Welcome to the A-10: 2014 Mason Baseball

A look into the 2014 baseball season as Mason enters the A-10 conference (photo courtesy of atlantic10.com).
A look into the 2014 baseball season as Mason enters the A-10 conference (photo courtesy of atlantic10.com).

On Friday, Mason men’s baseball will enter a new era in their history. Always a consistent contender for the Colonial Athletic Association regular season and conference titles, the Patriots face an entirely new set of competition in the Atlantic 10.

Selected to finish fifth in the 12-team conference, Mason will open up play at the University of South Carolina Upstate, the first of seven games in the Palmetto State before their first home game of the season against Hartford on February 28th.

To get yourself acquainted with the stars, schedules, strengths and weakness of every A-10 team and when they play Mason, here is Fourth Estate’s baseball preview in order of predicted finish:

1.St. Louis (41-21; 17-7 A-10 in 2013)

Despite losing All-American and team leader Alex Kelly (.341 average, 12 HR, 61 RBIs) and Grant Nelson who had one of the best OBP in the nation, the Billikens are once again favorites to take home A-10 honors in May. They open up the season against preseason No. 21 Alabama in Tuscaloosa before playing their first conference game vs. Rhode Island on March 21st. Offensively, they will be led by first baseman Mike Vigliarolo (.341 average, 8 HR, 42 RBI). Five of his round trippers came in conference play. While they set numerous school records offensively last season, their forte this season will be pitching as the trio of Clay Smith (8-3, 3.77 ERA, 76 K), Nick Bates (8-4, 4.18 ERA, 57 K) and Matt Eckelmann (6-1, 1.64 ERA, 42 K) may be the best in the conference.

Games vs. Mason: April 25-27 at Mason

2.VCU (28-26; 12-12 A-10 in 2013)

After one season away from each other, the Rams and Patriots are once again conference counterparts. Opening the season vs. Radford, VCU opens the A-10 slate vs. St. Bonaventure’s. Like St. Louis, VCU will be led by a talented three-headed attack from the mound. Heath Dwyer (7-6, 2.78 ERA, 74 K), Seth Greene (5-1, 2.90 ERA, 38 K) and Logan Karijik (4-2, 5.35 ERA, 47 K) can each overpower opponents as their 159 combined strikeouts are the most of any threesome in the conference. At the plate, be on the lookout for infielder Joey Cujas (.333 average, 40 RBI, .407 OBP) and Alex Granshack, a freshman who attended Lake Braddock High School.

Games vs. Mason: March 28-30 at Mason

3.Rhode Island (35-24; 17-7 A-10 in 2013)

The Rams will open up the 2014 campaign in the Sunshine State vs. basketball darling Florida Gulf Coast before they host St. Louis in the conference opener. The pitching staff will once again be led by Steve Moyers. In 2013, Moyers was arguably the best pitcher in the A-10, as he posted conference bests in ERA (1.78) and opponent average (.178). With the departures of Mike Bradstreet (team-high eight wins) and Bobby Dean, the Rams will need Milan Mantle (5-1, 3.72 ERA, 26 K) to fill the void left behind if they want to replicate 2013’s 35-win campaign. Tim Caputo looks to be the catalyst for the offense, as his 49 runs last season were the most of any player in the A-10. The Rams may struggle at first, though, as they are one of the youngest teams in the nation with 18 freshmen.

Games vs. Mason: April 18-20 at Rhode Island

4.Richmond (31-24; 13-11 A-10 in 2013)

The Spiders kick of 2014 against one-time NCAA champs, the Missouri Tigers, before hosting Dayton in the conference opener on March 21st. While the Spiders and Patriots will not take the field together in the regular season, the two schools were conference foes at once point before Richmond left the CAA in 2001. Question marks start at the plate and on the bags, as the Spiders are replacing Jacob Mayers (.359 average, 43 R, 37 RBI) and Matt Zinc (17 SB). Needing someone to fill both a leadership role in the clubhouse and on the field, Tanner Stanley may be the best candidate for both as he recorded 38 RBI and a .340 OBP during a stellar freshman campaign last spring. Andrew Blum (5-2, 3.65 ERA, 52 K) and Zak Sterling (4-1, 3.75 ERA, 51 K) are Richmond’s top pitchers. Tracey Woodson, a Richmond native, will be taking over managerial duties this season.

Do not play Mason in the regular season.   

