The 2014 Washington and Lee baseball team will look noticeably different than the squad that was eliminated on a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th inning at the 2013 ODAC Tournament. The Generals have 10 first-years on the roster, along with 19 returners, in attempts to replace the production they lost from the nine seniors that graduated.
"Obviously, losing those guys hurt and they were a really talented class." Head Coach Jeff Stickley explained. "We are going to have some guys with experience filling those holes and we are going to have some young guys who are going to have to play. In these situations, you just have to find people to plug in and hope they play like the class that left did when they were younger."
The pitching staff will return an All-ODAC performer in senior captain Nate Plein. Plein finished last year with a 5-1 record, a team-best 3.71 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 63.0 innings.
"Plein anchors the staff, and he will do everything for us," Stickley stated. "He'll start, and he'll close, basically do whatever we need from him."
Senior captain Jake Rudolph and junior Cory Smith join Plein as a few of the top returners on the pitching staff. Rudolph set a W&L single-season record last year by appearing in 21 games. He ended the campaign with a team-high four saves, which tied for the third-most in a single season at W&L. He had a 1-1 record with a 6.00 ERA in 24.0 innings pitched.
"Rudolph may move to the front end this year, unlike last season when he was coming out of the bullpen mostly," Stickley said. "Cory could be a starter. We just don't know right now. We are going to go with the guys that have experience early in the season."
Smith appeared in 19 games, which was the second-most in a single-season in W&L history. He had a 1-2 overall record with a 5.18 ERA in 40.0 innings, but totaled 28 strikeouts compared to just 13 walks.
Senior Mike Savas, juniors Matt Hedberg, Andrew Lamb, Sam Raphael and Drew Shott, and sophomore Kyle Tipping combined to throw 61.2 innings, including six starts, with 44 strikeouts last year. Savas moves to the bullpen after spending his previous years as a third baseman. Along with the returners, the pitching staff will have three newcomers in 2014.
The strongest returning position group for the Generals will be the outfield. Junior Drew Weprinsky received Second Team All-ODAC accolades last season and junior Keegan Dolan had a breakout season offensively. Playing mostly in left field, Weprinsky tied for first in the ODAC in batting average at .420 with 50 hits in 119 at bats. He also ended the season on a 28-game hitting streak, which according to NCAA rules will carry over to 2014.
It is going to be hard for him to hit .420 again, because teams know about him now," Stickley remarked. "He's got a solid swing so he's going to hit."
Playing exclusively in center field, Dolan appeared in 36 games and finished fourth on the team with a .331 batting average. He ranked third in the conference in slugging percentage (.632), fourth in steals (16), was tied for fourth in home runs (7) and was tied for fifth in triples (3).
In right field, sophomores Luke Myer and Michael DeMatteis will compete for playing time, while senior Kyle Witty has a chance to see action at both of the corner outfield slots. First-year Patrick Quinlan will also provide depth for the Blue and White.
At first base, senior captain Josh Josephson will look to start after dealing with injuries in 2013. He played in 12 games with three hits in 20 plate appearances. In 2012, Josephson finished with a .368 batting average in 57 at-bats. Rookie Jonny Swenson will back him up and look to earn playing time in his first season.
"Josh has played there in the past, and has got some experience offensively for sure," Stickley remarked. "Behind him, Swenson is very good defensively."
At second base and shortstop, the Generals have a handful of guys that will see playing time. Juniors Taylor Rowe and Nick Biumi return with the most playing time, as both saw action at second base in 2013. Biumi batted .222 and recorded 14 runs in 22 games, while Rowe had a .264 batting average and 10 RBI in 27 contests.
With Biumi and Rowe we expect them to be better this year," Stickley stated. "Rowe is more of a third baseman and a shortstop, while Biumi will play at short and second base."
Along with Rowe possibly seeing some time at third, W&L will rely on two first-years at the hot corner. Ryan Weston will exclusively play as a third baseman, while Matt Wasson will see time at third and in the outfield.
Behind the plate, W&L has three catchers that will have opportunities to see action. Sophomores Riley Stout and Andrew Head combined to play in nine games last year. In limited action, Head went 2-for-5 at the plate, while Stout went 1-for-1 with two walks. First-year Cory Paton rounds out the trio for the Generals.
"Stout is certainly going to see a lot of time and Head will also be there as a returner," Stickley said. "They both had good fall seasons, and we are counting on them to continue that play this spring. Paton also has some ability, and defensively, they are all pretty solid."
Overall, Stickley understands there is a lot of uncertainty for the Generals this year.
"Offensively, it is a matter of finding out where people are going to fit, and that might take a while," Stickley noted. "With the young guys, it is all about finding out where they are going to go and what they are going to do. Defensively, the infield is going to be pretty solid and the outfield has more experience returning."
The Generals' season starts on Sunday with a doubleheader at Greensboro at 1:00 pm. W&L will have to get used to being on the road, as its first six games on the schedule are away from Cap'n Dick Smith Field.
"With a young team, I'd almost rather be on the road," Stickley explained. "Just so they can experience all that goes into it. They can get used to catching the bus and then having to play. We are also trying not to look too far ahead. We want to get better as the season goes along, and try not freeze too much in February."