Feb. 13, 2013
QUEENS, N.Y. -
After a highly-decorated season that included a first-ever trip to the NCAA Super Regionals, an NCAA Regional Championship, a conference-record seventh BIG EAST Tournament title and a conference-record seventh BIG EAST regular season crown, the St. John's baseball team and 18th year head coach Ed Blankmeyer return to the field in pursuit of a return to Omaha for the first time since 1980.
The five-time BIG EAST Coach of the Year and the winningest coach in the history of BIG EAST play, Blankmeyer sits just 11 wins shy of the 600-mark and has led the Red Storm to eight NCAA Tournament berths in his tenure, including seven in the past nine seasons.
The St. John's roster features 16 returning letterwinners, including six players from last season's starting lineup, and a group of 15 newcomers, including 10 players that earned Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-Region honors as high school seniors.
"We know we have quality arms and some good offensive potential, but we do have a little bit of inexperience on the mound," said Blankmeyer. "We have 10 guys that have not thrown a pitch in collegiate baseball. They certainly have the talent to make an impact, but they just need to get experience and the confidence that comes with that experience."
Led by seniors and Preseason All-BIG EAST selections Sean Hagan and Sean O'Hare, the Red Storm was picked second in the BIG EAST Preseason Poll.
"Expectations don't change here. We want to play in the NCAA Tournament," Blankmeyer added. "Our goals are always to win the conference, win the conference tournament and do some damage in the NCAA Tournament. Our team may change, our personnel may change, but those changes never impact our goals and expectations."
The lone returning starter, Hagan will assume the No. 1 role after pitching in the No. 2 slot all of last season. Selected in the 29th round (880th overall) by the Minnesota Twins in the 2012 MLB Draft, Hagan returns for his senior season after going 8-3 with a 2.90 ERA en route to earning both second team ABCA All-Northeast Region and first team All-BIG EAST honors. The workhorse, who worked at least 6.0 innings in 14-of-16 starts and allowed two earned runs or less in nine starts, tossed a school-record 108.2 innings and became the first Red Storm pitcher to toss two complete games in a single season since 2005.
After sitting out last season, redshirt freshman Ryan Horstman is ready to make an impact in the starting rotation. The lefty went 6-0 with a 0.25 ERA and 106 strikeouts in 56.0 innings of work as a high school senior at South Hadley.
Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 35th round (1,072 overall) of the 2012 MLB Draft, freshman Mike Sheppard III is expected to slide into the weekend rotation. A two-time all-county honoree, a two-time all-conference selection and an honorable mention Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-American as a senior, Sheppard helped lead Seton Hall Prep to three-consecutive conference championships.
Another freshman that will join the starting rotation, Ryan McCormick went 6-1 with a 0.43 ERA as a senior at Massapequa and won the Diamond Award as the best pitcher in Nassau County. The righty also earned first team all-state honors and was a Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-Northeast Region honoree as a senior.
An honorable mention Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-American as a senior at Herricks, freshman Alex Katz is also among the stable of starters. The lefty also earned both All-Long Island and all-county honors as a senior.
After closing last season, redshirt junior James Lomangino leads the charge out of the bullpen. The hard-throwing righty went 2-1 with six saves and a 4.34 ERA last season and totaled 39 strikeouts in 29.0 innings of work. Lomangino walked just 11 batters and worked 17 scoreless appearances.
Freshman Joey Graziano is expected to be one of the long relief options in the bullpen. The righty was a three-time all-county selection and a two-time all-conference honoree at Governor Livingston.
Freshman Matt Clancy also figures to start the year as a long reliever. The lefty earned Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-Northeast Region honors as a senior, earned both all-county and all-conference honors in his high school career and helped Northern Valley Old Tappan win the North I Group III State Sectional crown as a freshman.
Senior Anthony Cervone leads a group of specialists and short relief arms. Limited to just 3.0 innings last season because of an injury, the hard-throwing righty has racked up 50 strikeouts in 47.0 innings of work in his career.
Senior Jerome Werniuk, a 6-5 righty, adds to the depth of the bullpen. After going 5-5 with two saves in 27 appearances, 14 starts, in two seasons at LeMoyne College, Werniuk went 1-1 with a 7.11 ERA and seven strikeouts in 12.2 innings of work last year in his first season with the Red Storm.
Sophomore Brad Bellinger made eight appearances as a freshman and went 0-0 with an 8.68 ERA in 9.1 innings of work. The 6-5 righty had eight strikeouts and held opponents to just a .176 batting average.
Redshirt freshmen Joey Christopher and Matt Hennie are both coming off of injuries, but are ready to make an impact in the bullpen. Christopher, an honorable mention Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-American as a senior, was a two-time all-conference selection at Sanford H. Calhoun. A Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-Northeast Region honoree as a senior at Roselle Catholic, Hennie was a three-time first team all-conference selection.
