SALISBURY, Md. – As the weather turns warmer and the day light begins to linger a little longer the sounds of a bat cracking and a ball hitting leather brings with it another season of Salisbury University baseball. With the 2017 season just a day away third-year Head Coach Troy Brohawn is looking forward to another year of success for his Sea Gulls squad.
Brohawn, who brings with him experience at every level of baseball, believes this year's team is capable of great things.
"We are more experienced than we were a year ago," he said. "We were a young team last season but improved in areas we struggled and learned a lot about ourselves as last year progressed."
This season the Sea Gulls will look to make their biggest improvement in the pitching aspect of the game. Senior Pete Grasso and senior Jeff Oster will be called upon to lead the Salisbury pitching staff.
Grasso turned in an impressive 2016 season and was recently tabbed as an Honorable Mention preseason All-American by D3baseball.com. He posted a 4.14 ERA, which was second best on the team, recorded seven wins to just two losses, and totaled 45 2/3 innings pitched, 55 strikeouts, and only 21 walks while holding opposing hitters to a batting average of just .263.
Oster will enter 2017 coming off a solid junior campaign in which he recorded an ERA of 5.96 but finished second on the team in wins posting a record of 4-2 in nine starts last season. He totaled 51 1/3 innings pitched and 36 strikeouts while allowing 20 walks.
"I am really looking to these two guys to lead our staff this year and improve from last season," Brohawn said. "This was an area we didn't perform particularly well in and will need to step up."
Salisbury will also look to University of North Carolina at Charlotte transfer Micah Wells to help the pitching staff make strides forward in 2017.
"Wells has collegiate playing experience under his belt and will be someone we expect big things out of this year," Brohawn said.
Probably the most set in stone position on the roster leading up to opening day is catcher. Senior Tom LaBriola will once again anchor behind home plate for the Sea Gulls as he will look to build on his success from 2016.
"He is a true leader and for the first time since I have been head coach I named a captain and will honor Tom with that privilege," Brohawn said. "He has earned the right to be named the captain through his hard work and dedication throughout his four years here. He will be a great leader for everyone on this team to follow."
LaBriola finished his junior campaign posting a team-best .413 batting average, scoring 47 runs, totaling 66 hits including 12 doubles, one triple, four home runs, and an on-base percentage of .453. He also recorded another team-high .990 fielding percentage with 249 putouts and 38 assists.
What will be the deepest part of the team this season, the infield will boast some of the most important players to the success of the Sea Gulls. Sophomores Jack Barry and Jay Perry will anchor the infield unit as they will both look to improve on their freshmen seasons. Salisbury will also lean on University of Maryland transfer Justin Meekins, Will O'Hara, and Will Gutekunst to help them lock down the infield.
Barry turned an extremely impressive freshman season coming to the Eastern Shore and starting every game for the maroon and gold. He recorded a batting average of .306, with 41 hits including four doubles and five home runs, 41 RBI, and a slugging percentage of .448. Barry also was effective as the Sea Gulls' third baseman totaling a fielding percentage of .890 while posting 33 putouts.
"After last season we sat down as a staff and talked about what we needed the most and competition was a reoccurring thought from everyone," Brohawn said. "We wanted to add depth and push our players to be their best and that became our approach and goal this offseason in our recruiting and message to the guys. I believe we have accomplished that so far just from what we saw in fall practice."
Simon Palenchar will also be called upon as a first year player for the program to help boost the infield and keep the competition level high. Palenchar, a transfer from Radford University, played in 31 games for the Highlanders over a two-year span and totaled a batting average of .167 and an on-base percentage of .259 in just 48 career at-bats. As a sophomore he was solid in the field recording 24 putouts and a fielding percentage of 1.000.
In what will be the most competitive group on the roster according to Brohawn the outfielders will have the opportunity to compete every day for one of the three spots. Brohawn and his staff will look to returning players such as Kevin Dean and Robbie Jones to try and earn one of the three starting positions while battling for them with both transfer and incoming players. Kyle Canavan, Meekins, Brad Keith, and Colby Dean will also look to compete in the crowded outfield and stake a claim to one of the three spots.
Dean was a reliable player for the maroon and gold last season posting a batting average of .333, totaling 13 hits, scoring 11 runs, and six RBI playing in just 17 games. He also posted a fielding percentage of .933 to go along with 14 putouts. Classmate Jones was also a solid player for the Sea Gulls recording a .268 batting average, totaling 11 hits including three doubles, and scoring 10 runs. In just 20 games played last season, Jones posted an impressive 1.000 fielding percentage and 14 putouts including one assist.
"I am really excited to see how this shapes up," Brohawn said. "With just over a week between when we return to when we play our first game, the battle will be fun to watch to see who our three guys will be on February 11."
Once again, Salisbury will test itself in out-of-conference play as the team looks to once again make a return trip to the NCAA playoffs. The Sea Gulls will see tough competition in the Capital Athletic Conference from York College of Pennsylvania, Wesley, and Frostburg State University to name a few.
Out of conference Salisbury will face some of the best teams in the nation including Kean University, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Oswego, Shenandoah University, and Johns Hopkins University. Two of those teams, Cortland St. and Oswego St., will be opponents in the first four games of the season on February 18, 19, and 25.
"We want to play a tough schedule both in and out of conference," Brohawn said. "I want our players to be prepared when we play in the NCAA Regional and understand the talent we will be facing as we look to make it to the NCAA Division III Baseball World Series. We need to be tough both mentally and physically and understand how to play against great teams but maybe even more importantly how to beat great teams."
The Sea Gulls will open their season on February 11 at home against Gwynedd Mercy University at 1 p.m.