According to the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference preseason poll of coaches, the Rock baseball team has been predicted to finish third in the PSAC-Western Division, only behind top programs Mercyhurst University and Seton Hill.
Led by head coach Jeff Messer, Slippery Rock looks to quiet the doubters and take over the Western Division with its experienced roster.
“Three is a good spot for us,” Messer said. “I think we are capable of winning everything, but it’s just a matter of staying healthy. We are certainly in the mix.”
Messer enters his 30th season with Slippery Rock with a career record of 894-540-5, already holding the position as the PSAC’s all-time winningest coach. With just six more wins, Messer will become the seventh coach in NCAA Division II history to earn 900 career victories.
Among the list of returnee’s for SRU is All-Conference standouts senior outfielder Adam Urbania and junior second baseman Jordan Faretta.
Urbania, who has already been named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Preseason All-Atlanic Region squad, was transfer from Ashland in 2014 and hit .331 in his debut season with the Rock and compiled 23 RBI’s with one home run. Faretta is coming off his first full season as an everyday position player and had a batting average .290 with 20 RBI’s in 2014.
Among other returning starters for SRU, the team will welcome back junior Jake Nogalo, junior catcher Alex Bell and redshirt junior Kyle Vozar. Bell, who had a .963 fielding percentage in 2014, and hit for a .324 batting average with 27 RBI’s, while Nogalo .315 with 14 RBIs. Vozar, also a transfer from Ashland, appeared in 33 games during his first season with SRU and 14 RBIs.
Despite many returning players on the Rock’s roster, Messer and his coaching staff will need to figure out a way to replace Rock all-star shortstop Will Kengor, who was drafted by the Detroit Tigers of Major League Baseball last June.
“The biggest replacement for us is that shortstop position,” Messer said. “Jake Nogalo played third base in the past but he is very capable of playing short since he’s played there in the past. He’s had some arm issues before so we will have to watch him closely but he should be able to fit there nicely.”
Returning to Slippery Rock is the core of its 2014 pitching staff in senior Kyle Schneider, redshirt junior Jon Anderson, senior Garret Peterson and senior Anton Constantino. In the Rock’s 45 total games last season, the four pitchers started for a combined 36 games.
Schneider earned first team All-PSAC -West honors in 2014 with a 6-3 record with 40 strikeouts and a 3.o9 earned run average. Peterson won three games for SRU last season with a 3.23 ERA and striking out 27.
“We certainly have a lot of options when it comes to pitching,” Messer said. “It’s just a matter of everyone staying healthy and we don’t have to lose any pieces to our puzzle.”
Despite these four having past experience as starters, Coach Messer feels that they should not get too comfortable in their old roles, because other pitchers, such as senior Ryan Oglesby and sophomore Preston Falascino are very capable of earning regular starts on the mound.
“Oglesby, hands down, is our number one as long as he is healthy,” Messer said, and then knocked on wood. “He is coming off a great summer season in Alaska and as long as he continues his good work he will continue to be our number one guy because he is just capable of throwing strikes.”
The Rock also welcomes 10 incoming freshman to the program. Among the recruits are three students who attended high school together at Saegertown, outfielder Kyle Wise, catcher Tyler Walters and infielder/pitcher Mitchell Wood.
Two former teammates from Baldwin High School, pitcher Alex Pantuso and infielder/pitcher Christian Hirt, also join the team.
Freshman position players Matt Mandes, Brandon Nania, Christian Porterfield and Davis Smith will also join the team this season.
The Rock’s season begins this Saturday as they travel to Bristol, Tennessee where they will take on King University in a two day four-game series.