CAA Champs underdogs again
One year ago, many players were prepping for what they thought would be their final season playing baseball at Towson.
Fast forward one year and the Tigers are coming off of a Colonial Athletic Championship, an NCAA Tournament appearance that included one win against Florida Atlantic and reaching a significant fundraising achievement.
Players and coaches are preparing for a season that, at one point, they thought would never happen.
“It was a lot easier to focus on training, that’s for sure,” junior outfielder Peter Bowles said. “Instead of looking at other schools, I was working on getting in shape for Wake Forest. The whole experience brought us closer.”
Despite coming into the season as reigning CAA Champions and boasting a roster with 21 letter winners returning, Towson is predicted to finish fourth in the conference by coaches, with UNC Wilmington finishing in first, followed by the College of Charleston and William & Mary.
The Tigers did receive one first-place vote, however.
“This team has high expectations for 2014,” senior outfielder Dominic Fratantuono said. “We’re looking forward to defending our title as CAA Champs and are ready to bring another championship back to Towson.”
Two returning seniors, designated hitter Kurt Wertz and Fratantuono, were both named to preseason All-CAA team. Graduate catcher/infielder Zach Fisher, senior pitcher/outfielder Brandon Gonnella and Bowles were honorable mentions.
“I feel there’s no pressure ‘living up’ to anything,’ Fratantuono said. “It’s easy to have no pressure when you know how hard you’ve worked with your teammates all offseason.”
Along with its All-CAA mentions, the Tigers also boast one of the more experienced lineups.
Aside from catcher Andrew Parker, all starting fielders from last season’s team are back. Redshirt junior infielder Mike Draper is also returning from injury.
Senior shortstop Hunter Bennett and senior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald will look to pick up where they left off last year, when they tied a school record with 60 double plays and helped the Tigers set a school record with .971 fielding percentage.
“Our defense should be one of the top in the conference again this year. We’re returning all but one position player starter,” Bennett said. “Across the board everyone is solid and we really don’t have a weak point defensively.”
On the mound, Towson will look to fill the void left after pitcher Mike Volpe’s departure. Last season, Volpe started 16 games for the Tigers and had a 3.59 earned runs allowed average. He pitched a complete game in the CAA Championship.
One person that Head Cioach Mike Gottlieb will turn to is redshirt junior Chris Acker, who is the scheduled Friday starter. As a freshman in 2011, Acker led the team with a 3.04 ERA and made six starts in the final month of the season. The following year, he made 21 appearances while pitching 64.1 innings, good for second on the team.
However, his season was cut short after just two games last year because of an elbow injury.
“I’m expecting to pick up where Volpe left off and hopefully lead this team to another conference championship and beyond,” Acker said.
Aside from Acker, Gonnella will also resume his role of the starting Sunday pitcher, while junior Paul Beers — the normal Saturday starter — is coming off an injury.
“It’s obvious that we are going to be a very good hitting team, but I have confidence in myself and the rest of the pitching staff to do big things again this year,” Acker said.
Outside of the CAA, Towson will face some tough competition.
Their season starts with a trip to Winston-Salem, N.C. where they’ll face Wake Forest, Marshall and Georgetown. The Tigers will also face-off twice against in-state rival Maryland and play the likes of Virginia, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, George Mason and Houston.
Towson’s season gets started Friday in the Wake Forest Tournament.
The first pitch against the Demon Deacons is scheduled for 4 p.m.