5.Mason (18-35; 7-20 CAA in 2013)

Tucker Tobin is returning for his senior season, and the multifaceted catcher will once again be the centerpiece of the Patriot offense after posting a .335 average with eight homeruns, 37 RBIs and a .564 slugging percentage. The pitching staff will be led by Anthony Montefusco who recorded team-highs in wins (five), ERA (4.14) and strikeouts (80) in 78.1 innings last season. The nonconference game to watch will be March 11th when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels.

6.St. Joseph’s (26-26; 12-12 A-10 in 2013)

The Hawks start 2014 against short lived conference rival Butler before hosting George Washington at John W. Smithson Field. St. Joseph’s had one of the most complete lineups in the conference last season, as seven different players had at least 20 RBI to include returners Brian O’Keefe (372), Chris Hueth (29), Stefan Kancylarz (29) and Mike Muha (26). Top 2013 pitcher Kyle Mullen (8-4) will be their ace once again.

Games vs Mason: May 9-11 at Mason

7.George Washington (26-32; 15-9 A-10 in 2013)

The Colonials head south this weekend to take on the University of North Carolina Greensboro in their season opener. If they want to get over .500 this go-round, they will need stronger offensive output. By far, George Washington had the worst offense in the conference in 2013 and the loss of Justin Albright who led the team in average, hits, doubles and steals is not the remedy to their woes. But, Owen Beightol (.282 average, 62 hits, 30 RBI, .332 OBP) could take the “next step” this year. The Colonials have a solid cast of pitchers in Aaron Weisenberg, Craig LeJune, Luke Staub, Mike Kaplow and Bobby LeWarne.

Games vs. Mason: April 4-6 at George Washington

8.La Salle (24-29; 15-9 A-10 in 2013)

Despite struggling in nonconference play last season, the Explorers were one of the supervises in the A-10, finishing only two games back of St. Louis at the end of the regular season. Starting play in a weekend series at Campbell, La Salle is hoping to make better in nonconference action in 2014 as games vs. Tennessee, Connecticut, Villanova and Temple (in their final season) highlight the slate. Of the 20 returning players, Justin Korenblatt (A-10-high nine triples) Joey Raert (.310 average, 19 RBI), Mark Williams (.308 average, 29 RBI, 26 runs) and lefty Shawn O’Neil (5-7, 6.39 ERA, 40 K) are the crux for duplicated 2013 success.

Do not play Mason in the regular season.   

9.Fordham (22-33; 8-16 A-10 in 2013)

The Rams start the season vs. Wofford before being Mason’s first-ever A-10 game on March 21st. Right off the bat, Mason will be tested by a duo of talented sophomore infielders. Last season, freshman shortstop Joseph Runco recorded team highs in average (.303), runs (34) and steals (19) and Ian Edmiston knocked in a team-high 31 RBI. While Runco and Edmiston will once again be a threat to pitchers, Fordham will be searching for a top production player, as the departed Mike Mauri’s .415 OBP was nearly 40 points higher than anyone else on the team. The Rams return three-game winners Cody Johnson and Brett Kennedy.

Games vs. Mason: March 21-23 at Mason

10.Dayton (11-39; 3-21 A-10 in 2013)

What a difference one year made for the Flyers, as they went from A-10 tournament champs in 2012 to having one of their worst seasons ever. Of their three conference victories, however, the Flyers defeated VCU and Rhode Island twice—both of whom are predicted to finish two and three this season. With a conglomerate of young talent, Dayton will rely heavily on senior infielder Robby Sunderman (.277 average, team-high .362 OBP) and sophomore pitcher Nick Buettgen who led team with three wins last season.

Games vs. Mason: May 15-17 at Mason

11.Massachusetts (14-31; 7-17 A-10 in 2013)

The Minutemen start 2014 with a three-game series against Army before traveling to College Park to take on Maryland for a four-game series. Struggling to produce runs last season, Massachusetts was 4-28 when scoring five or less. They do, however, return team leaders in average (Rob McLarn, .311) and RBIs (Adam Picard, 31). Three-game winner Andrew Grant will carry the load in the rotation.

Games vs. Mason: May 2-4 at Massachusetts

12.St. Bonaventure (20-28; 9-15 A-10 in 2013)

Rounding out the preseason projections are the St. Bonaventure Bonnies who start the season vs. Iowa in the Snowbird Classic. Joel Rosencrance carried the load both at the plate and on the mound last season, as he recorded team highs in average (.305), hits (40), RBIs (20) and wins (four). Expect him to be the Bonnies lone player in postseason first- and second-team discussions.  

Games vs. Mason: April 11-13 at Mason


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