WASHINGTON – The 2015 Gallaudet University baseball team will seek a new identity this season as an influx of young talent looks to replace several key players that were lost to graduation.
Gallaudet is coming off its most successful baseball season in school history with a 27-18 overall record and 12-6 mark in North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) play. The Bison graduated their top five offensive batters and its No. 2 starting pitcher; five of the six players were All-NEAC selections including the NEAC Player of the Year.
GU has posted three straight years of 20 or more wins and 10 or more conference wins. This year's team has the talent to make a run at a fourth straight year of Bison baseball success but will need to have several players step up and to remain healthy.
Here is a breakdown of the 2015 baseball team.
Senior right-hander Brandon Holsworth (Beal City, Mich.) will anchor the Bison rotation as the two-time NEAC Pitcher of the Year looks to build off his stellar 2014 season. Holsworth started 15 games last season and posted an 8-3 record, 2.18 ERA, one save as he threw over 103 innings, walked 32 batters and struck out 85 as opponent's batted .235 against him. The 6-foot-4 pitcher went onto being named to the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) All-South Region third team, the D3baseball.com All-South Region second team and a second straight all-conference first team honor. Last summer, Holsworth became the first deaf player to play in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game as he represented the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts. He finished the ultra competitive summer league season with a 3-2 record, 2.16 ERA, 41.2 innings pitched as he walked 13 and struck out 20 batters in 10 games played.
"Brandon has gotten better every year. This season, I expect him to be a top pitcher in Division III. He has the ability to be one of the best Division III pitchers," said Gallaudet coach Curtis Pride, now in his seventh season. "He is coming off a great summer league performance in the Ripken League. He has more confidence after playing against Division I competition. I expect him to have an even better year this year."
Sophomore Blake Phillips (Dalton, Ga.), the starting shortstop for the Bison, has developed into a quality No. 2 starter for the Buff and Blue. Last season, Phillips pitched in nine games and accumulated a 4-2 record, 2.61 ERA in 20.2 innings pitched as he allowed eight runs (six earned) on 21 hits, walked 10 and struck out 11.
The third starting pitcher will be sophomore Ian Evans (Murphy, N.C.), who started seven games for the Bison last season and appeared in 13 games on the mound. The left-hander posted a 4-3 record, 4.20 ERA in 45 innings as he allowed 34 runs (21 earned) on 39 hits, walked 30 and recorded 25 strikeouts.
"Blake has good control and a good feel for his pitches. He will continue to develop as long as he stays within himself," said Pride. "Ian struggled with control last season but I expect him to be more consistent this season. He has worked very hard in the offseason and has improved a lot."
Freshman Dylan Hayes (Endicott, N.Y.) has the potential to fill the No. 4 spot in the Bison rotation.
In the bullpen, Pride will turn to junior Ben Coleman (St. Paris, Ohio), who is coming off a great men's basketball season, to be Gallaudet's closer. Coleman is a hard thrower who is very focused and possesses a tough mentality on the hill. Coleman made nine appearances out of the bullpen last year and logged 15 innings and posted a 0-2 record and 1.20 ERA as he allowed four runs (two earned) on five hits, walked seven and struck out six. If a starting pitcher stumbles or gets hurt look for Coleman to fill that void.
One of Gallaudet's strong suits is its starting infield that returns starters at almost every position. Sophomore Justin Strong (Charlotte, N.C.) will start at first base and is the top returning offensive threat from last year. Strong batted .287 (47-for-164) in 44 games (43 starts) as he was second on the team with 10 doubles and third with 32 RBI as he scored 20 times.
Senior Mitchell Bensman (Russia, Ohio), a four-year letterwinner, will start at second base and back-up at shortstop and third base. Bensman started all 45 games last season and posted a .278 batting average (44-for-158) and was fifth on the team with 27 runs and 26 RBI and third with 21 walks. Bensman is one of the two co-captains. Freshman Jake Grindstaff (New Market, Md.) will backup Bensman at second base along with Gumm.
"I am hoping this is the year Mitchell can step up and be one of our offensive leaders," added Pride.
