The baseball team will begin its 2014 season Friday, Feb. 7 at Occidental College (Calif.), after a 22-17 season in 2013.
The squad finished strong last season, winning nine of its final 13 games, and tied for third place at the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships, making up for a disappointing beginning of the tournament by winning four of its last five games.
The team has been working hard in the offseason, prompting Head Coach Mike Twardoski, who is entering his 15th season at Emory, to say, “I can’t wait to coach this team.”
The Eagles are a much older team than last year, with 10 seniors this year contrasted to just one last season.
“The team’s strength is our experience,” Twardoski said.
The pitching staff contains a lot of depth, sporting experienced starting pitchers, as well as a strong bullpen. The Eagles return their top three starting pitchers from last season, junior Connor Dillman and sophomores Paul Merolla and Tyler Sprague. Dillman’s performance’s last season earned him all-Region and all-UAA Second Teams.
Rounding out the rotation are junior Michael Byman and senior Ben Hinojosa, who is returning from a season long injury.
“Out of the bullpen, we are as strong as we have ever been,” Coach Twardoski said in an interview with emoryathletics.com
The pitchers who give Twardoski such a high level of confidence include junior closer Graham Bloomsmith, senior Matt McMahon, and senior Mike Bitanga, who is also returning after sitting out last season through injury.
The infield boasts a similarly impressive array of experienced talent, highlighted by senior shortstop Jared Kahn, who led the team in on base percentage last season.
The Eagles sport multiple options at each of the infield positions. Senior Ryan Toscano will share third base with junior Warren Kember. Sophomore Ben Vizvary will play first base, after posting a batting average of .340 in an impressive freshman year. Junior Kyle Arbuckle will provide seasoned cover for the position. Sophomore Dylan Eisner impressed as a freshman at second base, and will take a larger role at the position this season.
Sophomore David Coble, and freshman Cole Vercammen provide valuable versatility for the infield. Senior Jared Welch, a former member of the all-UAA first team, will start for the fourth consecutive year at catcher, backed up by senior Josh Bokor and freshman Chris Young.
The Eagles return three outfielders whose excellence earned recognition last season, with senior Brandon Hannon and junior Wes Peacock being named to the all-UAA first team, and senior Daniel Iturrey a member of the all-UAA second team. Peacock led the entire team last season with a batting average of .358. Junior Brett Lake looks to see the field more after an injury plagued 2013, and will provide cover for the outfield along with junior Stephen Sotiriou, sophomore Chris Slivka, and freshmen Jack Dougherty, Cody Wetmore, and Wilson Morgan.
Bobby Perez, who has been with the team the last six seasons, will join Twardoski for his 15th season as Emory Coach. Emory alum Connor McGuinness (C’12) will join the staff for the first time this season as a pitching coach. Former major leaguer Greg McMichael will also assist with the pitching staff.
After their opening game against Occidental on Friday, the Eagles will also face Pomona-Pitzer (Calif.) and Cal Lutheran University, the latter of which is ranked 10th in the country. The team will play its home opener on Feb. 15 against Piedmont College.
Twardoski wants the team to be more consistent this season: “We gave too many games away [last season].”
Twardoski is not the only one with this mindset. “They [the team] want to show not only themselves that they can do it, but also the alumni and parents,” he said.
The Eagles’ game against Occidental will be at 5 p.m., while their doubleheader vs. Cal Lutheran will take place at 2 and 5 p.m. on Saturday.
The roadtrip will conclude with Pomona-Pitzer at 5 p.m.
It will be the Eagles’ first ever matchup with all three teams.
– By Oliver Rockman
Photo courtesy of Emory Athletics