Four-Game Weekend Series at Virginia Opens 2009 Bucknell Baseball Season
Feb. 18, 2009
LEWISBURG, Pa. - Despite snow flakes falling to the ground in Lewisburg on Wednesday, it is officially baseball season for Bucknell as the Bison open their 2009 campaign this weekend with a four-game set at Virginia. Bucknell and the Cavaliers will square off in a 4 p.m. game on Friday. On Saturday the two squads will play a doubleheader, while Sunday will feature a single contest.
The Bison, who are picked to finish in a tie for fourth with Lafayette in the Patriot League Preseason Poll, are coming off a year when they won 30 games for the third time in program history, claimed their fourth Patriot League title and won an NCAA Tournament game over Florida State.
Led by sixth-year head coach Brian O'Connor, Virginia returns 19 letterwinners from the 2008 squad which went 39-23 while reaching the ACC Championship Game and earning the program's fifth straight NCAA tournament berth. Four of the Cavaliers' top six hitters from that team are back for 2009.
Bucknell is in a fortunate situation this year, having played a school-record 56 games in 2008 as it claimed the Patriot League Tournament title and won an impressive 7-0 NCAA Tournament matchup with powerhouse Florida State behind the pitching of then-senior Mathew Wilson. The Bison played 11 of those games after May 1 and went 8-3 during that postseason stretch, gaining valuable experience during that time.
"Last year's postseason run gave the younger guys who are now the cornerstone of this year's team a chance to work and develop, and as a coaching staff we saw a lot of progress in the players," commented Bucknell head coach Gene Depew, who enters his 28th season just two wins shy of 500 in his career. "Final exams ended in early May and then we got to concentrate solely on baseball. The four weekends we got to play in succession gave us a chance to make progress and that is going to carry over into this year."
While many current Bison performed well last year, six starters departed, leaving a number of holes to fill. The largest of those holes resembles a crater as five-time All-Patriot League player Jason Buursma graduated and was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals last June. The most decorated player in program history, Buursma, who led the team in hitting and led the Patriot League in ERA, is listed among the top 10 on 17 Bison career lists and 10 single-season lists.
Despite the loss of Buursma and his classmates, Bucknell returns three of the top six hitters from last season's squad that became the first No. 4 seed in Patriot League history to win the postseason tournament. Additionally, half of the team's starting rotation returns with another year of experience.
"Our goal is to take the potential we have and make progress throughout the year so we can compete for the (Patriot League) title at the end of the year," said Depew, who has guided the Bison to four Patriot League titles since 1996. "That is pretty much what happened for us last year."
"Both Eric and Dylan showed great potential last year," said Depew. "Dylan, especially, this fall looked like he has made progress and I have high expectations for them."
Additionally, Depew sees fellow second-year hurlers Trey Frahler and Daniel Hart challenging for spots in the rotation. Frahler earned three starts last year and came on in relief 15 times, while Hart started once in his eight appearances.
"Trey and Dan are both tall, hard-throwing right-handers who work hard," praised Depew. "We are hoping one, if not both, of those guys can step up."
"Sean was a contributor for us as a sophomore and he continued to show improvement throughout the fall as he got more comfortable," said Depew. "I think Sean could step up and be one of our starters."
Yamaguchi, senior Jimmy Murphy and junior Michael Dallanegra will provide a veteran presence in the bullpen, while junior Andrew Clarke has the ability to start or relieve. That experienced quartet has 60 career appearances to its credit, with most coming out of the bullpen.
Jack Boehm, a right-hander with good potential, and Cal Tracy are the two pure pitchers from the freshman class and they will add depth to the solid pitching staff. A number of other first-year players will split time between other positions and pitcher.
"The experience at catcher is a bonus," explained Depew. "It is always good to replace a very good player with upperclassmen who have been in the system and have some experience. It's not like we are starting over."
"If you had to choose positions where you have experience, it would probably be those two," explained Depew. "They work very well together. Both are talented offensive and defensive players and we are pleased to have them."
Senior Hunter George, who hit .308 in limited at bats last year and could also DH, will back up Yoder at second base, while freshman Alex Cillo, who will also pitch and possesses possibly the best arm on the team, will play behind Allen at short.
"As a senior and an everyday player for the first time, Bret should be set to have a solid year," predicted Depew.
"Dane has all the tools," commented Depew. "He put it together at the end of last season and we have high expectations for this year. He is the fastest guy on the team and might be the fastest in the Patriot League. He should hit somewhere near the top of the order and should be one of the keys as to how we go offensively."
Brouse is expected to hold down right field after hitting .292 with three home runs and 20 RBIs last spring. He is the lone returning starting position player to not earn All-Patriot League honors in 2008, but could have those honors in his sight with a solid year.
"We are fortunate that Andrew was pretty much an everyday player for us last year," said Depew. "He had a very good year and an excellent summer. He probably has the strongest throwing arm in the outfield."
Senior Andrew Loucks, who hit .320 in 25 at bats last year, gives Bucknell another experienced outfielder, while Drew Constable, who drove in the winning run at Army in the clinching game of the Patriot League semifinal round, and Joseph DeMarzo are a pair of talented sophomores who could earn playing time at any of the outfield positions.
Freshmen Bobby Donato, a native of nearby Williamsport, Mark Figgie, Matt Lamore and Gerald Runyan will also battle for spots in the outfield. Figgie and Lamore should also see some time on the mound.