by Luke Stanczyk
After last season’s trip to the Northern Athletics Conference tournament, the BenU Baseball team has high expectations as pre-season practices begin.
“I expect us to have a great year,” said sophomore catcher Tom Higgins. “I think that we should not have too much trouble getting 25 plus wins on the season, making the conference tourney and I can see us winning the NAC and moving on to the NCAA playoffs.”
Their experienced pitching staff is one of the things that has Head Coach John Ostrowski excited heading into the season, as he believes he has a quality group of arms to work with.
“It’s a nice combination of guys coming back plus new arms,” explained Ostrowski. “When you look at our young freshman arms, there’s at least six guys who we think can not only help us right away, but also have potential to be impact players for us down the line.”
Meshing with those impact freshmen will be guys like junior all-conference left-hander Kevin Crowley and senior and hard-throwing right hander Mark Belcastro. In addition, the Eagles return almost all of their pitchers from last year’s staff.
Along with the pitching staff, Ostrowski also sees the infield as a strength of the team, with Junior shortstop Nick Karakosta headlining the group.
“Karakosta is looking to be as good a shortstop as we’ve had in a while,” Ostrowski said. “Karakosta was our leadoff hitter last year and did a real good job.”
Joining Karakosta in the infield could be a combination of senior Uli Ortiz, junior Chris Wanderling, junior Tim Gindville and transfers Steve Cocat and Ryan Mullin.
Mullin and Gindville will see time at first base for one big reason: senior and last year’s starting first baseman Dan Zust will be a key member of this season’s outfield instead.
“We have big shoes to fill with losing senior center fielder Josh Zenawick last year,” said Ostrowski of the decision to move Zust to the outfield. “We saw that we were a little short on quality outfielders, and we saw in the fall that [Zust] was athletic enough to play the outfield well.”
Zust will join junior and all-conference player Kevin Hendricks in the outfield. However, the rest of the outfield appears to be wide open.
“A big question mark is the outfield,” said Ostrowski. “That’s probably the most unsettled spot.”
Behind the plate, Higgins is coming off of a big season and looks to build upon that success.
“My goals for myself are to improve in all aspects from last year and do whatever I can to help the team win,” explained Higgins.
As a team, Ostrowski has noticed an overall increase in strength, and he attributes that to the brand new Fitness Center in the Rice Center.
“The whole program has benefitted from our new fitness facility. We’ve seen a number of guys from the end of fall ball put on six or eight pounds of strength,” explained Ostrowski. “It’s amazing what that facility has done.”
That, combined with all the returning talent, has the Eagles expecting to put together a fantastic season.
“We got a taste of how good we could be last year,” said Ostrowski. “Certainly, we will not be satisfied unless we make the NCAA tournament.”