Despite posting an overall record of just 15-16 last season, the Washington and Lee baseball team and Head Coach Jeff Stickley have reason to be optimistic about their chances heading into 2012. W&L posted an ODAC record of 12-6, its most conference wins in a season since winning 15 games in 2003, and lost just two players to graduation. With that kind of continuity coming back, Stickley believes his team is in good position as the start of the 2012 season draws near.
Replacing Laswell, the 2011 ODAC Pitcher of the Year, could prove difficult, though Stickley does not expect one guy to fill the void. Rather, he expects it to fall to any number of players in what is a large pitching staff in terms of numbers.
Strong, who was 3-4 with a 5.04 ERA in 12 appearances (11 starts) a season ago, will serve as one of this season's captains and figures to begin the year as the team's No. 1 starter, while Shaw (3-3/2.63 ERA/37.2 IP), a Honorable Mention All-ODAC honoree last year, looks to jump up to the No. 2 spot after pitching primarily out of the pen in his first two seasons.
"Roger, I think, is going to do well for us and pitch more like he did two seasons ago," Stickley said. "Shaw was a nice surprise last year and we hope he can carry that into this year."
Davis, Smith and Rudolph combined to make nine starts a season ago, though that number may go up with the departure of Laswell. While none of the three will be expected to shoulder all the load, solid contributions will be expected.
"We are not asking anyone to be 'The Man'. Just keep us in the game and go as long as you can, we have plenty of guys in the bullpen that can come in and get the job done."
Tackett, a former first baseman, and Gannett, a converted catcher, were both pleasant surprises last season as they combined to go 1-1 with a 1.85 ERA in 29.2 innings. Clifford joins the team after coming over from Furman and is coming back from Tommy John surgery, while Palicz and Wisotsky combined to 17 appearances in relief last season.
"Lee and Joe were real nice surprises last season," commented Stickley. "Hopefully they can be effective again this season and maybe someone else will surprise us."
"Matt is a big kid (6-4) and has got some potential, while Cory has shown a good arm," noted Stickley.
Catching the multitude of arms that will be run out to the mound will be a trio of juniors behind the plate, led by captain Will Salley. A first team all-conference selection a season ago after hitting .407 with 19 RBIs, 11 doubles a home run and 30 runs scored, he figures to be at the depth chart at catcher and will most likely see a lot of time at designated hitter as well.
"Salley's just a good hitter and he had a great year last season," Stickley remarked. "We would like to keep him fresh, so he will see some time at DH so he doesn't get beat up to much.
Joining Salley are classmates Luke Deary and Alex Mait. Deary hit .323 with four doubles, two triples and a home run last season, while Mait finished at .313 with a double and eight driven in. Having three players who all have a host of experience gives Stickley the luxury of riding the hot hand.
"We will just see who is swinging the bat well and try and keep them in the lineup," Stickley said. "All three of them will play, just a matter of seeing who is playing well when."
On the infield, the Generals return starters at three positions as junior Alex Maragos returns to first base, senior Alston James will man second and junior Jonathan Stutts will resume his role as the starting shortstop.
Maragos made 27 starts at first a season ago, hitting .275 with 13 RBIs. He clubbed a team-best three home runs to go with two triples, eight doubles and he scored 27 runs.
James returns after hitting .299 with 16 RBIs and 17 runs scored in 28 starts, while Stutts is back after earning Second Team All-ODAC honors in 2011. He hit .318 with team-highs in RBIs (27) and runs scored (35) to go with eight doubles, three triples and a pair of home runs.
"Stutts and A.J. (James) are going to be fine, and I think they will both have good years," Stickley said. "Maragos also had a pretty good year at first, would like more consistency, but he did a good job in his first year of real playing time."
Sophomore Josh Josephson will look to garner some playing time at first or third after filling in for Maragos after he suffered a late-season injury last year, and junior Chris Nault, who saw some time at second a year ago, could see time on the infield.
While junior Mike Savas returns after seeing the majority of time at third base, it may be first-year Nick Biumi who earns the job. Savas hit .268 with two doubles, 12 RBIs and 12 runs scored a year ago, while Biumi has proven to be a slick fielder and has made an impression on the coaches, if for no other reason, than it was he who broke Stickley's arm with a line drive early in the preseason.
First-year Taylor Rowe will also be in the mix to see some time in the infield as the season progresses.
In the outfield, senior Mike Decembrino will once again roam centerfield, senior C.J. Thompson is expected to be in left and junior Joe Scalzo is expected to replace Anthony Cardona in right. Sophomore Keegan Dolan will also figure in the mix, especially early in the year while Thompson recovers from a minor knee injury in the preseason.
Decembrino, Stickley's final team captain, has made 85 starts in centerfield over his first three seasons. Last year, he hit .262 with three doubles and three triples, while also stealing seven bases. The speedy lefty also did not make an error in the field in 90 chances a season ago.
"Mike can go get it out there," said Stickley of Decembrino's range. "He has been out there for three years now and does a good job."
Scalzo made 11 starts last year and hit .222, but did show some power with a pair of home runs and 10 RBIs in just 45 at-bats, while Thompson was a second team all-conference pick last year after posting .299 average with three doubles, two triples, a home run and 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored.
"C.J. played pretty well last year, especially in league-play and Joe has one of the best arms on the team."
"As long as we can hit and keep guys healthy, we are going to be ok," Stickley concluded. "The schedule never does us any favors and the first two weeks are real busy (7 games in 9 days), but it will give us a chance to see where we stand and give us a good idea of how the year is going to play out."
The Generals begin play on Sunday, travelling to Averett for a doubleheader set to begin at 12:00 pm.