Georgetown Georgetown Sports Information/The Hoya The Georgetown baseball team opens its season tomorrow against William and Mary with high hopes.

One year ago, Head Baseball Coach Pete Wilk expressed his belief that Georgetown was on the verge of competing day-in and day-out in the Big East.

“I think we’re one year away,” Wilk said then. “This year [2002] we’ll be more competitive than last year, but not quite where we need to be.”

Yet it was clear to anyone who followed Georgetown baseball in 2002 that the team took a step backward from this goal. An overall record of 9-47, including a paltry 2-24 in the Big East, suggested that the Hoyas were, indeed, not quite where they needed to be.

Despite last year’s collapse, there is an air of optimism around the baseball team on the eve of the 2003 season. On the one hand, there is really no place to go but up. But, on a more active level, a revamped coaching staff, along with a promising young pitching staff and a strong lineup led by several returning starters, give Wilk his deepest and perhaps most talented team in his fourth year as head coach.

As it tries to regroup from last year’s disaster and work to establish itself in a tough conference, Georgetown will again play a challenging 56-game schedule. The Hoya Invitational Tournament highlights 25 home games at Shirley Povich Field in Bethesda, Md., while facing Big East powers Notre Dame and Virginia Tech on the road. Georgetown will also compete in the Rollins College Baseball Week in Orlando, Fla. over spring break.

The team will feature a slew of new faces when it takes the field Saturday against William and Mary. Twelve freshmen and two transfers add more options to an already deep and versatile team. Some of Georgetown’s most important additions, however, will be in the dugout. Three new coaches will assist Wilk, each bringing considerable experience to the program. Matt Daily and Steve Alhona were brought in to work with the offense.

“Coach Daily brings an offensive approach that’s conducive to what I’ve been teaching and Coach Alhona is going to be a big part of the offense,” Wilk explained. “I love what both of them are teaching the hitters and I like very much what they both bring to the plate.”

Of the new Hoya coaches, none faces as big a challenge as Doc Beeman. Beeman will handle recruiting for the team, but is also charged with turning around a Georgetown pitching staff that ranked last in the Big East with a team earned run average of 8.24, nearly three runs higher than Pittsburgh’s 5.51 mark. Beeman brings an impressive track record to Georgetown. He previously served as pitching coach for Division III Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and was instrumental in turning the Tigers into a SCAC power. Trinity had the lowest ERA in the country in last year (2.26) and was also an NCAA West Regional Finalist.

“Coach Beeman brings a history of winning and a positive mental outlook from the hill,” Wilk noted.

A positive approach will be key, as Beeman inherits a pitching staff that often surrendered leads late in games or gave up so many early runs that Georgetown had little chance of a comeback. Add to that the graduation of top reliever Tony Pina and ace starter Eric Sutton and it becomes clear why the pitching staff holds the key to the Hoyas’ success in 2003.

One bright spot from last season was the emergence of two dependable starters. Junior Kevin Field and sophomore Eddie Pena pitched better than their combined 1-16 record would suggest. Field was second on the staff with 64.2 innings and was dominant at times. His best performance came in a 1-0 loss at Rutgers, where he pitched a complete game no-hitter that was spoiled by a first-inning error-aided run. Pena started 13 games last season and showed considerable promise. Wilk expects both to improve this season and anchor a young rotation.

“Kevin was inconsistent last year, and Eddie threw a lot better than his numbers dictate,” Wilk said. “Those two are the best [1-16] tandem in the country, I guarantee you that. I think those two can beat anybody in the country if they get the support and consistency.”

The rest of the pitching staff is made up of talented, but relatively untested, underclassmen arms. Wilk said that freshman Warren Sizemore will find himself in the rotation, and sophomores Travis Danysh and Tom Braun will also see plenty of starts. Another freshman, Steven Burns, had won a spot in the starting five according to Wilk, but broke his ankle and will be out until at least mid-March. The bullpen figures to be stronger this season, led by sophomore Mike Halloran. Senior captain Pat Salvitti and junior Kevin Galvin provide a veteran presence for what is a young pitching corps.

“These are young, young arms,” Wilk stressed. “That’s the concern. You don’t know what you’re going to get until they get innings under their belt. That’s the big question mark this season.”

