The LIU Post baseball team begins the 2013 season tomorrow against Stonehill College in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Last year, the Pioneers finished with a 27-20 record and went 16-8 within the East Coast Conference. Earlier in the month the Preseason Poll was announced and the Pioneers were selected to finish third in the conference this season behind Dowling College and Saint Thomas Aquinas College.
Bill Gaffney enters his second season as head coach of the Pioneers and will aim to improve off of last year’s performance. Recently, Coach Gaffney was kind enough to answer a few questions to help give a preview of the 2013 LIU Post baseball team:
The Pioneer (TP): Last season was your first at the helm of the Pioneers. You finished with a record of 27-20. Overall, how would you evaluate last season? What were a couple positives about the season? What were some things the team can improve upon?
Bill Gaffney (BG): Our seasons will only be judged as successful if we are able to reach our goals of winning our conference, advancing to the regionals and making our first trip to the College World Series. With that said, we competed throughout the year and unfortunately fell short in the conference playoffs by losing two one-run games. Last season our pitching staff continued to keep us in ball games and allowed us to win many games by playing small ball and using our speed on the bases to challenge the other teams. Just like many teams, consistency continues to be our challenge. If we are to reach our goals this year we must maintain the pitching and offensive performances from last year and be more consistent in our defensive play.
TP: With every new season in college athletics, it means there will be graduating players. Who are a couple of players that you no longer have this season? How can their production be made up? Who will step up for them this year?
BG: James Stone and Matt Simone are the two most notable losses from last year’s graduating class. Stone, a pitcher, was a 2nd team All-Conference player and Simone was a starting outfielder and backup catcher. We have a few pitchers who will compete for Stone’s innings. In addition to Bo Budkevics and Kevin Chenicek, two standout pitchers from last year, Joe Arena, Mike Eckerle and Rafael Martinez will get the opportunity to solidify the rotation. Simone’s role will be filled in the outfield by Angel Pimentel, last year’s second baseman and John Bellock a transfer from Manhattan. Behind the plate backing up Anthony Corona will be Marc Peretzman, who also pitches, Steve Teitel and Ryan Feminella.
TP: What returning players do you feel have the potential to have a breakout season this year? Whoever you feel may have a breakout season, why do you feel that way?
BG: Mike Eckerle and Joe Arena are two players who should have breakout years. Mike Eckerle is a big left handed pitcher who has seen limited innings because of talented pitching staffs during his first two years at Post. He is a hard thrower who has attracted interest from local scouts. Joe Arena is a sophomore who can potentially play a big role in this year’s team. As a freshman last year, Joe got his feet wet on the mound and showed good potential. All the players have off-season conditioning which helps them to begin the season ready to play.
TP: Are there any freshmen that have the ability to already make an impact in their first season?
BG: Three freshmen may see significant time this year, two pitchers and a first baseman. Chris Anderson and Christian Stancavage, both from West Islip High School, both have the talent and the make-up to make an impact on the mound for us this year. Dave Groeneveld, a first baseman from Saint Anthony’s High School, should supply us with a big bat in the middle of the line-up and good defense at first.
TP: What is the outlook for this year’s team? How far can the team go?
BG: Our goals are always the same as I noted above. We want to be playing in the College World Series and will work each day to achieve that goal. This team has the talent and experience to attain that goal.
TP: Is there an area that you are very comfortable in? Are there any areas of your team where you may have some platooning or position battles going on?
BG: Our pitching staff has good depth but the front line guys need to stay healthy for us to remain strong throughout the season. Third base and first base are positions that may see various players. Kevin Chenicek, our 3rd baseman, pitches and will also play 1st base to give his arm a rest. At first, in addition to Chenicek and Groeneveld, Anthony Corona our starting catcher and Rawlings Gold Glove region All-Star last year, will go to first to get a break from behind the plate.
TP: What is the biggest key for your ball club to win games?
BG: Baseball teams, like baseball hitters, go through slumps throughout a season. It is important for us to have a team that can be consistent in their play, pick each other up during the low times in the season, and most importantly to believe that they can play with anyone when they are focused on the goal. Our pitchers need to continue their consistent effort on the mound, we need our offense to repeat the performance from last year and our defense [needs] to be more consistent then we were last year.