By Meredith Cook
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Holy Cross looks toward the 2010 season with excitement, knowing
that its potential on the mound and at the plate could not only
push the Crusaders toward their third-consecutive Patriot League
Tournament appearance, but also their first-ever conference title.
The team's three captains - Ryan George (Seekonk,
Mass.), Matt Perry (Sudbury,
Mass.) and John Sills (Milton,
Mass.) - will be counted upon to lift Holy Cross this
spring and a core group of other returning position players -
headlined by junior Eric Oxford (Danvers,
Mass.) and sophomore Steve Tkowski (Bourne,
Mass.) - will be expected to help energize the offensive
While the Crusaders' strength should be split evenly between pitching and batting, the team also has the speed, patience and ability to help Holy Cross make a push toward its third consecutive appearance in the Patriot League Tournament. The Crusaders have made just four postseason appearances since joining the conference and are currently poised to earn head coach Greg DiCenzo his third showing in his third season at the helm. The team ended last year with a 22-27 record and finished third in the Patriot League for the second consecutive season.
Several of Holy Cross' most productive players from last spring return in 2010, giving the Crusaderss plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 8/1
Holy Cross returns the largest number of players in the pitching staff, setting themselves up for a truly seasoned group performing on the mound. The Crusaders will look no further than George and fellow seniors Bobby Holmes (Dedham, Mass.) and Matt Shapiro (Raynham, Mass.) to lead the staff.
George returns as the team's go-to closer, as he totaled five saves to lead the team and Patriot League in a total of 20 appearances last season. His number of saves has put him in the Holy Cross record books, as he is now tied with Scott Hampe (2005) for the most saves in a season. He ranked second on the team and in the league for his number of outings, next to fellow Crusader senior Tommy Arrigg (Andover, Mass.). He also finished 2009 with a total of 28 strikeouts in only 20 inning pitched.
"We see Ryan as the one person that we can lean on at any point of the game to get us out of a jam," said DiCenzo. "We have full confidence that he can come in to the game and shut the door whenever he is called upon. He relishes in the closing role, which is huge because at the collegiate level almost every pitcher wants to be a starting pitcher. Ryan truly wants to be the guy we go to late in the game."
After earning his second-consecutive Patriot League All-Tournament team honor last season, Holmes looks to improve upon his late season surge where he allowed just three earned runs in three games at the end of the 2009 slate. The right-hander from Dedham, Mass., went 3-7 in 11 starts, registering 39 strikeouts with 24 walks in 54-2/3 innings pitched.
"I expect Bobby to make a big jump from what he's already done since my arrival," said DiCenzo. "This is a big year for him, especially with his hope to play at the next level, which I think he has a very legitimate chance of doing. We look at him as our number one guy especially with his improving command, control and velocity."
Shapiro is another starter looking to enhance his sound performances from a season ago. Last year, Shapiro recorded a career-high 41 strikeouts in 57-2/3 innings, leading the team. His 2009 numbers continued to grow in almost every category after he won Patriot League Pitcher of the Year honors in 2008. In all, Shapiro made 10 starts, registering a 3-4 record and walking just 16 batters.
"If Matt is half as good as he was numbers wise from two years ago, we'll be in great shape," said DiCenzo. "He has made huge strides in the off-season as far as gaining his strength back and we are certain he will return to the form he was in his sophomore year."
Sophomore Nate Koneski (North Dighton, Mass.) has also experienced success as a starting pitcher at Holy Cross, and the expectation is no different in 2010. As a freshman last spring, Koneski made six starts in 15 appearances, instantly proving that he can handle a starting role. Hailing from North Dighton, Mass., Koneski was invited to play in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer, where he made three appearances for the Falmouth Commodores. He finished his first year in a Crusaders uniform posting a 2-2 record with a total of 33 strikeouts in 45-1/3 innings pitched.
"Koneski will definitely return for us in the starting rotation this year," DiCenzo said. "He has all the pitches and the right makeup to excel. He's worked extremely hard and we're really excited to see what he brings to the mound his sophomore year."
