LANCASTER, Pa. – Under the direction of fifth-year head coach Adam Taylor, the Franklin & Marshall baseball team will look to return to the Centennial Conference (CC) playoffs this spring after falling short of the conference postseason in 2012.
Returning the majority of its lineup and multiple experienced pitchers, F&M has the pieces in place to make it back to the CC tournament for the third time in Taylor's tenure at the helm.
"Our goal this spring is the same as every year – qualify for the Centennial playoffs and give ourselves an opportunity to reach the NCAA's," said Taylor.
The Diplomats welcome back 23 letterwinners, including seven starting position players and eight pitchers who played vital roles a season ago.
F&M will have to make up for the loss of four-year starter and three-time All-CC first baseman J.T.Triantos, who finished his career tied for the program's all-time hits record, but a wealth of key contributors are back along with several freshmen looking to make an immediate impact.
Coach Taylor and the Diplomats are excited for a fresh start in 2013 and are motivated to climb back into the mix amongst the conference elite. The team has taken a one-pitch, one-swing, and one-day-at-a-time mindset as it enters the year.
"Right now, our only focus is on March 1," said Taylor. "The key to this year's success is for us to concentrate on one day at a time and remain consistent with our everyday approach."
Three returning starters give the Diplomats an experienced and familiar look in the infield as seniors Alex Vescera, Aaron Gillette, and Kevin Shields will be called upon to retain their starting roles in their final campaigns wearing Blue & White.
Vescera, a team captain, is back at shortstop after hitting .299 with 16 RBIs and 21 runs scored in 39 starts last spring. The righthander will also see some time on the mound this season in a closing role for the Diplomats.
Gillette will once again join Vescera in the middle infield and begin the year at the leadoff spot in the batting order. The speedy second baseman is the team's leading returner in stolen bases (16) and runs scored (26), and concluded last season with 16 RBIs in 36 starts.
Shields, who earned 32 starts at third base last year, will man one of the corner-infield spots for F&M as he may occasionally slide over to first base. Shields put together another steady campaign in 2012 with a .302 batting average and totals of 22 RBIs, seven doubles and five sacrifice flies in 32 starts.
A strong core of freshmen will add depth to the infield spots as Luke Seib, Matt Mezansky, Brett Poniros, Matt Perez, and Anthony Arditti will fight for time on the field. Seib and Mezansky will push for roles at first and third base, respectively, and could also be given opportunities at designated hitter. Poniros, Perez, and Arditti each enter the year as middle infielders.
Highlighting the list of outfielders is 2011 All-CC First Team selection Will Benenson, who shifted from third base to the outfield last year and will man left field for the Diplomats. Benenson, a junior, led F&M in RBIs (35), homeruns (2), triples (3), and sacrifice flies (7) a season ago and provides a powerful bat into the middle of the order.
Other returners competing for the remaining outfield spots will be juniors Avery Attinson, Sam Gladstone, Tyler Veterano, and Mike Giannone, along with sophomore Brian Erb. Erb notched 14 RBIs and swiped nine bases in 26 starts, while Attinson (13 starts) Veterano (11 starts), Gladstone (8 starts), and Giannone (1 start, 14 appearances) saw some time.
Junior Rob Anderson also looks to be in the mix for one of the three outfield spots after making the move from the infield. Anderson could see opportunities at DH as well.
Sophomore Brandon Theriault will see time at the DH spot for F&M after a promising freshman campaign in which he not only played DH but also the middle infield and pitched in relief. Theriault batted .316 with 11 RBIs while leading the team in slugging percentage (.474), and is the leading returner in on-base percentage (.418).
At the catcher position, the Diplomats have a trio of players that Taylor is comfortable deploying in senior captain Josh Mendelson, and juniors Patrick Andrews and Joe Gallitto. Mendelson has the most starting experience as he saw 22 starts a season ago, while Andrews earned the nod 11 times and Gaillitto started eight times. All three will split time in the early going and have a chance to lock down the spot.
The pitching staff will be led by senior Brendan DeMond and junior Alex Guerra, both of whom were CC starters last spring. DeMond was second on the team with 34 strikeouts in eight starts, while Guerra was solid all season long with a 3.47 ERA and 3-0 mark in five starting appearances, fanning 24 batters along the way. Sophomore lefthander Sean Cosgriff will also be featured in the rotation after making six appearances in relief in his rookie campaign.
A host of arms will compete for the fourth spot in the rotation and may also contribute in relief. Sophomores Chris Haylon, Paul Giulio, and Brett Klatsky will each contend for starting time on the mound after beginning their careers in relief roles. Giulio notched five saves in 14 appearances, Haylon earned one win, registered one save and struck out 13 in 12 contests, while Klatsky recorded 10 strikeouts in 12.2 innings of work.
A pair of sophomores, Andrew Green and Chris Mathewson, will once again be looked on to bolster the F&M bullpen. Green returns to a significant role in long relief this spring after developing into one of the key relievers for the Diplomats as last season wore on. The righthander posted a 2-1 mark with a 2.92 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 24.2 innings, while Mathewson, a lefthander, fanned six batters and tallied a 1-0 record in nine 8.2 innings.
Freshman sidearmer Danny Swad will also be called to the mound in relief this spring.
In addition to the always-challenging CC slate, another grueling non-conference schedule awaits the Diplomats in 2013. F&M will square off against five teams that reached last year's NCAA Regionals, and two ranked in the NCBWA/D3baseball.com Preseason top-25.
F&M opens up its campaign with a trio of contests this weekend at the Hampden-Sydney Tournament. The Diplomats will begin the year on Friday against the host Tigers at 3:00 p.m., before meeting Frostburg St. on Saturday and Rutgers-Newark on Sunday.
Non-conference tilts against Drew and Rowan precede F&M's annual spring break trip to Winter Haven, Fla., where the Diplomats will play 10 games in seven days, including a showdown with No. 4 Cortland St. on March 14.
Following the spring break trip, the Diplomats will return to Caplan Field for a six-game homestand that includes matchups with local rival Elizabethtown, No. 23 Shenandoah, and a twinbill with Stevens Institute of Technology.
F&M opens CC play on the road with a doubleheader at McDaniel on March 30.