Feb. 13, 2014
VILLANOVA, Pa.--Two days before the scheduled start of its 149th season of competition Villanova had already begun the baseball season in the same manner as in so many of the years prior to this one: with a weather-related schedule change. Although the season-opening three-game series at Charleston Southern is still on as of Thursday night, the Wildcats and the Buccaneers are now scheduled to play a doubleheader on Saturday afternoon followed by the originally scheduled finale one day later. A final determination on the status of the series is expected on Friday morning.
Weather aside, Villanova is ready to go for a 2014 season that should hold plenty of excitement. Head coach Joe Godri was enthused by his team's work ethic during the preseason and likes where his team is at heading into the first weekend.
"We are healthy to start the season and it is a good feeling to be able to have your best team on the field from game one," Godri said. "This is a very high energy group and the players were very businesslike in their approach throughout the fall season and into our spring workouts. I can really feel the energy of this ball club."
The first two starts of the 2014 season go to junior left-handed pitcher Josh Harris (Streamwood, Ill.) and right-hander Max Almonte (Long Beach, N.Y.). Harris led the pitching staff in wins, innings pitched and ERA last season and returns as the anchor of the starting rotation. Almonte received a redshirt last season and is ready to build on the promise he showed as a sophomore in 2012, when he made 12 starts and gave up three earned runs or less nine times.
Junior righty JB Kole (Basking Ridge, N.J.) has as strong an arm as anyone on the team and will be on the mound for the final game of the series. He has 28 strikeouts in 31 2/3 career innings for the Wildcats and enters the rotation after coming out of the bullpen in his first two collegiate seasons.
"Like most years I expect the weekend starting rotation to be a strength of this ball club," Godri said. "Josh [Harris] and Max [Almonte] are veterans who have been starters throughout their careers and we are ready to introduce [JB] Kole to the rotation as well."
Harris started the final game of the year last season and could be one of six players in the 2014 opener who were in the lineup for the last game of the 2013 season. Sophomores Max Beermann (Tampa, Fla.), Eric Lowe (Arlington Heights, Ill.) and preseason All-BIG EAST selection Kevin Jewitt (West Chester, Pa.) all return to the infield and fellow second-year player Adam Goss (Bellaire, Texas) is also likely to have a spot in the lineup. This quartet combined for 148 starts as freshmen last season.
Charleston Southern is a first-time opponent on the Villanova schedule. Prior to this series the Wildcats have played just one previous game against any opponent from the Big South Conference, and that was a neutral-site game versus VMI in 1988. While there won't be much familiarity between the two rosters Villanova and the Bucs may nevertheless find some similarities in their approaches to the game.
"They are a very similar ball club to us from the things I have seen," Godri said. "They play a lot of tight ball games and have a good defense and a solid bullpen. From an offensive standpoint they look like a veteran group and have the preseason Big South Player of the Year in Bobby Ison. I am looking forward to going somewhere new with our group of guys."
Ison batted .367 with a .485 slugging percentage last season and ranked as the sixth-toughest hitter to strikeout in the entire nation. Charleston Southern was picked as a team to finish third in the league's South Division, trailing Coastal Carolina and Gardner-Webb.
In his Wildcats coaching career Godri has a record of 5-7 in season openers. His teams have also gone 13-20-1 during the first weekend of play and 32-38-1 overall during the month of February. Those marks bear witness to the challenging schedule that Villanova regularly plays.
The team began the 2008, 2009 and 2012 seasons by playing nationally-ranked squads Michigan, Louisiana State and Arkansas and has also taken on the likes of Alabama, Gerorgia Tech, Texas, Tulane and UNLV in the season's first month.
Following the series at Charleston Southern the Wildcats will head to Norfolk State next weekend for three games in the Spartan Baseball Classic from February 21-23. For more information on the baseball team and for updates during the Charleston Southern series and throughout the whole season, follow the baseball team on Twitter (@VUBaseball).