzweig went 6-5 last year with a 3.76 ERA in 69.1 innings. Couch, who earned the CAC Rookie-of-the-Year award, went 5-1 with a 3.10 ERA in 58 innings of action. Joining Rosenzweig and Couch will be junior Tommy Moran and sophomore Brian Lusby. Moran tossed 10.2 innings last year out of the bullpen but the coach staff expects him to be able to step up and secure a spot in the rotation. Lusby saw action in 11 games out of the pen last year as he too has the ability to earn a spot as a starter this year. Also contending for spot starts are freshmen David Walker, Tyler Alexander, and Bryan Palumbo.
Junior Brandon Ullom was a pleasant surprise for the Spartans in 2010 as he locked down York's closers role. In 2010, Ullom went 1-1 with three saves and a 1.71 ERA in 26.1 innings of work. He struck out 25 and walked just five as opponents hit just .235 against him. Lefthander Josh Kohn and freshman Danny Norris will also be key members of the bullpen this year.
"The development of our young pitchers is a real key for us," according to Saikia. "We need each pitcher to take the mound and be aggressive. We are asking these pitchers to step up and take a leadership role regardless of their age."
Saikia believes the veteran offense and defense give the Spartans an edge early in the 2011 season.
"We have an experienced and talent core of players returning. That should give us a great deal of reliability during the year. Our everyday lineup will instill confidence in the young pitching staff as they develop. Our nucleus is mature and that should allow us to be extremely competitive this year," says Saikia.
The Spartan slate will again be one of the most challenging in all of Division III.
"Our conference is traditionally one of the toughest in the nation, and I expect this year will no different," says Saikia. "We pride ourselves in a non-conference schedule that is also very strong in an effort to prepare for the postseason."
The Spartans open the 2011 schedule on Friday February 18th when they travel to Atlanta, Georgia to participate the Rawlings Southern Classic hosted by Emory University. York College will open their home schedule on Friday, March 4th when they host Capital Athletic Conference foe Wesley College.
Photo: Senior Andy Rosenzweig