The fourth spot in the starting rotation has been left open for four players who have the potential to make a major impact. Sophomores John Pedrotty (Portsmouth, R.I.) and Matt Croglio (Fayetteville, N.Y.), freshman Vaughn Hayward (Glendale, R.I.) and senior Chris Blanchard (Norwich, Conn.) will all be factors in the fourth starting role.
"Each one of these guys; Pedrotty, Croglio, Hayward and Blanchard all have what it takes to fill our fourth spot," says DiCenzo. "The biggest thing I'm looking for is consistency and who has the capability to pitch 20 games. All of them can do that."
Other pitchers expected to make a significant impact include Arrigg and freshmen Andrew Boyce (Avon, Conn.), John Colella (Herndon, Va.), Josh Hauser (Dallas, Texas), Chris Kono (Greenwich, Conn.) and Tom Marra (Sea Cliff, N.Y.). Arrigg made 23 appearances in 2009, tops among Holy Cross' returning arms. The five freshmen, on the other hand, are sure additions to a very deep and seasoned pitching staff.
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 1/2
Holy Cross enters the 2010 season with two players who will be a force behind the plate. Sophomore Steve Tkowski made 17 starts at catcher as a freshman in 2009 and is expected to lead the group behind home plate this spring, after ranking second on the team with a .385 batting average last season. In addition, the Crusaders welcome freshmen Stephen Wadsworth (Wayland, Mass.). Wadsworth comes to Holy Cross from Wayland, Mass. after playing three years of varsity baseball at Buckingham, Browne & Nichols. He was named ISL Offensive Player of the Year after batting .596 as a senior.
"I see Wadsworth as getting instant playing time behind the dish for us," said DiCenzo. "He's a big, strong kid that will also help us offensively. Tkowski is also a big factor in our offense and I see the two of them excelling on both defensive and offensive sides of the playing field."
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 4/3
The Crusaders' infield features depth at each position, as each spot can feature a number of different players on the roster. At third base, Holy Cross is led by the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year, senior captain Matt Perry. Perry completed last season leading the team and Patriot League in both batting average (.423) and on-base percentage (.491), and tallied a career-high 77 hits, ranking first amongst Holy Cross single-season records.
"We're very balanced around our infield, starting at third base with Matt," DiCenzo said. "Perry is a very exciting player, particularly from the offensive standpoint. Matt is a veteran guy, and its tough to try and change up the position of a conference player of the year."
Holy Cross is equally encouraged by its two primary options at shortstop and second base - freshman Alex Maldonado (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and senior captain John Sills. Maldonado comes to Holy Cross from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he played two years of varsity baseball at Xaverian High School. In his career, Maldonado batted .423 with a .527 on-base percentage and stole 105 bases, adding a new source of speed for the Crusaders. Returning as a tri-captain for the second straight year, Sills will come back as the team's primary option at second base, having played in a total of 115 collegiate contests. Sills is expected to push for a superior senior year, as he recorded career-highs in hits (53) and RBI (31) in his junior year. Hailing from Milton, Mass., Sills has displayed terrific hands on the infield as a very smooth defender. Senior Chris Blanchard will also be used primarily in the four-man infield rotation. Blanchard played in 15 games around the infield last spring, also splitting time as a pitcher.
"From a defensive standpoint, Alex will help us up the middle right away," DiCenzo said. "He and John had productive falls, and I feel like I can rely on them to get the job done for us in season. Chris will definitely get a lot of playing time for us this spring too as he is one of the most athletic guys we have."
Junior Eric Oxford returns as the team's starting first baseman after spending both his freshman and sophomore campaigns at that spot. Oxford, a Danvers, Mass., native, enters the season as one of Holy Cross' most experienced hitters. He has batted at least .280 in each of his two seasons, highlighted by a career-high .324 average his freshman year. Last year, he ranked first on the team offensively in RBI (45) and home runs (10) and defensively with 436 putouts. His 10 home runs and 436 putouts rank first in the Holy Cross single-season record books while his 45 RBI rank second.
