Jan. 25, 2007
PHILADELPHIA - The Saint Joseph's baseball team begins its 83rd season on February 9 against Norfolk State. Head coach Shawn Pender enters his third season at SJU looking to continue the marked improvement that has already been shown during his first two years. Under Pender's watchful eye, the Hawks have improved their record and their statistical performance, and as the current crop of Hawks gains valuable experience, that improvement should only be expected to continue.
The 2007 Hawk roster includes just five seniors, while boasting an incoming class of 16 freshmen. Despite this influx of youth and relative inexperience, the Hawks expect to lean on their solid core of veteran upperclassmen while at the same time looking for contributions from the newcomers.
Seniors Mike Gentile, Matt Godusky, and Adriano Petrutz will return to Hawk Hill for one last season in 2007. Gentile and Petrutz are expected to hold down the corner spots in the infield, while Godusky has been a mainstay in the Hawk outfield throughout his career. Gentile, one of the Atlantic 10's most sure-handed first basemen, currently ranks 21st on the SJU all-time hit list; his 144 base hits leave him within striking distance of 200, a plateau reached by only nine other players in Hawk history. Godusky has recorded 124 hits and is currently tied for 29th all-time. Petrutz should also reach the 100-hit milestone during the season, as his total currently sits at 77.
Juniors Jeremy Jakubowski, Jereme Scott, and Tim Smith will field the remaining outfield positions for the Hawks. Jakubowski is also closing in on 100 career hits and should easily surpass the mark before the end of the season. Scott and Smith will add a combination of speed and defensive prowess to the lineup. Smith led the team in walks and on-base percentage, while Scott was named the team's Most Improved Player.
In the middle infield, junior Mike Blahusch will likely be the team's starting second baseman in 2007. Last season, he was second on the squad in batting average, at bats, hits, and total bases, while tying for second in doubles and home runs. Fellow junior Chris Cashman should be the everyday shortstop at the start of the campaign.
The Hawks will look to junior Kenny Pustizzi and sophomores Phillip Pursino and Evan Spano to fill the void left at catcher by the graduations of Greg Mason and Dustin Onulak. Of the trio, only Pustizzi saw any action last season, playing in 13 games.
The other half of the battery, on the other hand, returns plenty of experience. Junior Jason Hessler has cemented himself in the role of staff ace. His 88.2 innings pitched are the most by an SJU pitcher since 2000. He also struck out 82 batters, the most by a Hawk in 22 years. Hessler should easily crack the program's top-10 lists in both categories before the 2007 season is over. Also returning is junior reliever Mark Imbo. In 2006, Imbo shattered the school record for appearances in a season by pitching in 28 games for the Hawks. He also recorded six saves, one shy of the school's single-season record. For his efforts, Imbo was named the team's Most Valuable Player.
In addition to Hessler, the Hawk rotation should feature some combination of senior Jeff Williams, junior Don Werner, and sophomore Chris Prescott. Williams' 55 appearances rank eighth all-time in SJU history, making the all-time record of 73 easily within reach. Prescott and Werner each appeared in 18 games last year, combining for 14 starts. Sophomore Justin Trudell made three starts in 2006 and may be called upon to make an occasional spot-start in 2007.
"We are excited about the upcoming season," Pender explained when asked about his team. "A lot of the new freshmen should really push our upperclassmen this year. We are a stronger offensive team and our team defense should help to solidify our squad. We also have good team speed...I like the make-up of this group."
The Hawks' schedule features 55 games against local, regional, and national opponents. The 27-game conference slate features home series with Dayton, La Salle, George Washington, Richmond, and Rhode Island, while the Hawks will hit the road to face St. Bonaventure, Charlotte, Duquesne, and Saint Louis. The Hawks will also appear in the 15th annual Liberty Bell Classic, with a first round matchup against Penn scheduled for March 27. The championship game is tentatively scheduled for April 10 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Finally, the non-conference schedule is highlighted by a spring break trip to Florida, as the Hawks will play six games against four opponents (Lehigh, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, and Sacred Heart) over the course of a week in Clearwater. Last season, the Hawks went 4-2 on their southern swing, and hope for continued success in 2007 in the Sunshine State.
While on paper it appears that the Hawks might be troubled by their youth, the core of returning veterans should be able to ensure that the Saint Joseph's baseball program continues on the upward path that Pender and his staff have carved for the team. If the results of the last two seasons are any indication, this year's Hawks might find themselves in contention for the program's first-ever Atlantic 10 postseason berth.