Baseball Preview
Saturday, February 21, 2009

2008 Review



After successful 2007 postseason, 2008 looked even brighter for the Centenary baseball team, as it started the year 16-5. The Gents were nearly impossible to beat at home, going 22-8, which includes starting the season 16-1. Centenary also had its first 30-win season since 1992, completing the year at 30-26.


With the Gents’ season rolling along, a near disaster happened when the calendar turned to April. Ed McCann’s boys lost 8-of-10, which includes starting the Summit League schedule 1-7. However, Centenary bounced back and won seven of its next nine in conference.


One of the biggest highlights for the Gents came at Southern Utah, where they turned a game-ending triple play to win the Saturday nine inning game. Centenary finished the regular season as the fourth seed, where they were unceremoniously swept out of the conference tournament by Oral Roberts and Southern Utah.


“Last season we didn’t have a lot of power offensively, but we did the little things to produce runs,” said associate head coach Mike Diaz. “Pitching was our Achilles Heel. We had positives, but overall we were inconsistent towards the end.”




One of the old clich├ęs in baseball is pitching and defense wins championships, and Centenary looks to ride its top three arms to the end. The Gents return freshmen All-Americans Justin Kraft and Boone Whiting, while also welcoming back junior Dakota Robinson, who was also named freshman All-American in 2007.


Kraft tied the school record for wins a season (9), while Whiting’s 1.92 ERA was good for second all-time in a season. Whiting is also on the Brooks Wallace Watch List, an award for the Player of the Year in NCAA Division I baseball. Robinson, who battled through a dead arm period towards the middle of the season was still second on the team in innings pitched (71.2).


Centenary loses several key arms from last season, all-conference honoree Jeremy Sheehan, Aaron Bronson and Johnny Noland.  The two returnees out of the bullpen this season are Chris LaLonde and Joe Hagen, who combined to go 5-6 in six starts.


“Along with our top three guys back we will also have three new pretty good arms, Jimmy Hoyt, Steven Tromblee and Seth Lugo. However, we won’t have the depth we did last year, having lost an arm in the draft and another to a free agent contract in the summer,  which left our pitching staff a little undermanned,” Diaz stated.




Centenary lost senior captain Alex Maldonado, who played in 209 career games, and the team will try to replace him with junior Ryle Parks, along with freshmen Jeff Shaffert and Allen Deggs.


Parks has the most experience out of the group with 25 starts at Palomar Community College, while Shaffert has the most time with the Gents’ pitchers having redshirted last season. Deggs, meanwhile, played his prep baseball locally at Byrd High School.


“What we are looking for this year is a guy who can catch and throw, along with somebody who can handle the pitching staff,” Diaz said. “For us coaches it will take a few games for us to define the roles behind the plate.”




Last season Centenary was looking for Ricky Imperiali and Tim Deering replace two departing seniors in the middle infield. Now the coaching staff is looking for two replacements for first baseman Cameron Penney and third baseman Teddy Saenz.


Penney led the team with a .345 batting average, second in RBIs (40) and third in stolen bases (10). Saenz played in all but one game and batted .287 and earned conference player of the week after batting 6-for-12, with a home run, a triple, four runs and four RBIs against Northern Iowa.


Deering was second on the team in batting average (.318) in 50 games and was tied for fourth on the team in doubles (9). Imperiali batted .283, led the team in doubles (17) and RBIs (41) and started all 56 games at shortstop.


“I think we have two of the best middle infield guys in the conference. Deering and Imperiali will be the anchor to the defense and we expect big things from those two guys,” Diaz stated. “The guys competing for playing time at first will be Michael Tompkins and Jeff Erickson. At third it will be Robbie Knowles, Morgan Brian and Tell Ross.” 




The outfield will have the most experience of any of the eight position players this spring, with Jomar Tabor and Steele Lewis returning. Lewis played in all but one game, while Tabor started all 56 contests at the top of the line-up.


Offensively, Lewis batted .308, which was third on the team, while Tabor hit .289 as the lead-off hitter.


Tabor also had 14 extra base hits, led the team with 16 hit by pitches and was second with 28 base on balls. The 44 free passes also helped lead to Tabor’s 19 stolen bases, which topped the Gents.


“Jomar and Steele both had solid junior years and we expect nothing less from those two this year,” Diaz said. “This year we will add left handed hitters Travis Leverson and Cliff Sheppard, who will help with lefty and righty match-ups.”    




The schedule starts with a trip to Texas A&M on Feb. 24, and the Gents will open up their home schedule against Northern Iowa on Feb. 27. Centenary will then play 18-of-20 games in Shehee Stadium before taking a short drive to Grambling on March 31. The highlight of the home schedule will be a two game series with Arkansas on March 10 and 11. 


On April 3, The Summit League schedule will begin with South Dakota State and then Centenary will close out the month with a home series against IPFW. In May the Gents will host Southern Utah and Oakland and travel to North Dakota State and LSU.


“We have a balanced schedule. The preseason gives us a chance to develop and play in a regional atmosphere. We play solid mid-majors and tough teams, and we know Oral Roberts is the team to beat in order for us to get into the NCAA Tournament. Our guys understand that and accept the challenge.”