Although the Muhlenberg baseball team finished the 2008 season with a very ordinary sounding 20-20 record, it doesn’t take perfect vision to see what a fabulous year it was.
After going 9-25 overall and 4-14 in the Centennial Conference in 2007, the Mules
rebounded to post the third 20-win season in school history. The 11-win improvement was the best ever by a Muhlenberg baseball squad, and the seven-game CC upturn tied for the second-best in league history.
Joe Carlo hit .289 with 16 RBI as a senior and finished his career sixth on the Mules’ all-time list with 145 hits.
And the wins were important ones. Picked to tie for seventh in the CC preseason poll, the Mules finished fourth to earn their first playoff berth since 2003. The key victory of the season was an 8-5 defeat of eventual national runner-up Johns Hopkins.
Muhlenberg was characterized by a potent offense that set school records for runs scored (326), triples (28) and extra-base hits (103) in a season and runs scored in a doubleheader (36 vs. Wisconsin Lutheran) and tied the mark for hits in a game (27 vs. Penn State Berks). The Mules reached double figures in runs 14 times, topping the 20-run mark on three occasions.
But the success was due to more than bats. Muhlenberg was second in the CC with a .962 fielding percentage in league games and tied for fifth in Division III in double plays turned per game. And the young pitching staff, though far from dominant (with one exception), pieced together enough good innings.
Grabbing most of the headlines were a pair of talented stars in junior outfielder Christian Conti and sophomore pitcher Phil Cresta.
Conti was named CC player of the year and became the
program’s first first-team all-region selection after hitting .380 and setting school records for runs (49), triples (11), home runs (11), RBI (60), extra-base hits (29) and total bases (116). The Division III leader in triples and triples per game (0.28) also ranked in the top 15 in the country in RBI per game (1.50) and slugging percentage (.817). He is believed to be only the second player in Division III history to reach double figures in triples and home runs in the same season.
Paul Faith pitched in 10 games as a senior, earning a win against Penn State Berks. He ended up 11th on Muhlenberg’s career list with 39 appearances.
Cresta emerged as one of the top pitchers in the CC, going 8-3 to tie the school record for wins in a season. The southpaw was nearly unhittable in an eight-day stretch in which he allowed no runs and eight hits in 20 innings against CC rivals Gettysburg, Ursinus and McDaniel. Cresta ultimately set a school record for consecutive scoreless innings (24.2) and earned a spot on the All-CC second team.
It took a few starts for Cresta to hit his stride, but Conti sizzled the entire year. He belted five triples as the Mules split eight games in Florida, then tied a school record in the first game back with eight RBI in a 23-8 victory against Misericordia.
Muhlenberg beat St. John Fisher, 14-11, in the next outing for the first of its three wins against teams that were invited to the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
Two days after toppling Johns Hopkins, the Mules began a
five-game winning streak that marked them as serious playoff contenders. Three of the wins (two vs. Gettysburg and a 16-0 shutout of Ursinus) came on the road against 2007 CC playoff qualifiers.
Needing a split on the last day of the regular season to
clinch a playoff berth, Muhlenberg defeated Washington 4-3 in the first game, with Conti hitting the game-winning home run, then completed the sweep with a 5-3 victory.
Senior captain Danny Asip hit a grand slam against Penn State Berks, one of two slams for the Mules during the season.
The Mules were eliminated from the double-elimination playoffs with losses to Johns Hopkins and Haverford.
Conti was but one of several players to put up outstanding offensive numbers. Junior Edward Risener hit .314 in his first year as a regular and drove in 50 runs, which broke the previous school mark of 41. Junior Eric Hammond sparked the team from his leadoff spot, hitting .336, and was one of the toughest players in Division III to strike out, whiffing only three times in 166 plate appearances.
Sophomore Dan Fisher hit .317 and drove in 30 runs, while sophomore Eric Pomroy batted .313 and scored 40 times en route to earning All-CC honorable mention.
Junior John Kalis finished with a .290 batting average, 30 runs scored and a team-leading 13 stolen bases. He and Hammond both reached the 100-hit plateau during the season.
Freshmen who made an immediate impact included Bobby Spindler, who
started at third base the entire year, hit .282 and tied for the team lead
with seven doubles, and part-time starters Clint Lynch (.340),
Joseph DiCecilia (.316) and Jeff Puklin (.267).
On the mound, Cresta and junior Matthew Ordog combined for 14 of the team’s 20 wins. Junior Joseph Barrese did a solid job as the team’s closer, going 2-2 with a 3.86 ERA.