Setting the Scene
Who: Bucknell (0-0) vs. Marist (0-0)
When: Feb. 18-19 (Game 1: 12 p.m. | Game 2: 3 p.m. | Game 3 (2/19): 12 p.m.)
Where: Cary, N.C.
Probable Starting Pitchers
Game 1: RHP Connor Van Hoose (1-1, 3.86 ERA, 25 K in 2016)
Game 2: LHP Mike Castellani (3-4, 5.34 ERA, 31 K in 2016)
Game 3: RHP Jeff Gottesman (2-5, 4.80 ERA, 34 K in 2016)
About the Bison
* Bucknell opens the 2017 season with a three-game series against Marist.
* The Bison were picked to finish third in the Patriot League Preseason Poll.
* Seniors Sam Clark and Brett Smith were named to the Preseason All-Patriot League Team. They were first-team selections in 2016.
* Marist finished 24-27 in 2016, reaching the MAAC Championship Game for the second straight season.
* Marist is picked to finish fifth in the MAAC Preseason Poll. Sophomore outfielder Frankie Gregoire was named to the Preseason All-MAAC Team and was Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American in 2016.
Series History with Marist
* Bucknell will take on Marist for the fifth time in school history. The two teams have split the previous four meetings.
* The Bison will travel down to Lexington, Virginia, for a three-game set at VMI on Feb. 24-26.
Below is an in-depth season preview:
After falling short of making the postseason in 2015, Bucknell bounced back last year and advanced to the Patriot League Tournament. After falling in the decisive third game to top-seeded Navy, who went on to win the conference title, the Bison look to build upon last year and return to the postseason for the fourth time in five years.
Coaches and sport information directors believe they can, as the Bison were picked third in the Preseason Poll. The team returns 22 letterwinners from a year ago, including seven who were part of the Patriot League regular-season and tournament title three years ago.
Fifth-year head coach Scott Heather, the 2014 Patriot League Coach of the Year, will look to his veterans for leadership, as the Bison will have a youthful look in 2017 with 19 underclassmen, 10 of which are freshmen. Heather looks forward to watching his team progress throughout the season, while remaining competitive in the Patriot League.
“Each year, the expectation is to compete for a league title,” noted the 13-year member of the Bison staff. “There are some pretty good teams in the league that will be battling for it. We need to be a team that continues to get better week-to-week and be playing our best ball at the right time come playoff time.”
STARTING PITCHING: The Bison will look to fill the void left by Andrew Andreychik and Dan Keller due to graduation. Andreychik, an All-Patriot League pitcher, was the team’s ace last season and one of the league’s best, ranking in the top-10 in six statistical categories. Keller, a team captain, started 12 games for the Bison last year.
One the leading candidates to take over at the top of the rotation is senior Mike Castellani. The Avon, Connecticut, native enters 2017 ranked 10th in program history in ERA (3.72). He began the year as a member of the starting rotation, as his first nine appearances were starts, while his final four were in relief. As a starter, he pitched game two of Patriot League series. He finished 3-4 last season with 31 strikeouts in 59 innings pitched, while leading the Patriot League in pickoffs (5).
“Mike has been in the rotation for a while now,” said Heather about the versatile lefty. “He had a great summer in the Coastal Plain League and he’s hoping to build off that. We expect him to be a leader for us at the top of the rotation.”
Junior Connor Van Hoose is also expected to be in the mix at the top of the rotation. Van Hoose made nine appearances last year, including five starts, though he missed some time due to injury. He struck out 25 batters and was particularly effective against right-handed batters, limiting them to a .233 batting average. Heather and pitching coach Jason Neitz have high expectations for the right-handed pitcher.
“Connor has shown great potential,” commented Heather. “He has some high-level stuff in terms of velocity and he really had a good fall. He is a guy with a lot of ability, it’s just a matter of getting him the experience.”
Sophomore Jeff Gottesman is primed for a larger role in the rotation in 2017. He split time between starting and relieving as a freshman, appearing in 13 games with five starts. He has pitched in some big moments for the Bison, including the regular season finale that Bucknell won to clinch a spot in the Patriot League Tournament.
“Jeff had a great freshman year for us,” said Heather. “He pitched in a variety of roles and we see him as a starting-type pitcher for us. He got some big wins down the stretch and provided a good option for us in a lot of situations and hopefully that will grow into more wins for the team.”
Sophomore Jack Grabek is also in contention to be a weekend starter. Heather also noted that freshmen Nate Grisius and Jack Simpson could develop and become mid-week starters as the season progresses.
