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Baseball Looks to Use Depth and Versatility for 2014 Postseason Run

RS Sophomore LHP Andrew Chin

RS Sophomore LHP Andrew Chin

Feb. 13, 2014

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Chestnut Hill, Mass. - The Boston College baseball team begins its 2014 season in a unique place - California. The Eagles, who look to rebound from a 12-40 (4-25 ACC) 2013 season, will head to the Golden State for only the second time in program history.

BC will take on host Santa Clara in two games, as well as Nevada for two contests the weekend of Feb. 15. The only other time the Eagles visited California was in 2002, when they lost three games at Cal.

Boston College returns seven positional starters and two starting pitchers, along with other 16 letter winners, while seven newcomers join the ranks. The Eagles ended 2013 winning four of their last 11 games and four of their losses were by two runs or less, including two in extra innings.

"Looking at our last 15 or 20 games, you'll see a good ball club. That gives a ton of momentum to build into this year," head coach Mike Gambino said. "I think we are going to be better in every facet of the game. Going into last year, the coaching staff knew we were going to struggle early and be a good team at the end, we just didn't know how quickly that transition would come. It took longer than we would have liked. We got there and we are more experienced and we are deeper this season."

The Eagles are led by seniorcaptains Tom Bourdon, a two-time captain, John Hennessy and Eric Stevens. All have shown leadership, helping the younger players at their respectively positions develop. Seniors Nate LaPointe and Steve Green has also aided in bringing along a team with 20 players who have two years or less of playing experience. Gambino also noted that last year's adversity and the amount of playing time for the freshmen and sophomores prepared the Eagles for a postseason run.

"We're older in the sense that everyone has experience. Bourdon, Hennessy and [junior] Blake Butera all have a ton of experience - those guys are mainstays. Even our sophomores - look how many at bats and appearances they got last year. We're young, but there is experience there," Gambino said.

"We learned how to handle adversity last year. There is always going to be something thrown at you. Overall, this team has the talent, leadership and character to play in the postseason and make a run at that," the head coach added.

In the 2014 season opener, Stevens will take the mound. While the right-hander was 0-12 with a 6.31 ERA last season, both Gambino and pitching coach Scott Friedholm note that Stevens has returned to his 2012 form, in which he was 5-3 with a 5.64 ERA and led the Eagles in opponent batting average (.285), win percentage (.625), wins and strikeouts (40).

"Eric is coming off a tough season last year personally, but he came in this year with a mindset that he wiped the slate clean. He has done a nice job for us, not only on the mound, but also leading some of the younger pitchers and helping them through their first season," Friedholm said.

"Eric Stevens looks like Eric Stevens again," Gambino added. "There have been times in his career where he has been dominant and he looks like himself again."

Joining Stevens in the first weekend's rotation is redshirt sophomore lefty Andrew Chin, who was 1-8 last year with a 3.88 ERA. Friedholm noted that he looks strong after he was shut down for the fall after an increased amount of innings last spring and over the summer playing the Cape Cod League.

Sophomore righty Jeff Burke will make his first collegiate weekend start, moving from a bullpen role. In his first year in the Maroon and Gold, he went 1-2 with a 5.60 ERA and 20 strikeouts.

"Burke is changing roles from the back end of the bullpen to a possible full-time starter this year. I think he has the ability to do it. His arm has been healthy and we are really excited to see how he throws the first couple of weekends," Friedholm said.

Sophomore RHP Jeff Burke

Joining Burke is junior right-hander John Gorman, who transitioned to a starter last season and was moved back to the bullpen to fulfill a closer role. He was 3-4 on the season with two saves and 32 strikeouts. Friedholm said that Gorman has embraced his role and, like Stevens, has helped the younger staff transition to college pitching.

After the first weekend, the coaching staff will have a tough choice deciding which of the four will not start for the next few weeks as the Eagles move to a three-game week schedule. The competition will only help make each BC pitcher better and aid the entire ball club.

"We have a great group of four starters for the first weekend and because of that depth and those battles, whoever steps up and wins those three jobs will be quality starters," Gambino said.

Friedholm tabbed juniors LHP Nick Poore, RHP Eric Stone, redshirt sophomore LHP Tyler Hinchliffe, redshirt freshman RHP Luke Fernandes and freshman RHP Mike King as long relievers to start the season. Hinchliffe, a two-way player, is coming off a knee injury that kept him off the mound and out of the lineup for the majority of the 2013 season.

"Hinchliffe has been throwing the ball well but he is coming off an injury, so his length is not there yet," Friedholm said. "He looked and felt great in his two- and three-inning outings. Now we have to create some stamina with him."

Sophomores RHP John Nicklas and LHP Jesse Adams, Fernandes and freshman RHP Michael Strem will start the season as the back end of the bullpen, while freshmen righties Justin Dunn and Bobby Skogsbergh have the chance to become starters once the team starts the five-game week schedule. Classmate LHP Kevin Connor will be a bullpen arm, especially for lefty matchups, while Friedholm called lefty Green a swingman, starting when needed and coming out of the bullpen in other situations.

The Eagles will start the season without a designated closer and instead, use a committee, until one pitcher steps into the role. Friedholm notes that Nicklas, Adams, Hinchliffe and even Gorman could end up filling that role.

The depth of the pitching staff will be an asset to the Eagles in 2014.

"This could be the first time in our four years that we have a bullpen and a staff that we can matchup in the sixth, seventh inning if we need to. We have depth that we haven't had in the past," Friedholm said.

