In 2012, the Elms College baseball team under the direction of second-year head coach Nathan Bashaw, is poised to take a step to the next level with the ultimate goal of winning the conference title and competing in the NCAA Division III Championship.
The Blazers return seven seniors to the diamond from last year's squad including outfielder Donny Morse (Alfred, Maine) who shattered the Blazers' single-season RBI record and drove in 38 runs. Morse hit .305 with 40 hits, and registered a team-best 12 doubles.
He joins infielders Andrew Kravontka (Manchester, Conn.), Nico Iavicoli (Hampden, Mass.), Sean Shanley (Bristol, Conn.), Rey Rivera (San Juan, Puerto Rico), and pitchers Matt Wood (Hampden, Mass.) and Andrew Bunger (Southington, Conn.).
Iavicoli had a stellar season at the dish with 11 doubles and recorded his 100th career hit – one of just three players in program history to do so. On the hill, Bunger, a left-hander, tossed 43.0 frames for Elms and fanned 26 batters. His 3.56 ERA was best among active pitchers on the Blazers' staff as was his opponent batting average of .280.
Elms will also rely on the experience of its four juniors and five sophomores to help establish a strong foundation for the 2012 campaign.
Junior Zach Dreher (Naugatuck, Conn.) returns for his second season with the Blazers. Dreher saw action at both third base and first base last season and registered 17 hits, scored 13 runs and drove in eight base runners.
Sophomore Anthony Pagano (Cranston, R.I.) saw action in 26 games during his freshman season and recorded a .257 batting average with 18 hits and was one of two players to hit a pair of home runs.
Newcomers Tyler Emet (East Longmeadow, Mass.) and Geoffrey Frost (Ludlow, Mass.) will vie for playing time in the infield while Felix Montalvo (Carolina, Puerto Rico) who played during the 2009 season, returns after taking two years off and will see action in the outfield as well.
Junior Steve Fisher (West Boylston, Mass.) led the team in 2011 with a .350 batting average, a team-high .463 slugging percentage and a team-best .474 on-base percentage. Throughout last season's campaign he collected 43 hits, eight doubles, three triples, 24 walks and drove in 25 runs. He was also the team leader in stolen base attempts (12 for 13).
Sophomore Alex King (Lebanon, Conn.) joins Fisher in the outfield after competing in 24 games last year. King notched 15 hits, drove in eight runs and registered a .979 fielding percentage in his debut campaign.
Two juniors dot the Blazers' pitching staff – left-hander John Russell (Springfield, Mass.) and righty Ryan Burnette (Chicopee, Mass.). Russell tossed 12 strikeouts in 23.1 innings of work, while Burnette fired 21 punch-outs in 31.2 frames on the mound.
The pitching staff will also be anchored by three sophomores, Curtis LeBeau (Auburn, Mass.), Derek Leal (Charlton, Mass.) and Carlos Camacho (Springfield, Mass.) – all right-handers. LeBeau and Leal issued 26 and 21 strikeouts respectively, while Camacho fanned 16 batters last season.
With Rivera and Shanley providing a combined eight years of experience behind the dish, freshmen catchers Andrew Desbiens (Clifton Park, N.Y.) and Kevin Dwire (Ellington, Conn.) round out Elms' backstopping unit.
The Blazers will play 10 games beginning on Sat. March 10 and ending on Friday, March 16 at the annual Gene Cusic Classic in Fort Myers, Fla.
Elms begins Cusic Classic action with a double-header against Central College (Iowa) on March 10 with the first of two seven-inning games to begin at 12:00 p.m. and the second to start at 3:00 p.m. The double header marks the first-ever meeting between the schools.
The Blazers will play a pair of single games against opponents they played during the 2010 Gene Cusic Classic: Dubuque University on March 14, and Olivet College on March 16. Elms lost to Dubuque, 13-11 and defeated Olivet, 13-12.
Elms will also play four more teams for the first time including a 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. double-header against Scranton University on March 11, a single game versus Kenyon University on March 12 (9:00 a.m.), a single game with St. Lawrence University (1:00 p.m.), and a double-header against Otterbein University at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.
The Blazers return to Massachusetts on March 19 when it opens New England Collegiate Conference (NECC) play with a double-header at Lesley University. Elms' home opener is set for March 24 when it hosts Becker College for a twinbill at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke, Mass.
In 2012, the Blazers' baseball team is set to take a step to the next level: win the NECC championship and earn a berth in the NCAA Division III Championship. With 16 returning players including a group of seven talented seniors, this Elms squad is poised to make its mark starting with a run at the league title.