Baseball swings into new year
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 14:03
Coming off of a school record 53 wins and a 5th place finish in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) World Series in 2012, the 2013 Pioneers baseball team is looking to build on the foundation last year’s squad laid.
Last year, the Pioneers ended the season ranked 6th in the NAIA final top 25 poll, its second consecutive year making the list, and earning its first berth to the NAIA World Series since 1998. Head coach Loren Torres’ efforts were rewarded by being named the NAIA regional coach of the year. But despite its success last season, this year’s team wants to improve.
“I think you’ve just gotta keep pushing,” said junior second baseman Tom Birko during a Sunday night phone interview. “Everyday you have to go out and do your best.”
This year’s roster has 18 returning players and 10 newcomers, including three freshmen. Of those 28 players, 20 of them are upperclassmen, 10 seniors and 10 juniors respectively.
One of the most noteworthy obstacles the Pioneers must overcome this year will be replacing last year’s seniors. Amongst last year’s graduating class was the program’s all-time saves leader Mike Tullio and three of its four starting infielders. Fortunately for the Pioneers, four of their five starting pitchers are returning.
The Pioneers will be replacing most of these holes on defense with back-ups from last year’s team, including moving last year’s Designated Hitter Marlon Leyva to Firstbase and having senior catcher Tyler Cattapan and junior infielder Jonathan Tasis compete for playing time at the hot corner. The bullpen was rearmed with a pair of righties in freshman Michael Cetta and junior transfer Toby Eigner and a junior southpaw named Bryan Lopez. Despite the large amount of newcomers, team chemistry has not been affected, as Birko, the only returning starting infielder from last season, said that this team’s chemistry is as good as it has ever been.
The season has started out on a sloppy note for the Pioneers though, as they kicked off their campaign by being swept in a double-header to Martin Methodist College (Tn.) on Feb. 22 and then being rained out at Talladega (Al.) and Campbellsville (Ky.).
The Pioneers first conference game is not until Mar. 15, and while starting the season off with a pair of losses may worry other teams, it does not seem to worry the team or Birko too much.
“We’re not really stressing right now,” Birko said. “We would like to win early season non-conference games, but we know late season wins are more important.”