Muhlenberg College

Allentown, Pa.
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Friday, March 3, 2006
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17-12. 15-13. 17-6.

They may look like football scores, but they were the results of three games played by the Muhlenberg baseball team on their season-opening trip to Arizona last year. The Mules averaged 11.6 runs and hit .365 in their
Chad Hegstrom
Hegstrom will move over to centerfield after handling 67 chances without an error and leading the team with six outfield assists from right last year.
seven games in the desert, setting the stage for a season in which they set school records for runs scored and extra-base hits and led Division III in triples.

“When you return from Arizona the hitters have a boatload of confidence. Everyone came back hot, and that carried us through the season,” said senior James Petersen. “The pitchers are usually scared.”

More than anything, Muhlenberg needs its pitchers to overcome their fears in order to be successful in the 2006 season, which begins tomorrow with another trip to Arizona. The Mules graduated four veteran pitchers from their 17-15 team of a year ago, including their all-time strikeout leader, a career 15-game winner and their closer.

The front of the Muhlenberg rotation will be headed by juniors Jason Bonder and Eric Wolfer. Bonder went 3-4 with a 4.70 ERA and 37 strikeouts a year ago, while Wolfer was 3-0 primarily as a reliever. Junior Tom McDonald, who started four games, will see more regular duty.

After that, the Mules will look for contributions from hurlers who will enter the season with little or no experience.

“I think there will be games where we’ll need to score eight or nine runs to win,” said Petersen. “But if a couple of the younger kids step up, then maybe not.”

Fortunately, Muhlenberg should be able to score runs in bunches, as it returns much of the firepower from an offense that ranked 24th in Division III by averaging 8.59 runs per game. In the outfield, the Mules feature Joe Carlo who won the team batting title with a .336 average as a freshman, senior Chad Hegstrom, who hit a career-best .289, and Petersen, a .340 hitter in a mostly part-time role.

Senior Matt Tobia (.317, five home runs, 30 RBI) and junior Pete Oris (.466 slugging percentage, 10 doubles, 26 RBI) give Muhlenberg a potent third-base duo. Junior second baseman Ryan Sassaman hit .285 with a team-leading 10 stolen bases, and junior first baseman Mike Hart brings a career .323 batting average into the season.

Behind the plate is the team’s lone returning all-conference player, junior A.J. Bettini. He led the Centennial Conference with a .436 batting average in league games and hit .333 overall.

The Mules may also find that the best offense is a good defense. According to Petersen, the glovework is much improved from last year and could save the team a couple of runs per game. That would be one less thing for the pitchers to be fearful of.

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Last updated March 3, 2006