Feb. 9, 2005
PHILADELPHIA - Eyes opened across the country when Saint Joseph's University named Shawn Pender to direct its baseball program in 2005. Among the most respected names in professional baseball for nearly two decades, the arrival of the energetic head coach breathed new life into the Hawk program. Bringing a keen eye for talent, a no-nonsense approach to fundamentals and a pro-style mindset to the dugout, Pender makes the youthful Hawks instant contenders for a berth in the Atlantic 10 Conference Tournament.
Possessing a bit of raw talent certainly won't hurt the first-year mentor's chances of leading the Crimson and Gray into the postseason. A dynamic, though unpolished, core of returnees includes junior Brian Anecharico and sophomore Adriano Petrutz and a solid stable of emerging hurlers.
Anecharico's tools rank among the best in the region, but illness and injury have disrupted his progress, limiting him to just 11 innings of work in the last 20 months. Finally healthy, the hard-throwing right-hander aims to make up for lost time and should emerge as a staff ace.
Petrutz led the Hawks in wins and ERA as a freshman, while ranking second in strikeouts and complete games. One of the A-10's most polished pitchers, the two-time Conference Rookie of the Week could see time as both a starter and reliever. He is also slated to step back into the middle-infield and takeover at shortstop after batting .318 as a rookie.
In addition to this duo, SJU has quality depth on the mound and proven leadership in seniors Al Braun and Ryan Hoagey. The tandem tied for the team lead in victories and starts, while ranking one and two in innings pitched and strikeouts. One of the team's captains, Braun serves as the squad's quiet conscience. On the hill, the crafty right-hander has solid command and rarely beats himself. Hoagey, the team's Pitcher of the Year, emerged as one of the Atlantic 10's workhorses, tossing 84.2 innings and six complete games. The burly lefty keeps batters off-balance with a tremendous change-up.
Also likely to see significant action on the hill are a trio of sophomores who have made huge strides during the offseason, including Joel Grimshaw, Bob Unkel and Jeff Williams, as well as freshman Jason Hessler. Junior Jake Iampietro moves from the outfield to the bullpen. Additional help will come in the form of Matt Gilbert, a freshman transfer from Arkansas.
Around the horn, sophomore first baseman Mike Gentile, the club's Rookie of the Year, is the lone experienced returnee. A sweet left-handed swinger, he hit .336 and drove in 27 runs in 2004.
Petrutz will play short, but he will be flanked on either side by a newcomer. Freshmen Mike Blahusch and Chris Hildreth should contend for the starting job at second base. At third, another rookie, Andrew Heineman will battle senior Nick Baldasari for the slot. Baldasari makes the move back to the infield after serving as a regular in the outfield the past two seasons. Senior Rob Pimpinella and junior Matt DiGirolamo add versatility and depth.
Like the infield, the outfield starters are still to be determined. Sophomore Matt Godusky's powerful bat figures to offer strong offensive production while he mans one of the corner outfield positions. Others vying for starting roles include senior Bryan Brown, sophomore Mike Davis and three freshmen, Jereme Scott, Jeremy Jakubowski and Matt Gabrielski.
Sophomore Kevin Walsh, who has a solid stick, should see time in the designated hitter slot, as well as at third base.
An adept signal caller and reliable stick, junior Greg Mason should see the majority of the action behind the plate. Classmate Dustin Onulak, who has a tremendous arm and has been impressive in offseason workouts, should also see plenty of time.
With a new coach and a new attitude the fortunes of the Saint Joseph's baseball program are on the rise. The Hawks expect to be a tough out every time they take the diamond in 2005. And while opponents might be surprised by the Crimson and Gray, don't be if SJU earns its first-ever berth in the Atlantic 10 tournament