Baseball coach gears team up for 2016

Published by adviser, Author: Ryan Barlow - Sports Editor , Date: January 28, 2016

The National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) released its preseason rankings poll for the Atlantic Region last Friday, listing the Slippery Rock baseball team in the top 10 at eighth overall.
Ahead of SRU are five fellow Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) opponents and two non-conference opponents. Leading the top of the pack was Mercyhurst University, followed by other PSAC programs Millersville and Seton Hill. Winston-Salem State of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association took the fourth spot ahead of Shepherd, East Stroudsburg and West Chester. Slippery Rock settled in at the eighth spot ahead of West Virginia State and Shippensburg.
Although Rock baseball coach Jeff Messer said he doesn’t pay much attention to these preseason rankings, he does agree that the rankings seem to make sense considering how each team finished the previous season.
“We have high expectations for our team each year going in,” Messer said. “We know year in and year out we are going to battle with both Mercyhurst and Seton Hill in the division.”
Messer also stated his team needs to addressesome holes that were left in the roster since losing some key position players and pitchers the previous season, including team ace Kyle Schneider and Division II National Player of the Year semifinalist Adam Urbania. Schneider threw four complete games in 2015 while compiling a 5-4 record with a 5.11 earned run average (ERA) and a team-high 54 strikeouts. Schneider returns to SRU as a graduate assistant coach.
Last season, Urbania put up a 34-game hitting streak which ranks 11th all-time in Division II history, along with batting .417 with 50 runs batted in (RBI).
Despite the key losses, Messer believes his team has the personnel to compete once again for a PSAC title and cruise its way to a 22nd consecutive winning season. Despite losing a top conference player like Urbania in the outfield, Messer says his team has the potential to have an even stronger defensive unit in the outfield this upcoming season.
“You don’t replace an Adam Urbania bat, but we think all nine of our players can be just as strong,” Messer said. “The biggest jump we have to make this year from last year is our pitching. Yeah, we won 30 games last season, but we had a team ERA over six, so we really need to do a better job there.”
Junior Preston Falascino returns for SRU, having started 40 games for The Rock at third base along with seeing substantial time on the mound as a starting pitcher. Falascino hit .327 with 35 runs, 48 hits, nine home runs and 30 RBIs in 2015. On the mound, he went 3-2 with one complete game in 41.1 innings pitched.
Sophomore Tyler Walters is back for Slippery Rock after an impressive rookie season where he was named the PSAC-West Freshman of the Year. Walters saw time in both the outfield and as catcher, but Messer believes he see most of his time in the outfield in 2016 to allow senior Alex Bell get more playing time behind home plate. Walters hit .367 last season with 13 home runs, a mark that already has listed him 17th on SRU’s all-time home runs list.
Returning on the pitching mound is sophomore Alex Pantuso who made a big impact for the club in 2015. Pantuso threw 38.1 innings as a freshman while boasting a 3-1 overall record. Messer sees Pantuso as one of his team’s top starters in 2016 and beyond.
“Pantuso had offseason surgery and is looking really strong thus far,” Messer said. “If he wasn’t the top freshman pitcher in the conference last year then he was pretty darn close to it.”
Next to Pantuso is redshirt-senior Jon Anderson whom Messer hopes will remain healthy throughout the course of the season. Anderson has a career 4.74 ERA and 9-6 record and will likely be the team’s number one starter in the rotation.
The Rock’s season kicks off on Feb. 13 in Charlotte, North Carolina where it will face Belmont Abbey College of the Conference Carolinas.


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