"Eric is our mainstay at first base," DiCenzo said. "He's a great hitter and takes pride in his defense around the bag. We have depth at the position from our freshmen, but Oxford is the guy we'll lean on every game."
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 5/1
Just like the infield, the 2010 Holy Cross roster features a number of players that could be ready at anytime to fill the three outfield spots. The depth that the team possesses at these positions has the Crusaders excited about their potential. Three letterwinners return as the team's go-to players for the outfield positions and include juniors Jack Laurendeau (Sudbury, Mass.), Brendan McCrea (Hicksville, N.Y.) and sophomore Chris Sintetos (Bethesda, Md.).
McCrea will fill the centerfield spot for the third straight year and provides the team with a huge defensive edge after posting a .965 fielding percentage last year. He made 48 appearances in 2009 and finished with a .304 batting average, third-highest on the team. He scored 29 runs, hit 12 doubles, one triple and had 22 RBI in 161 at-bats.
"From a defensive standpoint, Brendan is one of the best defensive players that I have ever been able to coach," DiCenzo said. "He has definitely solidified himself as our starting centerfielder."
Laurendeau has emerged as a guy who communicates with the rest of the outfield in big ways and is a player who puts in a tireless work ethic who knows how to get the job done. He batted .261 with 14 RBI as a sophomore and figures to have an even more productive campaign as a junior. He also led the team with a perfect fielding percentage, not making a single error in 46 appearances. Sintetos was the Crusaders' primary defensive replacement in the outfield during his freshman campaign and has settled in to the starting leftfield role after proving his offensive importance over the fall.
"Jack can cover a lot of ground for us out there in right field," said Dicenzo. "He does a great job from the defensive standpoint. Chris has brought great value to our team offensively. He has one of the most natural swings on our roster and I'm expecting to play him quite a bit."
Junior Nick Ciardello (Edison, N.J.) will also push for playing time in the outfield after making 35 starts as a utility player last season. He also adds an impressive bat to the lineup as he finished with a .248 batting average, recording 26 hits, including six doubles and four home runs and 22 RBI in 105 at-bats over 2009.
"Nick is a guy who can play a little of everything. I can put him at first base, use him as a designated hitter and he also works well in left field. I expect him to see some time out there as well," said DiCenzo.
Known for playing in a good balance of non-conference and conference games, Holy Cross' 2010 slate remains challenging. While the typical early-season Florida trip is not on the schedule, the team begins competition on the road in warm-weather Georgia and South Carolina, taking on Georgia Southern, the College of Charleston, Savannah State and Charleston Southern. In all, Holy Cross will play 31 games on the road and 18 at home. The Crusaders' 20-game Patriot League slate, in addition to a strong selection of non-conference midweek games, should help prepare the team for a strong postseason run.
"I think we have a really good mix of non-conference games," DiCenzo said. "I don't think we've put ourselves in a vice early on in the season, like going to Arizona, but we do have games against some very competitive teams on a national level. It is those non-conference games that will prepare us greatly for our games in the Patriot League."
The 2010 season opens on the road with contests against the four southern schools already mentioned from Feb. 27-March 5. The team will then head a bit north to take on Delaware the weekend of March 13-14. Holy Cross follows that weekend with a doubleheader at Siena on March 17 before hosting their first home game against Quinnipiac on March 20. After a mix of home and away games against the more locally-based Connecticut, Boston College, NJIT, Massachusetts and Harvard, the Crusaders will open Patriot League play with a four-game home set against Army on April 3-4.
Holy Cross' conference slate at home will also feature a four-game series against Lafayette on April 17-18. The Crusaders will hit the road in conference play to face Bucknell, Navy and Lehigh. As has been the custom, Holy Cross' schedule will be lined with Tuesday and Wednesday games against out-of-state non-conference foes, including Hartford, Marist, Central Connecticut, Dartmouth, Brown and Yale.
"I think this schedule allows us to win more games than we did last year, and we're excited to get the season going," DiCenzo said. "Ultimately, we want to improve in every aspect from the way we did things last year. We want to come to the park every day and get better, with the idea in our heads that we will make the Patriot League Tournament."