The 2015 Rider University baseball team has made its BED and now looks forward to lying in it.
Rider’s BED; Balance, Experience and Depth, is expected to carry the Broncs into the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, where Rider advanced six straight seasons before an injury-riddled 2014 kept Rider out of postseason play.
“We have balance, experience and depth,” said Rider head coach Barry Davis, the 2013 MAAC Coach of the Year. “We have a chance to be okay. We have a better team this year, and I think as good a team as we’ve had, including the 2010, 2011 and 2013 teams. We might not have the pitching staff that those teams had but this team could be in that group when all is said and done.”
Rider returns six starting fielders and adds a pair of junior college standouts behind a 12-man pitching staff. “Defensively we are solid at every position,” Davis said. “Playing different people at different spots. All 12 of our pitchers could possibly have a key role for us this year. We feel all of them can contribute and they will be given ample opportunities to do it.”
Sowa is a veteran of 41 games, including 40 starts, and enters his senior year with 18 wins. His 18-10 career record is tied for 12th best ever at Rider, but only two of those wins came last season. “I expect Kurt to bounce back with a solid year,” Davis said. “He has the ability to solidify our rotation.”
Mawson tied for the team lead with 12 starts last season and led the 2014 team in victories (five) and complete games (three) and was second on the 2014 team in innings pitched (68) and was third in strikeouts (40).
“Based on last year Zach Mawson has earned the right to be a weekend starter,” Davis said. “He pitched well against MAAC teams and will open the 2015 season against Virginia Tech.”
Aiello has appeared in 33 games as a Bronc with two starts. Last year he saved four games. He pitched seven and two-thirds innings of relief in a MAAC game with Manhattan last season and struck out four Iona batters in four and two-thirds innings in his only start. “Vinnie will challenge to get into the rotation,” Davis said. “He made a start last year against Iona and pitched well in that role. He is one of our better pitchers so we need to get him on the field more often.”
Margevicius had a combined record over his final three summer and high school seasons of 41-8. At Ohio’s Saint Ignatius High he was the Pitcher of the Year as a junior and a senior and pitched a perfect game as a sophomore.
“Nick has great potential,” Davis said. “He’s calm on the mound with great command.”
Sparano, a local product (Ewing, NJ), twice earned First Team All-Conference and First Team All-Area honors and was the Trentonian Player of the Year.
Hafer has pitched in 40 games as a Bronc, making 18 starts and was second on the 2014 team in strikeouts (41) and fourth in innings pitched (47).
“Sparano could be a fifth starter or pitch in the back end of the bullpen,” Davis said. “Hafer was the weekday starter last year and could return to that role, along with C.J. Hirschy. Hafer could also come out of the bullpen late in close games. David will be used in a number of different roles.”
Thomas is a veteran of 48 appearances who saved two games in 2013 and two last year. Thomas has 66 strikeouts in 61 career innings.
Sharik pitched in 17 games as a Rider rookie, starting two, and earned the win over Niagara, pitching four and two-thirds innings of shutout relief while collecting four strikeouts. He earned the save in the win over Siena, pitching the final one and two-thirds shutout innings. Sharik did not allow a run in 10 of his outings
“Thomas has good stuff and looked good so far,” Davis said. “Sharik had a solid freshman year last season and we expect him to improve in 2015.”
Chris Wirth-Kenyon will also have more of a role this year. He appeared in five games last season, his first at Rider, all in relief, and his final two outings of the season were scoreless.
“Wirth has dropped down to be a side-armer this year, which will help him,” Davis said. “He can pitch every day.”
Last year Donnelly appeared in 12 games, starting one and this year has second best earned run average among returning pitchers. “Donnelly threw well last year,” Davis said. “We expect him to help us again this year.”
Diorio appeared in 11 games as a rookie, all in relief, and did not allow an earned run in five of his appearances.
The infield returns All-MAAC first baseman Justin Thomas and All-MAAC third baseman Nick Richter, along with shortstop Mike Parsons and a pair of catchers who missed most of last season with injuries, Eric Strano and Lee Lipinski.
Thomas was an ECAC All-Star in 2014 after earning First Team All-MAAC honors. He ranked second in the MAAC in RBI last year (45) and fourth in total bases (88). “Thomas has improved every year,” Davis said of the player who was named Rider’s Most Improved Player last season, “both offensively and defensively. He has grown into a leader and we expect great things. He’ll bat third or fourth this year.” Last year Thomas batted a team-high .341 with a .492 slugging percentage.
Left-handed hitting Tyler Kaiser will also see action at first base and designated hitter. “Kaiser can do the job at first base if called upon,” Davis said. “His development could bolster our lineup.”
The team MVP last season, Richter returns to his leadoff spot after leading the entire nation in stolen bases last year with a Rider-record 41 in 46 attempts. “I thought he had as good a year as anybody we’ve had here, consistently, offensively and defensively,” Davis said. Richter compiled 61 hits and 41 runs scored and also led the team with a .420 on base percentage. “He will lead off and should see good pitches because when you lead the nation in stolen bases teams will not want to walk you,” Davis said.