Phillips starts at shortstop after starting every game last year as a freshman. He will need to cut down on his 21 errors and improve on his .215 batting average at the plate where he was third on the team in strikeouts (34).
"Blake needs to be more patient at the plate, look for his pitch to hit," said Pride. "I expect him to be better defensively at the shortstop position."
At the hot corner, sophomore Zack Crawford (Newnan, Ga.) will start after seeing action in 20 games and starting nine games last season. In the field he only made five errors and at the plate he batted .250 (10-for-40) with six RBI.
Sophomore catcher Peter LoDuca (Great Neck, N.Y.) has to fill the biggest void that is left by All-American Casey Hicks, who graduated and is a volunteer assistant coach on the team this year. LoDuca returns to the baseball program after a year off. In 2013, LoDuca batted .371 (13-for-35) in 18 games as the lefty scored seven runs and drove in seven. Hayes will backup LoDuca behind the plate.
Junior Chase Magsig (Hudsonville, Mich.) will lead the Bison outfield as the starting center fielder for the Buff and Blue. Magsig had his season cut short last season due to an injury but he is back and better than ever. In 28 games last season, Magsig batted .259 (22-for-85), scored 18 runs, eight RBI and three stolen bases. In the outfield he had 47 putouts and only two errors. Magsig joins Bensman as co-captain on this year's team.
"Chase's defense has always been solid. He has been working hard this offseason and is ready to go," said Pride. "He gives us speed at the top of the order and he has improved a lot offensively, has more power."
Freshmen Gumm and Hayes will start in left and right field, respectively, as rookies. The pair is raw and learning to play the position but they both possess strong arms.
Evans and Coleman will see action in the outfield if they are not on the mound or in the bullpen. Senior Tom Pangia (Hammonton, N.J.), a standout GU football player, returns to the baseball diamond for the first time since high school. He brings a strong bat to the table along with a great work ethic and adds leadership to this young team. Stockdill and freshman Kenny Long (Plainfield, Ind.) add depth to this position.
Coach Pride continues to test his teams with a strong non-conference schedule that starts in the end of February and carries into March before conference play begins in April.
The Bison will go up against several strong regional and nationally ranked teams including Christopher Newport University (March 6), No. 13 Rowan University (March 18), Frostburg State University (March 22) and No. 6 Salisbury University (March 29). For the past two seasons the Bison have upset nationally ranked Rowan during their Spring Break trip to Florida. GU will also face-off against Babson College (March 14), Franklin & Marshall College (March 15), Calvin College (March 17) and Sewanee (March 19) while in Florida. Gallaudet will also get the experience of playing a game in a minor league stadium on March 21 against Rivier University under the lights at Regency Stadium, home of the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, in Waldorf, Md.
The month of April starts at home against Lancaster Bible College in the NEAC opener on April 4. After a non-conference away game at Washington College (April 6) the Bison will then entertain SUNY Poly (April 11) and Cazenovia College (April 12) before hosting another regional and national power No. 20 Shenandoah University on April 15. GU then hits the road to face NEAC foes Penn College (April 18), Keuka College (April 19) and Penn St.-Abington (April 25).
Gallaudet closes out the conference slate at home on May 2 on Senior Day as the Bison face their rival Penn St.-Berks for two NEAC games. GU is slated to play at St. Mary's (Md.) College on May 3 before the NEAC tournament starts up on May 8-10 at the highest seed. Gallaudet has hosted the conference tournament the past two years.
"We have our work cut out for us when it comes to the conference games because of our inexperience. Penn St.-Berks and SUNY Poly will be tough," said Pride. "Our goal is to make the conference tournament. We have to play our game. The past several years we have lost the conference tournament due to errors, we didn't execute situational hitting."
The 2015 Gallaudet University baseball team will continue to build off the success previous Bison teams have worked so hard to achieve over the past few seasons.
"We need to develop a new identity for the team. This is a very good group of guys, very coachable, hard working and they are motivated," said Pride. "This is the best team chemistry since I have been here. That makes it easier for us to go out and play for each other."