PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The Brown University baseball team, under the direction of 18th year head coach Marek Drabinski, kicks off the 2014 season on Friday, March 7 when the Bears open a three-game series at South Carolina at 7 p.m. South Carolina is ranked No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball and the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll as well as No. 3 by Baseball America and the NCBWA.
Brown welcomes back 21 letterwinners from last year's squad and adds seven talented newcomers to form a balanced mix of veteran leadership and promising rookies, as the Bears look to challenge for an Ivy League title following a 7-33 mark in 2013.
"I really like this team, there is a lot of flexibility with this group," said Drabinski. "We've got to stay healthy like any team in this league, but I like our depth. We start out at South Carolina and obviously that will be a very difficult test, but after that we have some winnable games to prepare for Ivy League play."
The weekend pitching rotation starts with the duo of senior Anthony Galan (Watchung, N.J.) and junior Dave St. Lawrence (Thompson, Conn.), after both played significant roles last season and will look to draw on that experience to bolster the staff this time around. Galan started 10 games in 2013, tied for most on the squad, and ranked second on the team with 38 strikeouts in 54.2 innings of work. He also paced the Bears with four complete games. St. Lawrence was right behind Galan last season, ranking third on the team with 32 strikeouts and 53 innings pitched.
From there, the Bears will have a deep group competing for the final two spots in the rotation, including senior Lucas Whitehill (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), who split time with four starts and eight trips out of the bullpen. Whitehill also led the team with a 1.96 ERA during conference play, allowing just four earned runs in 18 innings. Sophomore Kevin Guthrie (Sarasota, Fla.) and junior Eddie Fitzpatrick (North Attleboro, Mass.) will look to make the jump to the rotation after posting 14 relief appearances apiece as reliable options out of the bullpen. Freshman Christian Taugner (Roselle, Ill.) will also be in the mix for a slot in the weekend rotation.
The depth of the pitching staff will continue into the bullpen, as juniors Taylor Wright (Berwyn, Pa.) and Chris Smith (Colleyville, Texas), and sophomore lefty Austin French (Orange, Conn.) combined for over 51 innings of relief work last season.
After injury troubles complicated playing positions last season, Brown will send out a healthy and experienced infield in 2014, making up what very well could be one of the strongest units in Ivy League.
Junior Dan Kerr (Westfield, N.J.) will make the start at first base after playing most of last season as the designated hitter. Kerr offers a powerful bat in the middle of the lineup and ranked second on the team with a .465 slugging percentage in 2013.
Senior J.J. Franco (New York, N.Y.) will make the jump back to second base from shortstop, while sophomore Tim McKeithan (Arden, N.C.) will take over duties at short. Franco was an All-Ivy Second Team selection as a sophomore and made 38 starts as a junior last season. McKeithan, who split time between two positions during his rookie campaign, batted a team-high .375 in conference play.
Junior Nick Fornaca (San Diego, Calif.) rounds out the infield at third base after earning All-Ivy Second Team accolades during his rookie campaign.
Brown will have no shortage of backup infielders, starting with sophomore Jake Levine (Newton, Mass.), who can spot at various positions after leading the team in triples (2), walks (17) and on-base percentage (.404) as a freshman.
In addition, sophomore Tony Gandolfo (Saddle River, N.J.) will battle for playing time at shortstop, while sophomore Noah Shulman (Merrick, N.Y.) and senior Nate Kukowski (Brentwood, Tenn.) are capable utility players. Freshman Marc Sredojevic (Mendham, N.J.) adds a lefty bat to the lineup and can play both middle infield positions.
Junior Will Marcal (Lexington, Mass.) anchors a powerful and speedy outfield after pacing the Bears in nearly every offensive category last spring, including batting average (.324), hits (47), RBIs (23), runs scored (20) and doubles (9). Marcal earned All-Ivy Second Team honors and will return as the team's primary right fielder.
Daniel Massey (Greensboro, N.C.) returns to left field for his senior season and will once again provide a big bat in the middle of lineup. Massey led the Bears with four home runs and ranked second with 52 total bases and 36 hits.
Lastly, the combination of Levine, sophomore Cam Wilkie (Mississauga, Ontario) and freshman Robert Henry (Cranston, R.I.) make up three of the fastest players on the roster and will battle it out for the starting job in center field.
"I really think that we have the experience in the infield an the outfield that we have not had in a long time, "said Drabinksi. "We're going to have a lot of options."
Senior Wes Van Boom (Trabuco Canyon, Calif.) will resume duties behind the plate after racking up 39 starts at catcher last season, when he ranked second on the team with 19 RBIs and eight doubles. Rookie Joshua Huntley (Aurora, Colo.) will push for playing time as well and will swap out with Van Boom at designated hitter, while junior Nathan Mann (Winter Haven, Fla.) appeared in eight games last year.