COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A bitterly cold and snowy winter hasn't stopped Ohio Dominican's baseball team from preparing for the start of what could be a tremendous season in Panther Valley.
Last year, the Panthers had their most successful season in the GLIAC since joining the conference back in 2011, and with all but two starters returning for ODU, expectations are high for the boys of spring this season.
"We played at a high level the last few weeks of the season, and that will only be a benefit to us," said head coach Paul Page, who enters his 27th year directing the baseball program. "We have our core group, and we have the talent and depth to compete for a championship."
ODU shrugged off an eight game losing skid on its spring break trip – with six of those losses coming by one or two runs – to finish with a 25-28 overall record last season, including a 17-16 mark in the GLIAC. The Panthers finished fourth overall in the GLIAC regular season and was one of the final three teams left standing in the tournament after scoring victories over Grand Valley State and Lake Erie.
The Panthers lose all-conference second baseman Ryan Rovnak, who batted .303 and drove in 34 last spring, along with four-year workhorse Nick Venditti on the mound (6-4, 4.68 ERA, team-high 75.0 innings).
But ODU returns eight everyday starters to its lineup, along with the bulk of its pitching staff, and the addition of several high-level transfers and freshmen who can compete for immediate playing time will only strengthen the team entering 2014.
"We feel we have the physical talent this year to compete for the conference title and a chance to play in the regionals," Page said. "With the continuity we have with all of our returners, we've been able to focus on more of the fundamentals and placing an emphasis on not allowing free bases defensively and solidifying that area."
The Panthers begin play this weekend with three games in Nashville, Tenn., starting at 3:30 p.m. Saturday against Union.
The Panthers return both players who started all 53 games at first base last season in the form of senior First Team All-GLIAC selection Anthony Raschilla (Girard, Ohio) and sophomore Collin Parcher (Napoleon, Ohio). Raschilla batted .320 with two homers and 22 RBI, along with seven doubles, while Parcher batted .323 in his rookie campaign with a homer and 31 RBI. Also in the mix at first base is junior college transfer Ronn Bidwell (Syracuse, N.Y.).
At second base, Urbana transfer Drew Ryan (Newark, Ohio), a senior, is expected to step in and fill Rovnak's shoes. Ryan earned all-region honors last season with the Blue Knights, batting .401 with a .514 on-base percentage for Urbana. He hit four homers, led the GMAC with 25 steals, and drove in 34 runs. Freshmen Jimmy Gravett (Grove City, Ohio) and Bobby Paola (Mason, Ohio) provide depth up the middle for ODU.
A pair of freshmen are competing for the shortstop position in Kyle Burson (Brunswick, Ohio) and Tony Evans (Medway, Ohio). Burson has been rock solid defensively for the Panthers during the fall season and in the early spring, while Evans has shown steady improvement and has plenty of upside.
Sophomore Jacob Horsley (Thornville, Ohio) has slid over from shortstop to third base and will compete with junior Phil Jaskot (Upper Arlington, Ohio) for playing time at the hot corner. Horsley earned All-GLIAC Tournament honors and batted .276 with a homer and 17 RBI last spring, while Jaskot batted .268 with 13 RBI.
The Panthers have loads of depth behind the dish, led by junior all-conference pick Kyle Tisdale (Uniontown, Ohio). Tisdale batted .310 with two homers and a team-high 39 RBI and has also improved defensively over his career, throwing out 14 basestealers last season. Junior Kevin Lydic (Dublin, Ohio) had an impressive season, hitting .311 in 28 starts behind the plate, while Bidwell and freshman Nate Davis (DeGraff, Ohio) can also see time at catcher as well.
"Last year, we were a poor defensive team, especially early, and that cost us some games," Page said. "We feel like we've really upgraded on that side, especially up the middle, and that will make a difference."
ODU also returns all three starting outfielders from last season, led by senior all-conference honoree Jossue Delgado (Barinas, Venezuela). Delgado started 43 games in center field, leading the team with a .325 batting average and 14 steals. He also drove in 29 and tallied a .418 on-base percentage.
Senior Bryan Rudolph (Pickerington, Ohio) is back in left field for the Panthers after hitting two homers and driving in 19 a season ago, while junior Marcus Schluessler (Zanesville, Ohio) remains in right field. Schluessler batted .296 and had a .425 on-base percentage, drawing 24 walks and being hit by 19 pitches.
"We really feel strongly about the improvements this group has made from last year, in particular just making the routine plays," Page said. "Jossue is as physically gifted as anyone, and Rudolph has all the tools to be a significant contributor. Schluessler plays hard and has really improved."
Supplying depth in the outfield are juniors Kyle Suminski (Fraser, Mich.) and Matt Jurevicius (Broadview Heights, Mich.), along with sophomores Austin Greene (Dublin, Ohio) and Dylan West (Westerville, Ohio), who has moved from the infield last season. Freshmen Nick Mazzone (Clarkston, Mich.), Dylan Reichley (Richmond, Ind.), Lee Sponseller (Mason, Ohio) and Cam Willms (Dublin, Ohio) can also earn at bats during the season.
Even with the loss of Venditti, the Panthers have plenty of experienced arms at the top of their rotation.
"This has the potential to be one of the best staffs in the conference and one of the best we've ever had," Page said. "We should be in every game with the talent we have on the pitching staff."
Junior Daniel Mooney (Wauconda, Ill.) earned All-GLIAC accolades last spring after winning six games and striking out 62 hitters in 68.1 innings. He completed four games and tallied a 3.69 ERA, while opponents hit just .238 against him. Earlier this month, he was named the No. 3 prospect in Division II by Perfect Game.
Seniors Sean Blackburn (Wadsworth, Ohio) and Alex Borgan (Pickerington, Ohio) also return to the staff this season. Blackburn won his last four decisions of 2013 and finished with a 3.88 ERA in 60.1 innings. Borgan has experience both as a starter and a reliever, leading the team with 17 appearances last season. He struck out 42 batters while issuing just 21 walks, and both pitched well in the GLIAC Tournament.
Also returning is redshirt sophomore Austin Bueter (Wauseon, Ohio), who missed last season but was still ranked as the No. 23 prospect in Division II by Perfect Game. In 2012, he finished with a 3.80 ERA and struck out 37 batters in 42.2 innings, tossing a pair of complete games.
Sophomore Ryan Colegate (Centerville, Ohio) impressed in his debut season, going 3-2 with two saves and a 4.15 ERA while notching 27 strikeouts in 34.2 innings. Juniors Alberto Canales (West Park, Fla.) and Vince Bartolone (Broadview Heights, Ohio) also return. Canales has experience as both a starter and reliever, while Bartolone has yet to allow an earned run in 31.0 innings of relief at ODU.
Transfer Ryan Bidwell (Syracuse, N.Y.) will contribute innings, and returners in juniors Sam Bohon (Worthington, Ohio) and Austin Monnin (Napoleon, Ohio) will also earn opportunities in relief. They'll be joined by a freshmen class with flashes of potential, including Seth Bowles (Mason, Ohio), Ryan Davis (North Lewisburg, Ohio), Patrick Higley (Grafton, Ohio), Mitch Kern (Parma, Ohio) and Jaycen Newsome (Fairborn, Ohio).
Contact: Scott Miles