SALISBURY, Md. – The No. 24 Salisbury University baseball team will take its first step in a long journey to get back to the World Series for the first time since 2015 when it opens up the 2019 season on Sunday, February 10 against Gwynedd Mercy University.
Last Season, Head Coach Troy Brohawn helped lead the Sea Gulls to their third-consecutive Capital Athletic Conference championship en route to the NCAA tournament for the 24th time in program history. The 2018 squad finished with a 34-12 overall record while ranking as high as No. 10 in the nation, but fell shy of its annual goal of getting to the world series with a 14-3 loss to Baldwin Wallace University in the regional round in Auburn, New York.
Despite some noticeable turnover from last season's team, Brohawn says that Salisbury's goal never changes.
"The long-term goal never changes in this program," Brohawn said, "as far as winning the conference, getting to a regional and having a chance to play in the World Series."
Brohawn acknowledges that this year's team is young with plenty of new faces, but also knows he has a strong core of veteran leaders who have their sights set on another strong push that will have the Sea Gulls playing games in June.
With most of the athletes who received regular playing time in the outfield last season having graduated, there will be a number of new faces looking to earn playing time in 2019.
Junior Justin Meekins will lead the group and return as the starting center fielder this year, but Brohawn plans to give a number of guys some opportunity to earn regular playing time at the corner positions in the early going.
"We have a lot of great competition there," Brohawn said. "We've brought in a lot of freshman to compete for those spots."
Those freshman include names like Cameron Hyder, Sky Rahill and Scott Cameron. Brohawn describes Hyder as a "ball of energy" and a "hard-nosed kid". Cameron, who was predominantly a first baseman in high school, has made the transition to the outfield and, according to Brohawn, has grown a lot since making the switch last fall.
Brohawn also sees Brad Haas and Jack Decker as two returners who are both in the mix for playing time in the outfield. Decker spend most of 2018 as the team's primary designated hitter and has a background as a catcher, but Brohawn hopes to keep him in the lineup in as many ways as possible after Decker hit .367 in 128 at-bats a season ago.
The infield will return a few familiar faces with pre-season All-American Jack Barry making the move from third to second, and first baseman Jay Perry, but much like the holes left in the outfield, Brohawn will be looking at a number of options to fill in and earn playing time.
"We have a lot of great competition here as well", Brohawn said. "After last season, we felt like we didn't have enough depth that was going to push guys who were already starters. This year we've brought in a number of talented kids who are all really pushing each other for starting jobs and, in turn, making each other better."
One name worth keeping an eye on is Brandon Bonesteel, a junior transfer from New York, who Brohawn says has looked really good at third base so far this offseason. Jimmy Monaghan is another transfer who is going to have the opportunity to accumulate some innings in the infield.
"We also have some talented fielders returning for us in Troy Miller and Ron Villone," Brohawn added. "Villone is our 'Jack of All Trades'. We are comfortable putting him anywhere on the field knowing he's going to do well."
"Matt was our starter last year. He did a phenomenal job," said Brohawn. "He has a solid, strong arm and also came on really strong with his bat later on in the season. We feel we're pretty solid there. Those guys bust their humps in practice every day."
The pitching staff will have an almost completely new look to it this season with many of the arms from 2018 having moved on following graduation. There will be some big shoes to fill, but that doesn't mean Brohawn doesn't already have high expectations for his new guys.
"For the last two years — in 2017 we had Peter Grasso, Jeff Oster and Micah Wells. Those three put together a really great season for us," Brohawn said. "We lost all three of those guys, but then we get Connor Reeves, Austin Heenan and Wes Whitlock who came in and almost had a better season statistically than the three did the year before."
"Those are all new guys for us, but they've added some leadership and some experience to the staff," Brohawn said.
He also added that the team has some freshman arms that have high velocity and can spin the ball well.
"I'm expecting big things from all of these guys," Brohawn said. "They're going to get their feet wet whether they like it or not. How they perform is going to dictate how much time they're going to get."
Sophomore Jimmy Adkins, who out of all the returning pitchers logged the most innings on the mound a season ago, will begin this year as one of the team's top options out of the bullpen, though with his versatility as a fielder may see some time at shortstop as well. Andrew Rosso and AJ Korczynski are two other returners who will have a chance to contribute more in 2019.
Brohawn makes it a point every season to build as tough of schedule as he can in the early going. It's his philosophy that lining up a bunch of easy wins in order to have an impressive record on paper doesn't offer much help where it matters.
"I like to schedule the tougher teams early so we can see where our team's at," Brohawn said. "I think it prepare us for the conference schedule and it will prepare us for regional teams the further along we get."
The Sea Gulls will face teams such as State University of New York at Cortland, State University of New York at Oswego, Johns Hopkins University and Gwynedd Mercy University all within the first month of the season. Like Salisbury, each of these schools have successful histories and regularly finds themselves among the nationally ranked programs.
The team will open up its season this Sunday, February 10 against Gwynedd Mercy. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.