Wilk also acknowledged the importance of a strong defense playing behind young pitchers. “If we fall apart behind these young arms defensively, they’re not going to get the confidence that they need to take the next step.” Last year, the Hoyas committed 105 errors, 40 more than their opponents. Wilk, however, expects the defense to be stronger this season.

Unfortunately, Georgetown will be without its best defensive player for the entirety of 2003. Sophomore Matt Johnson, who established himself as a sure-fielding shortstop, will be out for the year after injuring his wrist. In Johnson’s place, junior transfer Parker Brooks will get the majority of chances at shortstop in addition to handling leadoff duties. Wilk likened Brooks to a “gnat,” noting that his ability to get on base and disrupt pitchers will greatly improve the Hoyas’ offense.

Wilk is also keen on the two freshmen battling for the third base spot. Drew Dargen and Danny Gronski have pushed each other all preseason, and both have made convincing statements why he should start.

“There’s a great battle going on,” Wilk said. “If I could combine the two players, we’d have one of the best third baseman in the country. I don’t know who’s going to win that job, but we’re extremely happy with both of them. It’s our job is to make sure they both get some time.”

The right side of the infield features two returning players. Senior captain Matt Carullo will be stationed at second base, while sophomore Jim Supple will man first base. Both players are extremely versatile and could see time at other positions as the season progresses.

Junior Ron Cano and sophomore Billy Quinn will start the season off in left and right field, respectively. As they are two of the Hoyas’ best offensive weapons, Wilk expects big things from the duo this season.

“Quinny is simply one of the best players in the league,” Wilk explained. “He just seems to get better every week. Cano has hit over .300 his first two years and he brings athleticism. We can move him around the field when we might need to and I know he’s going to hit at this level.”

Playing in between Cano and Quinn will be freshman Tim Jones, a 33rd-round draft pick of the New York Mets last summer.

“Jones has solidified center field and has come a long way offensively,” Wilk noted.

Georgetown may be strongest at catcher, where Junior captain ichael Lombardi contributes both defensively and offensively. “He has a chance to be the best catcher in the league,” Wilk said. “He’s everything you want in a catcher.” Yet Lombardi’s crucial role on the team has forced the team to overwork him behind the plate.

“We’ve basically strapped a saddle on Michael and rode him,” Wilk confessed. “We beat him up badly his first two years, his legs have been jelly in April.”

Although Lombardi figures to start the majority of games at catcher, Georgetown has the luxury of resting its backstop more often this season, thanks to the arrival of sophomore transfer Andrew Cleary. Cleary, who came to the Hoyas from Stanford, is a solid catcher with a strong bat. He offers Georgetown even more flexibility in its lineup, and should be an offensive weapon. In addition to catching, Wilk sees Cleary playing infield, outfield and getting starts at designated hitter.

“He’ll play as much as his bat dictates that he’ll play,” Wilk noted.

While there is still some uncertainty surrounding their pitching, the Hoyas’ offense will keep them in many games. Georgetown was ninth in the Big East last season with a .275 team batting average and showed its patience at the plate by drawing a total of 193 walks, good for sixth in the conference. The offense figures to improve this season with the addition of Brooks and Cleary to the lineup, and as Cano, Quinn and Lombardi continue to develop. Wilk said that he believes this to be the best batting order he has had in his four years as head coach.

The upcoming season is a crucial one for Georgetown baseball. After a nightmare season last year, the Hoyas must find a way to rebound and begin anew the process of competing in the Big East. The graduation of the class of 2003 will signal the departure of the last group of students to watch a baseball game on campus. In order to spark student interest, the Hoyas will need to improve over their win total from last season and begin to compete in the Big East.

One year later, asked if he still believes that the Hoyas can compete daily in the Big East, Wilk first stressed that last season is a distant memory.

“We don’t like looking into the rear-view mirror; it doesn’t really help us too much,” he explained. “We’re a windshield-type team. The optimism is very high right now.”

Wilk then reinforced the importance of pitching to the team’s success.

“It all depends on the young pitchers,” he added. “I think our position players and our batting order is there. I don’t know what we’re going to get out of the young arms, but it’s going to be a good year. We’re going to be a good team.”

The Hoyas open the 2003 season tomorrow against William and Mary at Plumeri Park in Williamsburg, Va.

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