Before the start of last year’s schedule, Head Coach Pete Wilk told THE HOYA, “It’s going to be a pretty special season.”

And it was.

After winning only 23 of 103 games of 2002 and 2003 combined, Georgetown went on to win 25 games in 2004, its most victories since 1986. Although it still suffered a sub-.500 season with a 25-30 record, the baseball team had made a lot of progress.

“It was a nice building block, a nice step forward for us,” Wilk said.

The next hurdle for the Hoya Nine is to get out of the cellar of the Big East. Last year Georgetown finished last in the conference with an 8-17 record, but it was only one Big East win behind Connecticut and Seton Hall and just two behind West Virginia. In the overall standings Georgetown finished ahead of both UConn and West Virginia.

The Hoyas doubled their Big East wins from 2003 to 2004. Georgetown picked up a victory each over the conference’s second, third and fourth place teams – St. John’s, Pittsburgh and Boston College, respectively – over a combined eight games.

“Last year was the first year that we were competitive with every school in the Big East, and I don’t expect that to change,” Wilk said.

With these 2004 wins under their belt, the Hoyas’ confidence has spilled over into this season.

“I think this year we’re good enough to be in the top half of the Big East; I definitely believe that,” senior right-handed pitcher Eddie Pena, a team captain, said.

In order to challenge conference teams this year, the Hoyas have to get production from every spot in the batting order. Last year Georgetown posted a .273 batting average and .354 on-base percentage, both ranking last in the Big East, and its .385 slugging percentage was tied for second to last.

Leading off for the Hoyas will be senior second baseman Parker Brooks. Brooks hit .316 last year, the second-highest batting average for a returning player, with a .395 slugging percentage and a .384 on-base percentage. He hit 14 doubles last year and scored 36 runs, which is what Georgetown will need from its first batter to set the table for the rest of the lineup.

Sophomore transfer Mark McLaughlin will take the place of third-team All-Big East Ron Cano (MSB ’04) in left. While at the University of the Pacific, McLaughlin hit .218 in 101 at-bats.

Senior captain Bill Quinn leads the heart of the offense with his big bat. He has the highest batting average and on-base percentage of the returning players at .341 and .397, respectively, and his .558 slugging percentage led the Hoyas. He hit five homers with 31 RBIs. Even though he missed a third of the season with an injury, he still made the All-Big East second team.

Quinn is probably the team’s best player, according to Wilk. He is expected to hit third, which will maximize his ability to both get on base and drive in runs.

The Hoyas will hurt with the loss of catcher Michael Lombardi (MSB ’04), who hit .348 in his senior season to rank 13th in the conference. Lombardi, a first-team All-Big East selection, signed with the Philadelphia Phillies over the summer and left big shoes to fill.

Senior Andrew Cleary, a natural catcher, will take over the position full time after splitting time between catching and the outfield. In both his sophomore and junior seasons Cleary led Georgetown in the power numbers, piling up 12 homers and 47 RBI in 2003 and nine jacks with 37 RBI and 37 runs scored in 2004.

But Cleary’s averages noticeably fell in his junior season. His batting average went from .338, the second highest on the team, to .236. His team-leading .656 slugging percentage and .460 on-base percentage dropped to .408 and .357, respectively.

Backing up Cleary will be sophomore catcher Brandon Davis, who only saw 20 plate appearances last year.

“We lost Lombardi, who was very good, but between Cleary and Davis I think we’ve filled that gap,” Wilk said. “Those two are pretty talented as well.”

Junior Tim Jones will patrol centerfield. Jones posted a .264 batting average with a .384 slugging percentage in 2004.

Sophomore Ryan Craft will spend time at designated hitter and first base. In only 36 plate appearances last year he picked up seven hits, two of which were home runs.

Senior captain Jim Supple is a utilityman who will see playing time at two positions at least – mainly first base, where he will start in the first series of the season. Supple finished with a .274 batting average last year, including 20 RBI.

