- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 17 February 2016
- Written by JOHN SORCE | STAFF WRITER
While winter remains in full swing in the northeast, the Monmouth baseball team is ready to get their 2016 season started down south.
After finishing 22-24 (14-10) a season ago, the blue and white begin their season with a trip to the USA Baseball Complex in Cary, NC where they will open up against Penn State on Friday, Feb. 19. A double-header against former Northeast Conference rival Bryant will follow on Saturday and a matchup against Army West Point on Sunday completes the team’s first weekend of action.
“We start the season down south for the better weather, but the trip also brings the players closer together as a team,” said head coach Dean Ehehalt, who will be entering his 23rd season at the helm in 2016.
The highlight of the Hawks’ 2016 schedule is a three-game series on March 3-6 against the defending College World Series Champion Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville, VA. This will be the third time in five years that Monmouth will take on the Cavaliers. Ehehalt says he purposely loads the schedule early in the season so the team can face the best possible competition.
“We’ve always played a pretty demanding pre-conference schedule and this year is no different,” Ehehalt said. “If you look at our schedule over the years, our last five to eight years we have played at least twelve games against teams ranked in the top ten. I know at least nine against Virginia and Vanderbilt who are the last two National Champions. We try to play in a regional setting at some point early in the season. This way, it gives us some good feedback where we are as a team.”
MU was picked to finish fourth in the MAAC by the league’s coaches. The Hawks received a total of 77 points and trailed Canisius (114 points, six first-place votes), Quinnipiac (109, three first-place) and Siena (98, one first-place).
“The conference is very competitive top to bottom and there are no easy weekends,” Ehehalt said. “If you look at the voting, the top two teams deserve to be there, but everybody after that is kind of close together. There’s a big mix of teams in the middle vying for the final four playoff spots since it’s an extremely competitive league. Being picked in the top part of the league is nice based on who we have coming back, and the other teams in the league that are very talented and well coached. Once the season starts we’re going to have our work cut out for us.”
The Hawks will be led offensively by red-shirt sophomore Shaine Hughes, who hit .289 with 12 doubles and 34 RBI while playing all 44 games in the infield in 2015. Junior outfielder Chris Gaetano and senior outfielder Dan Shea tied for a team-high three home runs a season ago, while Gaetano hit .286, good for second on the club. Also returning is senior shortstop Robbie Alessandrine, who has taken on a leadership role on and off the field.
“He’s become the heart and soul of our team from a personality and energy standpoint,” Ehehalt said. “He kind of personifies who we want to be.”
From a pitching standpoint, the Hawks return two starters in senior lefthanders Anthony Ciavarella and Frank Trimarco. Sophomore southpaw Mike Brambilla and red-shirt sophomore Justin Andrews return to MU’s bullpen after strong freshman campaigns. Brambilla posted a 2.60 ERA and struck out 20 batters over 17.1 innings as a freshman while picking up two saves. After redshirting in 2014, Andrews gave the blue and white 26.2 innings out of the bullpen in 2015 while finishing 2-0 with a 3.04 ERA, while also recording four saves.
In their preseason conference preview, Baseball America ranked Ciavarella as the second best prospect in the MAAC for the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft behind QU pitcher Tom Jankins. Ehehalt looks for his senior southpaw to end his career with a strong season.
“[Anthony] is a left-handed pitcher who has a really good arm. He’s one of those guys who could be a draft pick in 2016. He went up to the Cape Cod League last summer and really developed and made that next jump in his game. He’s had a nice career for us and he’ll be one of our weekend starters this year. We’re looking for him to go out with a bang.”
Nine of MU’s 20 home games will be broadcasted on ESPN3. All three games of MU’s home opening series on Mar. 25-26 against Rider will be broadcasted, followed by a Mar. 30 contest against Rutgers. A double-header on Apr. 16 against Siena will be included as well as a three-game series against Fairfield on May 14-15.
“The [ESPN] guys at Monmouth do a great job with the production,” Ehehalt said. “It’s good for our players and their families. It gives us good exposure nationally with televised games and we’ve really been able to use that as a positive in the recruiting process as well.”
The MAAC tournament will take place from May 25-29 and hosted by Manhattan at Duchess Stadium in Fishkill, NY.
PHOTO COURTESY of Monmouth Athletics