Feb. 22, 2006
PHILADELPHIA - A renewed commitment to fundamentals highlighted head coach Shawn Pender's first season at the helm of the Saint Joseph's baseball program. In year two, the Crimson and Gray will look to its youthful nucleus to continue its progress and put the Hawks in contention for the team's first-ever Atlantic 10 postseason berth.
"I think the great thing is that there are a number of guys who are going to be given significant opportunity," relates Pender. "I'm optimistic that we have some guys that are going to take that opportunity and step up. If they do it's not only going to be great for them, but great for us."
Senior captain Greg Mason will lead a team filled with talented sophomores and juniors. The Hawks everyday backstop enters his third season as the club's regular behind the dish. A solid receiver and signal caller, who possesses pop at the plate, Mason sets the tone for his teammates with a tireless work ethic.
Joining Mason in providing leadership are fellow seniors Brian Anecharico and Dustin Onulak. A fifth-year senior, Anecharico hopes to deliver on his vast potential in his final collegiate season. The right-hander has impressive tools, but has yet to put it all together on the hill. Onulak, who has a solid stick, will see plenty of action as a pinch hitter and spelling Mason behind the plate.
With just three seniors on the roster, the Hawks' sophomores and juniors will have ample opportunity to establish themselves as potential All-Conference players.
In the infield, juniors Mike Gentile and Adriano Petrutz are slated to hold down the corners. Gentile has developed into arguably the A-10's best defensive first baseman. The sweet-swinging lefty has a steady bat and a keen eye. He led the team in walks and on-base percentage, in addition to batting .326 with runners in scoring position. Petrutz, who ranks among the Conference's top hurlers when healthy, ranked among the A-10's top hitters in the second half of the season. he batted .385 in A-10 play with six doubles and 10 RBI. On the mound he notched three saves and posted a 2.35 ERA in six relief appearances.
Up the middle, sophomore Andrew Heineman will hold down the shortstop position, while classmates Mike Blahusch and Chris Hildreth will battle for time at the keystone sack. Heineman started 45 games as a rookie and placed third on the team in runs. Blahusch and Hildreth each saw time at second as freshman and ranked among the Hawks' top reserves in 2005. Another junior, Kevin Walsh will also see significant action as the primary backup to Gentile at first and as the most likely candidate to serve as designated hitter.
In the outfield, Matt Godusky has entrenched himself as the starter in left field. Possessing a powerful bat, he provides a steady presence in the middle of the batting order. The remaining outfield positions will be shared between sophomores Jeremy Jakubowski, Jereme Scott and transfer Tim Smith. The team's Most Improved Player last season, Jakubowski topped the team in steals, while placing second in runs, home runs and RBI. He will al so be called upon to step into the starting rotation in his second season as a Hawk. Scott and Smith each have excellent speed and are strong defensively. Jakubowski and Smith will also be called upon to add depth to the Hawks pitching corps.
On the mound, sophomore Jason Hessler emerged as the staff ace during a sparkling rookie season. The Hawks' Rookie of the Year tied for the team lead in wins and tossed four complete games. He struckout 45 and walked just 14 in 81.0 innings of work, the most-ever by an SJU freshman.
After Hessler, juniors Bob Unkel and Jeff Williams are capable and experienced arms. Unkel made nine starts as a sophomore, while the rubber-armed Williams appeared in 21 games, one shy of the Hawk record, including four starts.
With a young squad growing pains are expected, but Pender believes the elements are in place for SJU to position itself as a contender for the postseason. "It's a step-by-step process. We have good returning players and they're good make-up guys. You can't ask for kids that are going to work harder. Its now a matter of meshing the older with the younger."