PHILADELPHIA (2/03/03) - Armed with the program's deepest and most versatile collection of hurlers in nearly a decade, starting pitching will be the key for the Saint Joseph's University baseball team as it takes the diamond in 2003. Blossoming during the second half of last year, a late season surge left SJU just a single game shy of an Atlantic 10 playoff berth. This year, a more poised and experienced staff aims to lead the Crimson and Gray into the postseason. "We have a number of pitchers who have had the opportunity to throw a lot of innings early in their careers," relates Hawk head coach Jim Ertel. "If they're able to show the same level of improvement this year that they displayed last season, our staff could be one of the A-10's best." The team's leader off the field, fifth-year senior and co-captain Scott Fremont hopes to make the difference for this year's team on it after being limited to just three innings over the past two seasons due to a variety of shoulder ailments. Fremont served as the staff ace during his sophomore year, topping the squad in wins, starts, complete games, appearances, innings pitched and strikeouts. Besides Fremont, SJU's rotation features a diverse group of hurlers that includes senior Erik Holman, juniors Bill McCollum and Erik Vardijan, along with sophomores Brian Anecharico, Al Braun and Ryan Hoagey. By shuffling out pitchers with a variety of different styles, SJU should be able to keep opposing hitters off-balance. A crafty lefthander, McCollum led the Hawks in victories in his first season as a starter. The team's Pitcher of the Year, he has pinpoint accuracy and the ability to change speeds. SJU's Most Improved Player a year ago, Vardijan tossed 64.1 innings last season, tops among Hawk returnees. The former transfer from Arizona State, who has international experience as a member of the Croatian National Team, mixes pitches well and complements a nasty slider with a fastball that has good movement. A pair of South Jersey products, Holman and Braun opened last season in the Hawks starting rotation, but both were moved to the bullpen later in the season. A second team junior college All-American at Cumberland (N.J.) County College two years ago, Holman led SJU in both starts and saves in 2002. Braun, meanwhile, flashed signs of his potential with several quality starts early in the year. Likely to take on expanded roles in their second collegiate seasons are Anecharico and Hoagey. Possibly the team's top overall athlete, Anecharico will be used almost exclusively as a hurler this year, after seeing significant time as an outfielder as a freshman. The righty displayed dramatic improvement during the Summer and Fall and has an above average fastball and an excellent curve. Hoagey, meanwhile mimics McCollum in style if not girth. The burly lefthander changes speeds to keep batters off balance and can either start or relieve. A wildcard for the Crimson and Gray could be junior Chris Wicks. The highly-regarded junior college transfer missed the entire 2002 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Those hurlers that don't hold down regular rotation spots will certainly fill vital roles as members of the Hawks' relief corp. Others who will work out of the bullpen include junior Joe Mucci and freshmen Jake Iampietro and Pat Santone. Offensively, senior Mike Walls powers a Hawk attack that set a new school record for home runs last season. Walls comes off a breakout season during which he led the team with a .359 batting average, 19 doubles and 10 stolen bases. A co-captain, along with Fremont, he also clubbed six homers and drove in 38 runs. A selfless performer, Walls is likely to move to leftfield this season after starting nearly every game at third base last year. In addition to Walls, fellow seniors Kevin Dougher, Mike DeLorenzo and John Kokol will be asked to shoulder increased roles this season. The starting goalkeeper on the Hawk soccer team, Dougher has gained a reputation as one of the A-10's best defensive outfielders. The senior also gives SJU both power (4 HR, 21 RBI) and speed (9 STL, 37 R) at the top of the lineup. The lefthanded-hitting Kokol batted .297 with five home runs and 24 RBI in 2002, splitting time between first base and DH. DeLorenzo, a switch-hitter, is solid defensively and possesses perhaps the best batting eye on the team. He topped the squad with a .423 on-base percentage and was plunked by a school-record 12 pitches. Juniors Jason Tarewicz and McCollum return to the right side of the Hawk infield. The team's rookie of the year in 2001, Tarewicz will again hold down second base and bat leadoff. He struggled early last year, but sparked the team's late-season run, scoring 30 runs, smacking 10 doubles and stealing 10 bases. McCollum, when not on the mound, shared time with Kokol at first base and DH. Batting out of the three hole, he came through with numerous clutch hits and finished out the year hitting .302 with 11 doubles and 38 RBI. Two true freshman, Ryan Stadanlick and Jason Volker, are likely to take over the left side of the infield for SJU. Slated for shortstop, Stadanlick was a three-time all-area pick and earned Player of the Year honors from the Bucks County Courier Times after batting .519 with three home runs and 27 doubles as a senior. Volker was so impressive at third base in the fall, SJU was able to shift Walls to the outfield. The suburban Baltimore native earned high school all-conference honors three times and hit .396 with 38 RBI as a senior. Likely to both see significant time either in the outfield or at designated hitter are junior Nick Baldesari and sophomore Joe DiNubile. Baldesari posseses a powerful bat and hit .317 with two homers and 14 RBI in limited action in 2002. DiNubile has shown glimpses at the plate, but played in just 13 games as a red-shirt freshman. Another sophomore, Bryan Brown is a heady baserunner and reliable defensively in the outfield. Senior Chris McLaughlin and sophomore Rob Pimpinella head a talented group of infield reserves that also includes sophomore Willie Menke and red-shirt freshman Matt DiGirolamo. Few Hawks have matured more over their careers than McLaughlin, who can play second, short or third and couples a steady bat with excellent speed. Pimpinella was used mostly as a pinch hitter last season, but earned more at bats this year with a strong fall. Behind the plate, junior Anthony DelGaudio and freshmen Dustin Omulak and Greg Mason can all spell DeLorenzo. In addition to their work at the plate, two-way performers DiNubile, DiGirolamo, Kokol and Walls could also fill key roles in the Hawk bullpen. Freshmen Rich McGraw and Andrew Slane are likely to red-shirt the season. Led by a deep and experienced pitching staff, the Hawks should be much improved. If the team's offense can match the development of its arms, Saint Joseph's may surprise the A-10 with its first-ever Atlantic 10 playoff appearance in 2003. "Our pitching should keep us in a lot of games this season," states Ertel. "If we can get clutch hitting, we'll be in the hunt for the playoffs right until the end."