Feb. 13, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa. - Several weeks of preseason workouts will wind down this week as Villanova prepares to open the 148th season of varsity baseball at the Ron Fraser Classic this weekend. The Wildcats will play four games in the nine-team tournament, which is being hosted by Wright State at the USA Baseball Complex. The season opener for Villanova is against Monmouth on Friday at 1 p.m., while the Wildcats will also face Canisius, Toledo and Wright State during the tournament.
This is not the first time that Villanova has visited the USA Baseball training site. Two years ago the Wildcats played a single midweek game there against North Carolina A&T during a Spring Break trip to North Carolina.
Villanova has won its season opener in two of the past three seasons and is 5-6 (.455) overall in season openers under head coach Joe Godri, who begins his 12th season at the helm of the third-oldest varsity baseball program in the nation. Godri has a record of 31-35-1 (.470) during the month of February, with many of those games coming in early-season series against some of the top teams in the entire nation.
During their stay at the Ron Fraser Classic the Wildcats will be immediately tested against strong competition. Each of the four opponents Villanova will face finished at or near the top of their conferences last season, with Monmouth and Canisius reaching the championship games of their respectively conference tournaments.
Junior right-handed pitcher Pat Young (The Woodlands, Texas) will take the mound for the Wildcats in the season opener on Friday afternoon. He led the pitching staff in the Triple Crown categories last season with a 4.39 ERA, six victories and 61 strikeouts to go along with a team-high 82.0 innings pitched over 14 starts. Sophomore lefty Josh Harris (Streamwood, Ill.) and senior right-hander Stephen Ostapeck (Sacramento, Calif.) will start the two games on Saturday versus Canisius and Toledo, while a starting pitcher for Sunday morning against Wright State has not yet been announced.
Villanova returns 19 players from a team that won 28 games last season. The returning group accounted for more than 60 percent of the Wildcats innings pitched last season and more than half of the team's at-bats. Senior middle infielder Tyler Sciacca (Staten Island, N.Y.) is the top returning player and earned preseason All-BIG EAST honors this year, following up on a second team all-league selection last season. Sciacca is a .314 career hitter for the Wildcats and led or tied for the team lead in seven offensive categories.
Monmouth reached the championship game of the Northeast Conference Tournament last season and finished the year with 35 victories. The team returns 21 players from that team, including two of the top three starting pitchers along with three starting infielders. On the mound junior Andrew McGee and senior Dan Smith are both left-handers who combined for 24 starts and 13 victories last season. Junior infielder Jake Gronsky started all 59 games in 2012 and led the team with a .313 batting average and 20 doubles.
Canisius also advanced to the championship game of its conference tournament last year and finished with a 33-27 overall record. The Griffins were 16-8 in regular season MAAC play and lost to league champion Manhattan in extra innings in each of the final two games of the conference tournament. This season Canisius was picked to finish second in the MAAC and junior right-handed pitcher Garrett Cortright was a preseason all-league selection. Cortright went 6-6 with a 3.50 ERA in 16 appearances last season and was a second team All-MAAC pick.
Toledo won 30 games last season, including a 19-8 record in regular season Mid-American Conference games, and won the regular season MAC West division title. The Rockets earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament thanks to their first division crown in 88 years and finished the season with an overall 30-27 mark. The top returning players to Toledo are junior left-handed pitcher Ryan Wilkinson, senior infielder Matt Delewski and junior catcher/infielder James Miglin.
Tournament host Wright State had the most wins in 2012 out of the four teams Villanova faces this weekend. The Raiders went 37-21 last season and had a 20-10 mark in the Horizon League. Senior catcher Garrett Gray batted .354 in 41 starts last season and senior shortstop Justin Kopale hit .281 while starting 53 games and finishing the year with 45 runs batted in. On the mound junior pitchers Taylor Braun and Joey Hoelzel each return to the starting rotation. They combined to make 24 starts and win 11 games last season.