Backing up Richter at the hot corner will be freshman Andrew Tumbelty, who batted .460 as a senior at Rancocas Valley High with 35 hits and 23 runs batted in and 22 runs scored.
After struggling through most of last season without the top two catchers, the Broncs return two catchers this year who could start for almost any team in the MAAC, Strano and Lipinski. “Just having them healthy makes us better,” Davis said. “They are both going to play this year and both will see time behind the plate. How they hit will determine if they are in the lineup while not catching.”
Strano is a veteran of 116 games and has 82 career hits. He played in just 14 games last season due to an injury but as a sophomore he started 45 games behind the plate and threw out 16 base runners attempting to steal.
Lipinski has made 14 career starts but was also injured for most of last season.
Parsons has started 162 consecutive games at Rider, the second longest streak in the nation, and enters his senior year with 129 career hits. “Mike had a tough year at the plate last season but he has always been consistent defensively,” Davis said. “It looks like he is ready to return to form offensively. He’ll begin the season batting in the two hole. He works the count well and he is always among our team leaders in positive at bats.”
Freshman Jake Bender will back Parsons up. “Jake has continued to develop, is getting stronger and I expect him to be ready when called upon,” Davis said.
Joining the infield this year is junior Pat Murphy, who earned Academic All-American honors at McHenry County College, batting .324 as a freshman and .403 last year with 45 RBI and 47 runs scored.
“Murphy will give us a consistent effort both defensively and offensively,” Davis said of his new second baseman. “He makes the plays and he plays the game the right way. We are very fortunate to have him. He turns the double play well and is expected to solidify our lineup.”
Backing up Murphy at second will be Christian Estevez, who played in the New Jersey Senior All-Star game last year after batting .527 at River Dell High School as a shortstop.
The outfield is also experienced with two juniors and a senior. Joining junior James Locklear will be senior Greg Fazio, who moves to right field after three years at second base, and junior Jordan Leinweber.
Fazio is a veteran of 161 Rider games and enters his senior year with 148 hits, already 45th most ever at Rider. “Greg strengthens our outfield,” Davis said. “He’s athletic with speed and has arm strength. He’s taken to the outfield and I think playing out there will make is offense better.”
Locklear has played in 98 games in his first two seasons, starting 87 and moves from centerfield to left field this year. A career .273 hitter with 84 hits, including 13 doubles, Locklear has 21 stolen bases in 26 career attempts and was third on the 2014 team in hits with 49 in 49 games. “He’s a good outfielder with good speed who can run the ball down and he can catch the ball,” Davis said, “and is a big key to our offensive success.”
Leinweber will start in centerfield. Last year he batted .348 at Seward County Community College with 64 hits and 51 RBI in 53 games, collecting 14 doubles, three triples and five home runs. “He tracks the ball very well and has an above average arm and he’s a gamer,” Davis said. “He has some power at the plate but he’s mostly a lined drive type of hitter.”
Clark was Moorestown High School’s Athlete of the year, starring in football and basketball as well as baseball.
Piechnick owned a .418 career batting average at Pennsylvania’s Canon-McMillan High School with 71 hits as a three-year starter.
Uliana was a medical red-shirt last season.
The Broncs will take on one of its toughest schedules in recent years, highlighted with trips to North Carolina and Ohio, while taking part in the Liberty Bell Classic which culminates at Citizen’s Bank Park. “Taking into consideration the opponents’ 2014 RPI’s, it is one of the toughest schedules in the league,” Davis said.
Rider begins the season with seven games in North Carolina, taking on Virginia Tech and Campbell for two games each February 20-22. “Tech is an ACC team with all of the resources necessary to win,” Davis said. “Campbell has won 131 games over the past three years and participated in the Columbia, SC Regional.”
The Broncs return to the Tar Heel State to play a three game series with Duke February 27-March 1. After games with Lafayette and Delaware, the Broncs travel to Ohio for five games, taking on Kent State and Ohio State March 13-18. “Kent State could be a top 40 team this year after going to a Regional last year,” Davis said.
Conference play begins in Loudonville, NY, as Rider plays Siena March 21-22. “Siena is the defending champion and always tough,” Davis said.
The Liberty Bell Classic consists of games with road games with Lehigh and either La Salle or Delaware. “There are eight teams, with two pools of four,” Davis explained. “A single elimination mid-week tournament can only help us so we are excited to be involved.”
The home opener is March 25, hosting New Jersey rival Rutgers.
During the MAAC bye week the Broncs will play a three-game series with St. John’s March 27-29. The Red Storm won 35 games last year and is the consensus pick to win the Big East.
The Broncs have the toughest MAAC schedule, taking on the top eight teams from last year.
“I think our players are confident and excited about this schedule,” Davis said. “It will be competitive.”
Rider made the MAAC Championship tournament six straight years before last year. The lone goal this year is to return to postseason. “Our only goal is to qualify for the MAAC tournament,” said Davis, who won the MAAC tournament in 2008 and 2010. “We must improve offensively and overall as a pitching staff. The defense should be solid consistent. With the experience we have in the starting line up there shouldn’t be much that they haven’t seen. We have depth. We are balanced.”
Balance, Experience and Depth.
Rider has made its BED, and is eager to lie in it.