The Richard Stockton College baseball team has been an average squad over the previous three seasons.
They won at least 21 games each year, making them a little better than .500. They also reached the ECAC tournament all three years.
The Ospreys, who opened the season Sunday by sweeping a doubleheader against Penn State-Abington, hope a deeper roster and a new attitude will take them to the next level this year.
"We are very excited about the group of players we have this year," coach Marty Kavanagh said in a phone interview Wednesday night. "We have a very solid sophomore class, and then our juniors and seniors are a perfect complement to them. We're all ready to play, and some of us are still learning, but it's exciting to watch them grow."
Stockton lost key hitters Mike Wasco, Dan McGuckin and Marc Asta from the 2012 team that finished 21-18 (8-10 New Jersey Athletic Conference). First baseman Wasco hit a team-high .357 and led the team with two triples, four home runs and 38 RBIs. McGuckin batted .338 with 22 runs and 20 RBIs, and Asta hit .306 with 20 RBIs and 15 runs.
"It's going to be awfully hard to replace those guys, but the guys we have are more than capable and have learned from all those guys," Kavanagh said.
Sophomore Erik Danser will start at first base and bat cleanup. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder hit .333 in 24 at-bats as a freshman. Brett Solomen, also a sophomore, is expected to play third and see some time at first as well. He batted .286 in 35 at-bats last year.
Andy Oliver will replace Nick Scalise behind the plate. The sophomore only played in six games last season but batted .429.
"I think they're ready for the season," returning senior Barry Larro said. "I'm really excited for them and the team. We have a lot of really good ballplayers this year, and it's all coming together good. Our practices have been impressive, in my opinion, and we can't wait to get started."
Larro, a Cumberland Regional High School graduate, is a four-year starter in left field who hit a career-high .304 with team highs of 28 walks and 15 stolen bases last season.
Senior second baseman Justin Gordon, senior shortstop Shawn Kessler and junior third baseman Travis Marra are also among the Ospreys' top returnees.
Kavanagh said he is confident that the talented group of second-year players and his experienced veterans will come together to create a more dynamic team. The Ospreys were picked to finish seventh in the NJAC preseason coaches poll. Kean was voted No. 1 and Ramapo No. 2. Ospreys rival Rowan was picked to finish third.
Last season, Stockton lost eight NJAC games by one run.
"That's a glaring number," Kavanagh said. "That's almost 30 wins, and we could have been right in the mix,. But we weren't because we couldn't score one run."
The Ospreys can look to new hitting coach Dan DiBartolomeo, a Margate resident and Holy Spirit High School graduate, for help, too.
"A lot of these guys all batted third or fourth in high school and were never told to hit behind the runner or hit a sacrifice fly," Kavanagh said. "There's a lot more to it at the college level and teaching them that should be the difference this year."
DiBartolomeo holds West Virginia University's single-season record for hitting. He batted .439 in 2009, which was fourth best in the country among NCAA Division I programs.
On the mound, Stockton welcomes back Gage Mick and left hander Adam Warburton into the top rotation.Mick, a senior and Cumberland Regional graduate, was 5-2 with 51 strikeouts and a 2.55 ERA last season.
The bullpen also has depth and features senior Bill Barron, who posted a 1.98 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 13 innings. Junior Brandon Trainor had a team-high three saves last season. Sophomore Jason Fox will provide Stockton with a closer for the first time in two years.
New this year to round out the rotation is Ocean City graduate Kolya Stephenson and two all-region junior-college transfers, Brendan Stout (Camden County College) and James DiPiazza (Ocean County College).
Kavanagh also said he upgraded schedule for its annual Florida trip.
"One thing I wanted to do here was create a climate of success," Kavanagh said. "We want to grow with the program, so to speak. We have played the weaker teams to bring up our confidence, and now we have grown to where we have beaten nationally ranked teams. (The harder schedule) was by design, but we had to take baby steps first to get there."
Seven of the eight teams that Stockton will face in Vero Beach and Fort Pierce had more than 30 wins last season.
"We're really excited to have those teams on the schedule," Larro said. "We know we have talent, and we know what we can do with it. Now we just have to put it all together, beat these teams and turn some heads. We want to show something, and then by the time we get to conference play we'll have had the experience and we'll be ready for it."
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