With a veteran squad, including a ten-player senior class, the Emory University Baseball Team will head into the 2014 with high expectations. So much so, that Head Coach Mike Twardoski has set a goal for his squad that he has never given to the Eagles before.
"[The team] understands that this is the year for us with 10 seniors," said Twardoski. "This is a year, on paper, that we can do some things… I put it on them this year that our goal is to win a World Series. I've never done that before, but I want them to understand that we are a team that can do that."
A Look Back
The Eagles finished the 2013 campaign with an overall record of 22-17, surpassing the 20-win mark for the 21st time in the program's 23-year history. Emory ended the year by winning 16 of its final 25 games, and nine of its final 13. The squad finished in a tie for third at the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships, going 4-4 during the tournament. Despite featuring a young pitching staff, with freshmen and sophomore pitchers accounting for 86% of the team's innings pitched during the year, he Eagles' finished the year ranked 43rd among Division III teams with a 3.34 earned run average. Twardoski is hoping to use the lessons from last season as a stepping stone for greater success in 2014.
"The key to the team this year is that these guys really want to win. They want to show, not only themselves that they can do it, but also the alumni and the parents," said Twardoski.
Emory will be returning the majority of one of the top pitching staffs in the country last season, led by junior Connor Dillman, who went 4-4 with a 2.20 ERA and a .215 opponents' batting average, en route to earning spots on the All-Region and All-UAA Second Teams. Emory's other top-two starters from 2013 – sophomores Paul Merolla and Tyler Sprague – are slated to return to the rotation as well. Merolla, who was named the UAA Rookie of the Year in 2013, led all Eagles with a 5-2 record during his inaugural campaign, while Sprague went 4-5 with a 4.47 ERA during his freshman year. Junior Michael Byman will look to pick up where he left off in 2013, when he recorded a 2.70 ERA over nine appearances and three starts. The rotation will also be bolstered by the return of senior Ben Hinojosa, who missed all of last season with an injury after notching a 3.74 career ERA over his freshman and sophomore years.
The bullpen will be paced by junior closer Graham Bloomsmith, who earned all-UAA Second Team recognition after going 2-2 with six saves and a 1.30 ERA in 2013. Senior Matt McMahon (3-3, 4.94 ERA in 2013) will look to be the workhorse in relief again for Emory, after appearing in 16 games last year, the second-most among all Emory pitchers. The Eagles will also benefit from the return of senior Mike Bitanga, the program's all-time leader in career saves, who missed all of last season. Adding veteran depth to the relief effort will be senior Robert Gross (1-0, 4.34) and sophomore southpaw Steven Summey (1-0, 4.41).
"Out of the bullpen, we are as strong as we have ever been," said Twardoski.
A number of freshmen pitchers, including Kyle Monk, Hans Hansen, Jackson Weeg, and Andrew Doetsch will be aiming to contribute to the staff as well, while junior Jordan Selbach and freshman Philip Maldari are expected to see time both in the field and on the mound.
"To go far, you need pitching. We have 16 pitchers, which sounds like a lot, but from top to bottom, they're all quality pitchers," said Twardoski. "We have a plan for every one of them… This could be one of the best pitching staffs we have ever had."
The Eagles will be bringing back a number of players from last year's infield, including senior shortstop Jared Kahn, who led all Emory players with a .442 on base percentage, a .438 slugging percentage and 24 stolen bases. Second baseman Dylan Eisner, who saw action in 25 games and made 17 starts during his freshman campaign, will likely see more action at the position after batting .308 last season.
Emory will have a number of veteran options at the corner infield positions. At third base, senior Ryan Toscano has seen the majority of time at the position, playing in 66 games over the last two seasons and batting .247, while junior Warren Kember will look to take a step forward after appearing in 17 games and making nine starts (both career highs) last season. Emory's top returner at first base is sophomore Ben Vizvary, who hit .340 in 2013, while junior Kyle Arbuckle will add experienced depth to the position as well. Sophomore Jack Karras, freshman Cole Vercammen and sophomore David Coble will round out the Eagles' core of infielders.
Senior Jared Welch is expected to see the majority of time behind the plate for the fourth-straight season, as the former all-UAA First Team selection will carry a career .264 average into the campaign. Senior Josh Bokor will serve as his experienced backup, having seen action in 32 games (including 16 starts) during the last two seasons, while freshman Chris Young could see time behind the plate as well.
The outfield will be the Eagles' most experienced unit on the field, which includes three players who earned all-UAA Honors last season – senior Brandon Hannon and junior Wes Peacock (First Team) and senior Daniel Iturrey (Second Team). All three hit over .300 last season, led by Peacock's team-high .358 average in center field, while Hannon, the right fielder, and Iturrey, the left fielder, batted .325 and .312, respectively. Emory is also expecting to benefit from the return of junior Brett Lake, who hit .341 in limited appearances due to injury last season, and sophomore Chris Silvka, who hit .296 in 2013. Adding to the Eagles' outfield depth will be junior Stephen Sotiriou, along with the additions of freshmen Jack Dougherty, Cody Wetmore and Wilson Morgan.
Emory's Mike Twardoski will begin his 15th season as a head coach in 2014, all of which have been spent at the Eagles' helm. Twardoski has a career 411-196-1 ledger since taking over the position prior to the 2000 season, and has led the Eagles to eight UAA Championships and seven NCAA Tournament appearances, including three trips to the World Series and a second-place finish at the 2007 NCAA Championships. For the sixth-straight season, Twardoski will be joined in the dugout by Associate Coach Bobby Perez, while former Eagle Connor McGuiness will join the staff as the pitching coach for the first time in 2014. Former major league reliever Greg McMichael will return as well to help guide the Emory pitchers.
The Eagles will open their 2014 season earlier than usual, making a trip across the country to California from February 7th – 9th. While there, Emory will be tested early in the season, playing a double-header against 10th-ranked Cal Lutheran, along with single games against Pomona-Pitzer (which received votes in the College Baseball Newspaper Preseason Poll, and Occidental.
The Eagles will play their home opener on Saturday, February 15th as a part of a weekend series against in-state rival Piedmont. Later in the season, Emory will make its annual trip to Sanford, Florida for the UAA Championships from March 9th – 16th, as the Eagles will try to unseat reigning co-champions Washington (Mo.) and Case Western Reserve.
Upon returning home from the conference tournament, the Eagles will play 11 of their next 14 games at home, including weekend series with DePauw, Birmingham-Southern and Southwestern (Tex.). Emory will wrap-up its regular season at home against Huntingdon on April 27th, as the Eagles will be aiming for the 11th NCAA Tournament berth in the program's history come May.