RELIEF PITCHING: Bucknell has a talented bullpen and one that coach Heather believes can match up well at the end of games.
“What I really like about the bullpen is that we can match up in a lot of ways,” said Heather. “We have both right and left-handed options that can come in and get a certain hitter out.“
Senior Danny Rafferty, who will also be the team’s starting left fielder, will be called upon to close games once again. The two-way player has seven career saves, tied for sixth in program history, including a save in the team’s regular-season finale to clinch a postseason berth. Rafferty was drafted by the Oakland Athletics in the 35th round of the 2016 Major League Baseball Draft.
Heather anticipates senior Tommy Gambon being of the team’s primary relief pitchers in 2017. He appeared in 12 games last year and led the team with a 2.76 ERA.
“I see him as one of our primary set-up guys,” commented Heather. “He may have the best breaking-ball out the bullpen and is really tough against right-handed hitters. We’ll certainly lean on his experience.”
The Bison will have the ability to match up with opposing lineups. Senior Jack Shoenberger and junior Mike Stephens are two pitchers mentioned by Heather due to their low-angled throwing motion.
“The guys who do it consistently will be the guys we count on,” said Heather.
Klugerman had strong freshman campaign, making 10 starts in 19 games behind the plate. He hit .244 with five RBIs and four runs scored in limited at bats as Mayer’s backup. He also possesses the ability to place first base.
“Evan swung the bat pretty well and does a good job receiving,” said Heather. “We expect him to be a big part of the team behind the plate.”
“Miles is one of our hardest working guys,” said Heather. “He has certainly shown offensively that he’s going to be a major factor for us and play a lot of first base for us.”
Don’t be surprised to see Rafferty over at first, with Klugerman and Sam Clark providing depth.
SECOND BASE: Junior Luke Johnson is assigned the duty of filling the hole left by Joe Ogren. A three-time All-Patriot League selection, Ogren was the most valuable player of the 2014 Patriot League Tournament and was a four-year starter, holding the program record for games started (190).
A versatile player, Johnson made 28 starts last year throughout the infield, showing ability to play at second base, shortstop and third base.
SHORTSTOP: Freshman Evan Madigan is primed to take over at shortstop in 2017. The right-handed hitter is a decorated talent from Point Pleasant, New Jersey, who set his high school’s record for hits (115).
“Evan is a very steady player who knows how to play the game,” commented Heather. “He comes from a great high school and summer league program and he’s ready to go. He should give us a strong middle infield both defensively and one that will put pressure on guys offensively.”
Freshman Tyler Wincig is set to provide depth at both the second base and shortstop positions.
THIRD BASE: Sam Clark is once again expected to be a key player in the infield for the Bison in 2017. A First Team All-Patriot League selection last season, he enters his fourth year as a starter, having started at third base as a freshman in 2014.
A Preseason All-Patriot League honoree, Clark hit .282 last season with three home runs, 26 RBIs and 22 runs scored. He posted 12 multi-hit games along with six-multi-RBI contests. He excelled in league play, hitting a team-best .338.
“Sam was important to us last year in driving in runs,” said Heather. “He’s improved and I definitely feel that he’s primed for a great senior year.”
Junior Keifer Rawlings will back up Clark at third, but can also provide depth throughout the middle infield.
OUTFIELD: Two-thirds of Bucknell’s starting outfield remains the same as last year with Rafferty in left field and senior Brett Smith slated to start in center field. Sophomore Jared Drizin is projected to start in right field, replacing Tommy Pennington due to graduation.
Rafferty, who has 103 hits and 52 RBIs over his first three season, is a strong left-handed hitter that will also serve time on the mound as closer.
Smith has started at center field upon his arrival to Lewisburg. He joined the Bison in 2014 and has started all but one game, primarily batting leadoff. Heather knows that Smith is the catalyst of this team.
Named to the Preseason All-Patriot League Team and the 2014 Patriot League Rookie of the Year, Smith has 169 hits in 150 games.
Heather is excited about Drizin, who he says has shown the most improvement on the team from his freshman to sophomore season. Drizin played in 11 games with three starts in 2016.
Junior Chuckie Scales, the team’s primary pinch runner last year, will provide depth in the outfield. Fellow classmates Alex Salem and Mike Korchak figure to be in the mix, along with sophomore Lavezz Middleton and freshman JohnPaul Bell.
Korchak is the front-runner to be the DH for the second straight year. He recorded 13 hits and five runs scored last season.