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2012 Baseball preview

Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Updated: Thursday, February 16, 2012 01:02


   April showers and May flowers may still be weeks away, but the new-look Marist baseball team is ready for spring.

   After starting practices Jan. 27 and taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather so far in 2012, the Red Foxes are set to start their season this weekend. The Marist team that lost four players to last year's MLB draft will travel to Buies Creek, North Carolina for a three-game set against Campbell to open their 2012 campaign. The teams will play one game on Friday at 3 p.m. and a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

   The Red Foxes will start the season with 16 road games before starting the MAAC play at home on March 24. The month-long stretch of road games will be primarily played against southern schools, with two trips to Virginia and the Coastal Carolina Tournament in South Carolina.

   The schedule could prove to be a challenge for Marist, playing several highly-rated teams going into the season. On March 13 and 14, the Foxes will play two games against the Virginia Cavaliers, semifinalists in last year's College World Series. Other foes include Old Dominion, Ohio State, Coastal Carolina, Toledo, Radford, Albany and Fordham.

   "It's a challenging schedule, but I think it's good," head coach Chris Tracz said. "We're a team that's going to have to find our identity, find our style and the way that we're going to play. Finding out who we are through adversity is going to be huge. There's going to be some bumps in the road, some highs and lows."

   Tracz, in his third year as head coach, said that the time to "let jobs be won" and establish a lineup and pitching rotation.

   For the players, playing the first month on the road can be difficult but it's also a good experience.

   "The beginning of the season is always fun," senior Eric Helmrich said. "It can be a bit of grind, but we come back here all ready to go for the conference season."

   MAAC play will start on March 24 against defending champion Manhattan at McCann Baseball Field. The conference looks to be deep and filled with parity going into the 2012 season.

   The Red Foxes were selected to finish fifth in the MAAC coaches' poll, but their 53 points is only eight points behind predicted first-place finisher Canisius. In Baseball America's MAAC preview, Marist was picked to finish first.

   "Everybody lost a core part of their group," Tracz said, "so it brings everybody back to the pack. It's probably the deepest the league has been in the 10 years that I've seen it. Every weekend's going to count; every game is going to be important."

   Last year the Red Foxes went 35-17 overall and 13-11 in conference, ending the season in fifth place, one spot removed from the MAAC tournament. The 35 wins is the second-highest total in program history.

   This year's squad will have to fill in the gaps left by a draft class that tied a program record with four players being selected in the MLB draft. Mike Gallic, Jon Schwind, Ricky Pacione and Eric Alessio were all selected and played minor league baseball last summer.

   Gallic, Pacione, Schwind and Bryce Nugent, who was a senior as well, accounted for four of the top five batting averages on the team last year.

   "It's tough to lose that kind of production on the mound and positionally," Tracz said. "But at the same time guys have been working from last year to be in a position to take those opportunities."

   Eric Helmrich will lead the Foxes' offense in 2012. Last season, the senior from Yonkers hit .364 in 48 games, hitting three home runs and driving in 32 to earn first-team all-conference. He was selected for the same award in the preseason voting this year.

   Tracz said he plans to use Helmrich, who was mostly a designated hitter last year, more in left field this year.

   Other core returners include first baseman Mike Orefice and shortstop Zach Shank. Ben Luderer, a senior who has gone through two shoulder surgeries, is healthy and will get the nod at catcher. Redshirt sophomore Mark Stuckey returns from a back injury and will see time at second base and center field.

   Tracz said that freshman infielder Alec Petrone is "a guy that can produce at the top of our order and sound defensively." Petrone is one of 10 freshmen for the squad.

   "We're not going to have [Gallic, Schwind, Pacione and Nugent]," Tracz said, "but we're going to have Zach Shank and Mike Orefice and Nick McQuail, guys like that, and if we just do what we need to do it'll play itself out. I don't think we're going to be as explosive offensively but that doesn't mean we can't be more efficient. There will be kind of a different look to us, a different style, but I think in the end the production could be fairly similar."

   The pitching staff will be spearheaded by team captain Chad Gallagher, Brett Houseal, Beilak, Zlotnick.

   "Those guys are going to be our core four," Tracz said "It's just a matter of figuring out what roles they're going to fill behind Chad."

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