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Friday, February 25, 2011 - page 2

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Season Preview
baseball eager to return to playoffs

When he was a senior at Whippany Park (N.J.) High School, Chris Harper had the rare opportunity to get a pitching lesson from future Hall-of-Famer and fellow southpaw Tom Glavine.

"The biggest thing he told me was you have to stay calm on the mound. You have to battle when you don't have your best stuff," said Harper. "You have to be able to will yourself through the game and give your team a chance to win. I really took that to heart."

Harper is now a senior at Muhlenberg and still throws his changeup the way Glavine taught him. And he is convinced
Jeff Puklin
Puklin gives the Mules versatility with his ability to play anywhere in the infield and outfield.
that the Mules have a chance to win in 2011.

"I would say we have to make the playoffs," he said. "It was such a tease - we made it as freshmen and had that taste in our mouth, so we have to get back."

Muhlenberg, which is scheduled to open up with a doubleheader at Gallaudet on Sunday, went 17-19 overall and 9-9 in the Centennial Conference last year, missing the playoffs by one game. The Mules lost only two starting position players from that team, but they have just a few spots in the lineup that are not being contested heavily.

"The competition this year is deep," said Harper. "Every position is battling it out. Nothing is guaranteed, and it shouldn't be. Even as a senior pitcher, I have freshmen who are going to get innings."

Harper and fellow senior Jason Daniels got the most innings last year among returning pitchers and begin the season as the top two hurlers in the rotation. Harper went 2-4 with a 5.76 ERA and team-leading four complete games in his first season as a starter, while Daniels was second on the staff in wins (4), innings (55.2) and strikeouts (38).

Junior Mike Speroni was 3-0 with a team-leading 3.73 ERA in 2010. Junior Dan DeCaria and sophomores Ryan Rechten, Rob Shannon and Billy Rogers will also compete for time in the rotation.

In the bullpen, converted outfielder Adam Scarzafava, a sidearming righty, and sophomore
Bobby Spindler
Spindler leads all active Mules in career games played (107) and started (96).
lefty Tim Velys have the inside track on early-season short work.

Muhlenberg hit .330 as a team and averaged 7.69 runs per game last year, and the offense should be potent once again.

"We have a lot of power hitters, and we also have good situational hitters who will come up big in big spots," said Harper. "We can also play small ball. We can definitely put up some runs."

Heading the offense is senior Joseph DiCecilia, coming off an all-region season in which he hit .436 with 9 home runs and 43 RBI and set a school record with 61 hits. Fully healthy for the first time in his Mule career, DiCecilia is moving to second base.

Joining DiCecilia in the infield are senior Bobby Spindler at third base and junior Brian Beck at first base. Spindler is a three-year veteran starter, and Beck hit .303 with 19 RBI in his first season as a regular. A pair of freshmen will share time at shortstop.

Projected to be roaming the outfield are senior Jeff Puklin (.270, 17 RBI), junior Jesse Nusbaum (.353, 19 RBI) and sophomores John Muha (.378, 20 RBI) and Joseph Vila (.325, 18 RBI). Also vying for innings in the outfield will be junior Nick Busillo, who has looked strong in his return from injury.

Veteran senior Clint Lynch (.321, 3 HR, 16 RBI) will provide leadership behind the plate.

The Mule veterans and talented freshmen will put their skills to the test against a grueling early schedule. Of the first 18 games, 10 are against teams that were in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, including Kean (No. 3 in the D3baseball.com preseason poll) and St. Scholastica (No. 16). Muhlenberg's six opponents on its Spring Break trip to Vero Beach, Fla., averaged more than 27 wins last year.

"It's an interesting schedule," said Harper. "In order to be good in our conference, we have to be ready. Florida is all about learning, getting ready and building up for those conference games. It will show what kind of team we are."

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