Following the Washington and Lee baseball team’s surprise run through the conference tournament to claim its first-ever Old Dominion Athletic Conference title last season, the Generals and Head Coach Jeff Stickley believe that they have the experience and talent returning to once again make some noise in the conference tournament.
“Our goals are the same this year as they are every year,” said Stickley. “Get into the conference tournament and go from there. Can we get the key hits when we need them and can we pitch well enough at the right time? That’s really all it comes down to, and if we can get some of those hits and some of those innings, we’ll see how we do.”
W&L returns a wealth of experience at a variety of positions. The Generals welcome back three of last year’s starters on the infield in seniors John Ditore, who will move from shortstop over to second base, Hunter Serenbetz at first base and Jim Plantholt at third base. Senior catcher Will Lewis also returns to handle a pitching staff that returns three of its top four inning-eaters from a year ago and the outfield will feature three players that all started at least 22 games a season ago. Add that plethora of experience to a talented first-year group and it is obvious that the Generals have positioned themselves nicely heading into the season.
Ditore, who will slide from shortstop over to second base to fill the void left by the graduation of Byron Peyster, is coming off a career season in which he earned First Team All-ODAC honors after he hit .307 (.380 in conference games) with 22 RBI, 28 runs scored and nine doubles, while starting all 37 games at short. He also tied the program’s single-game hits record (5) and was second on the team with seven stolen bases (7-8).
“I expect John to be as good or better than last year,” Stickley noted. “I think the move to second base will help him to showcase his talents a little better and he could have a real good year for us.”
Over at first base, Stickley welcomes back Serenbetz, who despite missing eight games due to injury last season, still hit .354 and drove in 24 runs with a team-high 14 doubles and three homeruns. Serenbetz was an Honorable Mention All-ODAC pick as a sophomore and Stickley is counting on his offense heading into this season.
Plantholt returns to man the hot corner after making 37 starts there a season ago. He will be looking for a bounce back season, after hitting just .239 last year after hitting .355 as a sophomore. However, Plantholt was able to drive in 18 runs and score 25 times as well, but Stickley expects him to have a better season at the plate and be able to come up with some key hits for the Generals.
“If Jimmy can get a few hits for us this year that is going to be big,” said Stickley. “I think that he can bounce back for us and help us out quite a bit.”
Completing the infield returnees is Lewis, who returns for his third year of full-time duty behind the plate. A first team all-conference honoree as a sophomore, Lewis hit .356 last season and tied for the team lead with three homeruns. He drove in 25 runs and his 29 runs scored were good for second on the team.
“Obviously Hunter, John, Will and Tony are going to lead us offensively and we expect them to carry the load,” offered Stickley. “They have all shown that they can do it and how we do this season will depend a lot on how they carry and lead us.”
The Tony that Stickley spoke of is junior rightfielder Anthony Cardona. A Second Team All-ODAC selection last season after posting a .372 batting average and a slugging percentage of .550, Cardona also drove in a team-high 28 runs, scored 18 runs and was third on the team with 15 extra-base hits. He also proved to be a capable outfielder as he committed just two errors on the season and tied for the team lead with three outfield assists.
“Cardona had a real good year last season and he could be even better for us this season,” observed Stickley. “He is another guy that we are going to count on offensively this year.”
The other corner outfield spot will most likely be filled by sophomore C.J. Thompson, who appeared in 34 games with 25 starts as a first-year. He hit .278 with 14 RBI, 10 runs scored and stole three bases a season ago, and he will look for an increase in production during his sophomore season.
Sliding into the gap in centerfield will most likely be sophomore Mike Decembrino, who has some large shoes to fill. He will be replacing the void left by the 2009 ODAC Player of the Year Terrence McKelvey, who graduated as one W&L’s most decorated players. Decembrino hit .247 in 25 games, including 22 starts a season ago. He scored 16 runs and was 3-of-4 in stolen base attempts.
Rounding out the starting field players will most likely be first-year Jonathan Stutts, who looks to take over at shortstop. A smooth defensive player, Stickley feels that he has a good chance make an impact as a first-year.
“He has a real good chance to be a contributor for us this season,” Stickley noted. “He has a little arm fatigue right now as he gets used to practicing every day, but I think that he will be okay.”
There is a large group of first-years and sophomores that will look to provide depth at various field positions.
Sophomore Alston James, who played in 10 games a season ago, will look to back up Ditore at second base, while sophomore Chas Straface and first-year Mike Savas will vie for innings at third base. First-year Alex Maragos will look to back up Serenbetz at first base and first-years Will Salley and Luke Deary, as well as sophomores Ben Thomas and Joe Gannet, are all in the mix to back up Lewis behind the plate.
Joe Scalzo, George Youmans and James Dillard are among a host of first-years that could see some time at a variety of outfield positions should the need arise.
“We have some pretty talented young guys in addition to the experience that we brought back,” Stickley said. “If the young guys improve and pick things up quickly, that is going to help us a lot.”
Stickley will be able to trot out several guys to the mound that saw significant action last season, led by senior righthander Chuck Davidson, who was named the Most Outstanding Player of last season’s ODAC Tournament. He led W&L to its first ODAC crown by picking up two wins in the tournament after allowing two runs (0 earned) and striking out 12 batters in 15 innings pitched. Overall, he finished the season with a 6-3 record and a 3.87 ERA in 76.2 innings of work. He struck out 49 batters compared to just 21 walks and boasted a batting average-against of just .248, good for fourth in the ODAC.
“Chuck is our No. 1 starter and is really going to anchor the rotation,” remarked Stickley.
Falling in behind Davidson will be junior righthander Gregg Laswell and sophomore righthander Roger Strong.
Laswell tossed 53.2 innings a season ago, posted a 2-2 record with a 6.37 ERA and Strong posted a 5.23 ERA and a 1-2 ledger in 41.1 innings pitched.
“We need to get some key innings out of not only those, but some of the young guys as well,” Stickley remarked.
Also looking to bolster the rotation is senior righthander Nate Adkins, who missed nearly all of last season due to injury. Adkins was 3-0 with a 4.50 ERA and 30 striketouts in 36.0 innings as a sophomore
“I think Adkins’ return could be key,” Stickley noted. “He has some experience and the ability to come in and throw some innings for us.”
Others looking to take the mound for the Generals include sophomores Jody Davis and Pat Smith, as well as first-years Jacob Pelton, Scalzo and Dillard, among others.
Davis went 2-1 with a 5.68 ERA in 12.2 innings last season, while Smith was 1-0 with one save and a 5.87 ERA in 15.1 innings.
“Again, if we figure out where we are going to get some key hits and some key innings, we have a chance,” Stickley said. “Just like last year, all we need is a chance and I think that we understand that.”
Stickley did note that the weather has pushed back his team’s preparation significantly and that this weekend’s opening games in Atlanta, Ga., could be difficult as it will be W&L’s first time on a diamond all season.
“That could be a eye-opening stretch for us, we have not seen a ball come off the bat yet, so this first week could be interesting.”
The Generals’ ODAC Title defense is scheduled to get underway on Sunday as W&L takes on Oglethorpe at 1:00 pm.