Junior shortstop Matt Johnson, a defensive whiz, will hit in the eighth spot after hitting .206 last year.

Rounding out the batting order is junior third baseman Danny Gromski, who hit .238 last year with six home runs.

For the 2004 squad, the greatly improved defense made all the difference. In 2003 Hoyas committed 110 errors for a conference-worst .939 fielding percentage. The following season the defense made 31 less errors, improving their percentage to .961, in seventh place.

This year the defense stands to get even better.

“I think that the strength of the team is going to be its defense,” Wilk said. “It’s a strong defensive team led by Johnson and Jones, probably, but everybody out there is very strong defensively in our starting lineup.”

In 270 chances last year at the busiest position on the field, shortstop Johnson committed 18 errors. Jones committed three errors on 108 chances in centerfield.

“Johnson and Jones . [are] two of the best in the conference,” Wilk said.

Joining Johnson for double plays will be senior Parker Brooks, who last year made 11 errors on 242 chances at second base.

With a solid defense and offense in place, one thing is left: pitching.

“To me, that’s the big question mark,” Wilk said. “I know we’re going to catch the ball and that we’re going to hit it enough to win. I’m a little uncomfortable with the depth in our pitching staff.”

The Hoyas are shorthanded on middle relievers with three pitchers injured: junior Scooter Bernoskie and freshmen Dan Kennedy and Brian Sullivan, all right-handed.

“[Senior left-handed pitcher] Mike Halloran is probably the top go-to guy out of the bullpen if I’m not in a closing situation,” Wilk said.

Last season Halloran gave up 23 earned runs in 25 innings pitched.

The other players in the bullpen include sophomore lefthander ark Dutmers, senior lefty Tyler Abbott and Quinn.

“We’re not as deep as we’d like to be, but with the guys that we have right now, I’m not worried at all,” Pena said.

The strain of injured middle relievers, though, may force starters to pitch longer during the games, which can wear them out over the season.

Pena, the No. 1 starter, anchors the starting rotation. In 11 starts and 16 appearances Pena put up a 4.78 ERA with 63 strikeouts and 33 walks. He gave up two more hits than innings pitched, 75.1.

Right-handed junior Stephen Burns throws next. His 5.09 ERA and 45/32 strikeouts/walks ratio stretch over 11 starts and 15 appearances. Junior righty Warren Sizemore, senior lefty Travis Danysh and freshman southpaw Mike Gaggioli will also see some starts. Wilk said that Gaggioli will make an immediate impact on the team as a freshman.

When the Hoyas are in a closing situation, Wilk will call on senior righty Tom Braun, who picked up seven saves last year.

Directing the pitchers is new Assistant Coach Mark Van Ameyde. Van Ameyde coached at his alma mater Detroit Mercy and St. ary’s College (of Michigan) before coming to Georgetown. Van Ameyde was a pitcher in college but has served as batting coach for his former teams.

Assistant Coach Matt Bok, also hired this year, serves as the batting instructor. He is a 2002 graduate of Notre Dame, a powerhouse in the Big East. Coming to coach the Hoyas is a sort of homecoming for Bok as he played for Georgetown during his freshman year before transferring to Notre Dame, where he hit .292 with 63 RBIs over his career. After his senior year in which the Irish advanced to the College World Series, Bok played in the minor leagues for a couple of seasons.

“They have brought a lot to this program,” Pena said. “Van Ameyde’s style right now is helping out a lot with our pitching staff, and I know Bok is a great asset to the hitters. . I think we’ve got a good staff this year.”

The new pair of Hoya coaches gives the team another reason to anticipate improvement this year.

Winning in the Big East is the top priority for the Hoyas. With success in the conference, Wilk believes that Georgetown can surpass the all-time school record for wins, 31.

“Last year it was about competing with everybody in the conference,” Wilk said. “This year it’s about beating everybody.”

The Hoyas open the season with a series at William and Mary this weekend. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. both tomorrow and on Sunday, with Pena and Burns, respectively, slated to start.

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