A sidearm specialist out of the bullpen, freshman Thomas Hackimer will make the switch to the mound after earning first team all-conference honors as a senior shortstop at Archbishop Molloy.
Freshman Anthony Rosati, an honorable mention Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-American as a senior at Holy Trinity, is another big arm to bolster the bullpen and rounds out the 15-man pitching staff.
An NCAA Regional and BIG EAST All-Tournament Team selection a season ago, senior Danny Bethea returns as the starting catcher. Bethea batted .263 with five doubles, four home runs and 30 RBI in 51 starts last season, his first at the Division I level, and also threw out 10-of-52 (19.2 percent) of potential base stealers. The catcher batted .310 with eight RBI in nine postseason games.
A two-time all-state selection and a two-time first team all-conference honoree, freshman Joe Burns opens the season as the backup catcher. An honorable mention Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-American as a senior at St. Joseph, Burns has the bat to earn some time as a designated hitter. Redshirt sophomore Dan Roland appeared in three games last season and adds to the depth at catcher.
Junior Frank Schwindel, who caught fire down the stretch and earned All-Tournament Team nods in both the NCAA Regionals and BIG EAST Tournament, will once again man the first base bag. Schwindel, who batted .410 in nine postseason games as part of a .360 clip in the final 33 games of the season, batted .332 on the year with five doubles, four home runs and 30 RBI. The first baseman struck out just 13 times in 202 at-bats.
Sophomore Bret Dennis will return to second base after batting .298 with a .411 on-base percentage in 33 games a rookie. Dennis did not make his collegiate debut until a midweek start in the 28th game of the season, but batted .571 with three multi-hit games in his first four starts and kept the reigns for the rest of the season. Dennis batted .400 through his first 15 starts and got hot in the postseason, batting .450 in seven BIG EAST and NCAA Tournament games. A two-time all-league honoree, freshman Ty Blankmeyer helped Seton Hall Prep win three-consecutive conference championships and will battle for time at second base. Blankmeyer has the speed to be a pinch running option and also has the bat control to be a situational pinch hitter.
A transfer from Bellevue College, sophomore Dustin Breshears will open the season as the starter at shortstop. As a freshman with the Bulldogs, Breshears earned first team All-Northern Region accolades and was both a first team All-NWAACC honoree and a Gold Glove Award winner. Breshears was a three-time all-league selection in high school at Mount Si.
O'Hare, a second team ABCA All-Northeast Region honoree as a junior last season, will hold down the hot corner for a third-straight season. One of just three players to start all 63 games last season, O'Hare had a team-high 15 doubles, ranked second on the team with a .434 on-base percentage and was third on the team in average (.341), RBI (43) and runs scored (42). The third baseman earned third team All-BIG EAST honors as a designated hitter as a rookie.
Junior Kyle Lombardo, a utility infielder, should compete for time at shortstop and could also be the backup at third base. The infielder made three starts as a sophomore in his first season at St. John's, including two at second base and one at third base.
Playing primarily in center field for his first two seasons and in right field last season, senior Jimmy Brennan will make the move to left field. Brennan batted just .207 as a junior, but combined to bat .280 in his first two seasons with the Red Storm and has five home runs and 60 RBI in his career.
Freshman Jamal Clarke is expected to patrol center field. A two-time team captain at Archbishop Spalding, Clarke was a Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-Atlantic Region honoree as a senior and helped his squad win a conference championship as a junior.
Right field will open as a platoon with senior Pat Talbut, redshirt junior Martin Kelly and freshman Alex Caruso vying for time. A do-it-all utility player, Talbut has played left and right field as well as first base, second base and third base in his career and batted .265 with 24 RBI in 48 games last season. Kelly batted .232 with seven doubles, one triple and 17 RBI in 44 games last season, his first with St. John's. A Rawlings/Perfect Game Preseason All-Northeast Region selection as a senior at Liverpool, Caruso was a three-time all-league honoree and a two-time all-county selection.
Sophomore Zach Lauricella will be the primary option in the designated hitter role. A member of the BIG EAST All-Tournament Team, Lauricella batted .263 with four doubles, one triple, two home runs and 32 RBI in 54 games as a rookie. Senior Robert Case should also see time at DH and is experienced in the pinch hitter role, where he went 3-for-10 with two walks last season.
A 56-game schedule features a total of 14 games against six teams that participated in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, including a matchup against Stony Brook that will be played at Citi Field.
St. John's will play 14-straight road games before its home-opener at Jack Kaiser Stadium on March 12 against Hofstra. The BIG EAST schedule features three-game sets at home against Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville and Notre Dame and road trips to Connecticut, Georgetown, USF and Seton Hall.