"There are some legitimate arguments about weekend starters and roles - in a good way. We are going to have some guys that we are looking at saying, `We have to get these guys in in big spots,'" Gambino echoed.

While the Eagles are excited to have centerfielder Bourdon back from injury, the flexibility of the outfield adds to the team's depth as a whole.

"The beauty of the outfield for us is versatility. We have a lot of guys we could put in who will do a good job," said outfield coach Greg Sullivan.

Bourdon will cover the middle after missing part of the 2013 season due to an arm injury. Sullivan notes that the senior is back to his 2012 form, when he earned All-ACC Second-Team honors, led the Eagles in eight offensive categories, including batting average (.324), slugging percentage (.529), hits (79), RBIs (37), and home runs (10) and tied for fourth-most hits on BC's single-season record list.

Senior OF Tom Bourdon

"Tommy has done a nice job since the fall getting back to the player he was freshman and sophomore year, including focusing on staying up through the middle of the field offensively. Defensively, he has done a nice job with all the younger outfielders, embracing the role as a leader," Sullivan said. "He is really becoming a complete player."

Also returning to the outfield will be sophomores Chris Shaw and Logan Hoggarth, who made the transitions from the infield to the outfield as injuries plagued the Eagles last season. Hoggarth spent 35 games mostly in left while Shaw played the final 14 games in right.

"Logan has been working really hard to turn himself into a very good outfielder after his transition from the infield," Sullivan said. "Chris has done a great job in transition and learning a new position. He filled a need last year and I think he did a good job this summer [in the NECBL] balancing playing the infield and outfield. It's been good to see him handle both those positions and really mature into a versatile player that brings his game to a whole new level."

Redshirt sophomore Nick Colucci will also see time in right and left, as well as junior Travis Ferrick, a utility player who can play both in the infield and outfield.

"Nick has been a nice job developing over the last year. He has been working hard in the offseason in the weight room and the cages," Sullivan said. "It's good to see some of that hard work rewarded because he's come off some injuries and he's starting to develop into the player we all thought he was going to be.

"Travis is a baseball player. You can put him anywhere in the field and he is going to play his tail off," Sullivan went on. "He has done a really nice job of welcoming the role of being that guy who can be put in any situation. He has truly turned himself into a utility player in the fact that we can insert him anywhere in the outfield or infield and anywhere in the lineup and he can embrace that role and do a good job.

Hinchliffe, as well as redshirt sophomore Geoffrey Murphy, could also see time in the outfield. Both are two-way players who are coming off injuries from the 2013 season. They also have experience at first base and assistant coach Jimmy Van Ostrand noted that Murphy has been swinging the bat well in practice.

The infield is another source of depth and versatility for the Eagles. Van Ostrand said five different players are interchangeable playing second, third and shortstop.

"It's going to be a fun infield to watch play. They are making a lot of big plays and it's going to be a focal point of our defense," Van Ostrand said.

Hennessy will most likely be a constant at first base after starting 27 games there last season. He also returns as the Eagles' leading hitter, tallying a .253 batting average, a .318 slugging percentage and 43 hits. He could also see time at the other corner, where he made 15 starts last year.

"Hennessy is very good both at both first and third defensively and he has been swinging the bat real well. He can command attention and he is a guy who has a presence on the diamond who everyone looks to. That will play a role in him being a mainstay out there," Van Ostrand said.

Senior INF John Hennessy

Shaw may also see time at the first-base bag, along with playing the outfield.

"Chris has got great hands around the bag and he's working hard on his footwork. He's going to be a big presence in the middle of the lineup," Van Ostrand said.

Blake Butera will maintain his role at second base for the third straight year. His consistency in the field and at the plate is something the Eagles have looked to since his freshman year.

"Blake has been very steady. He always has quality at bats and you always know what you are going to get from a defensive side of the ball," Van Ostrand said.

Sophomores Gabriel Hernandez and Joe Cronin, along with freshman Johnny Adams, will see time at shortstop and third base. Hernandez is a switch hitter, giving the coaching staff even more flexibility. Van Ostrand also noted that Cronin can make hard plays in the field, while Adams has learned the college game quickly.

"The whole coaching staff has been impressed with Johnny's ability to pick things up at a quick rate and apply them. He's very good at taking in information. He's very coachable and a quick learner," Van Ostrand said.

Joining the infield is two-way player Strem, who could see time at second and third.

The biggest question for the Eagles in the 2014 season is the catching position. BC has to replace recent graduate Matt Paré, who finished his BC career ranked seventh in games started (169), ninth in games played (178) and first in hit by pitch (51). In 2013, he led the team in batting average (.253), slugging percentage (.377), on-base percentage (.366), RBIs (21) and hit by pitch (11), while tying for first in total bases (55). Gambino has confidence in LaPointe, along with sophomore Stephen Sauter and freshman Nick Sciortino, behind the plate and noted that the competition for the starting role will make all three better players.

"Losing Matty is a big loss but I am confident in these three. We have three quality catchers so whoever wins that job is going to have won it out of three worthy players. We are going to have a lot of confidence in whoever is back there," Gambino said.

He also noted that LaPointe's leadership has helped all three catchers as they prepared for the season.

"One of the good things is Nate was able to be around Matty the last couple of years and the leadership role that he has taken with that group of catchers is awesome. He has always worked extremely hard and to watch him lead that group is great," he continued.

The matchups against Santa Clara and Nevada mark the first time BC has played either team, dating back to 1966. The Wolfpack finished the 2013 season 25-32 (11-19 MWC), while the Broncos finished went 14-39 (1-23 WCC).

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