July 7, 2009
PHILADELPHIA - It was an up-and-down season in 2009 for Saint Joseph's baseball but in the end the Hawks notched their best Atlantic 10 finish in six years under first-year head coach Fritz Hamburg. SJU showed notable improvement at the plate and got solid contributions on the mound from some unexpected sources; it is this type of team effort that looks to have the Crimson and Gray in the thick of the A-10 title race for years to come.
Tough competition and inclement weather conspired to keep the Hawks out of the win column until March 7, but once they broke through they showed the potential for big things. SJU opened its conference slate with a three-game sweep of city rival La Salle, the first A-10 sweep for the Hawks in almost seven years. Series wins at Fordham and against Temple left Saint Joseph's at 7-4 in conference play before a late-season swoon took SJU out of postseason contention, but the end of the season was not without its highlights as the Hawks earned a resounding victory over two-time defending Atlantic 10 champion Charlotte and a walk-off victory over George Washington at Campbell's Field in the season's final week.
Junior Dewey Oriente had a breakout season for Saint Joseph's, leading the team and finishing third in the conference with a .403 batting average. He also led the team with six home runs, 39 runs batted in and a .604 slugging percentage. Receiving most of his at bats at designated hitter, he was still solid in the field, making just two errors at first base. For his efforts he was named Honorable Mention All-Atlantic 10 and earned All-Philadelphia Big 5 honors as well as a place on the Big 5 All-Academic team.
Joining Oriente on the All-Big 5 team was junior David Valesente. Valesente's Hawk Hill career continued its upward slope in 2009 as he was named the team's Most Outstanding Player. He ranked second on the squad in average (.369), home runs (five), RBI (35) and slugging (.563) while leading in runs scored (39), doubles (15) and on-base percentage (.459). He also strung together a 19-game hitting streak that came up one short of the school record, set in 1983. Valesente crossed the 100-hit barrier for his career on February 27 and now sits 16th all-time with 160.
Redshirt senior Mike Blahusch also notched his 100th career hit with a single on March 14. One day earlier he was hit by a pitch for the 26th time in his career, breaking the previous record of 25. He finished the season with 125 career hits (tied for 32nd in SJU history) and 38 career HBP. His 14 for the season are the second-highest single-season total as redshirt sophomore Mike Coleman was plunked 16 times this year.
The Hawks as a team set a pair of hit-by-pitch records as well. SJU was on the receiving end of 104 beanballs, shattering the record of 64 set in 2008. The 2009 Hawks were just the 19th team in NCAA history to reach that milestone.
In the second game of a doubleheader on April 5, 10 Hawk batsmen were hit by pitches, tying the 11-year-old NCAA Division I record originally set by Washington. Ben Wendle was hit three times in the game, tying a school record.
Valesente tied a pair of school records in a 22-12 win over SIU-Edwardsville on March 11. The second basemen racked up five hits in the game; he is the fourth Hawk to achieve that feat. Three of those hits were doubles, which also matched a school mark that was last reach in April of 2000. A week later, Coleman tied the school record for at bats in a game, strolling to the plate eight times in the March 18 game against Lehigh.
On the mound, the Hawks were once again led by junior lefthander Randy Mower. Mower finished the season 5-5 with a 4.80 earned run average, tops among the SJU starting staff. He led the team in wins and innings pitched and moved into the top five all-time in both categories. At his current pace, Mower could leave Hawk Hill as both the winningest and the most durable pitcher in Saint Joseph's history.
Wendle and redshirt senior Chris Hildreth made a smooth transition from playing predominantly in the field last season to being effective at the back end of the bullpen in 2009. Hildreth led the team in appearances, taking the hill 19 times and serving as the team's primary closer, saving four games. Wendle notched a 3.12 ERA in 15 games and earned a pair of saves as well. Matt Barnathan did double duty as well, going 1-1 with a 4.72 earned run average and a save in 15 appearances; he also hit .257 in 109 at bats in the outfield.
While 2009 featured both peaks and valleys for the Hawk baseball squad, the foundation laid by Hamburg and his staff, as well as emerging stars such as Oriente, Valesente and Mower, should bode well as Saint Joseph's aims to continue its rise in the increasingly competitive Atlantic 10.