Preview: Baseball Focused on Turning Record Around

Thursday, February 21, 2013 - page 3

While his teammates on the Muhlenberg baseball team went with the more traditional necktie, senior relief pitcher Tim Velys showed up for preseason pictures wearing a bowtie.

“I just wanted to change it up,” he joked.

He and his teammates certainly want to change up their fortunes from the second half of last year. After getting off to a record 15-4 start and earning votes in a national poll for the first time in program history, the Mules hit the skids and ended with a record of 19-21.

The team is scheduled to open up this weekend with three games in Washington, D.C., and is eager to get started.

Tim Velys
Velys has appeared in 26 games in relief over the last two seasons, going 5-1 with a 3.62 ERA.
“I haven’t seen this type of excitement and passion on this team,” said Velys, one of four team captains. “You can just tell the focus and desire to be successful is very apparent. It’s awesome to see.”

Muhlenberg has already experienced a big change with the arrival of new head coach Tod Gross.

“Coach Gross is big into the mental part of the game. We’ve spent more time on that than we ever have,” said Velys. “Every day we have a new quote in our locker room. A lot of them are based on not aiming at perfection but focusing on the things that lead to perfection.”

Although they achieved it in disappointing fashion, the Mules did finish around .500 with an extremely young team, and almost everyone is back in 2013.

Two senior captains return to starting spots at the corner outfield positions. John Muha (.351 last year) is a career .358 hitter and All-Centennial Conference honoree, and Joseph Vila (.317) ranks among the program’s all-time leader in extra-base hits and RBI.

Sophomore Jimmy Cody is back in center after hitting .290 and stealing 15 bases last year.

In the infield, junior Nick Kennedy moves across the diamond to first base. He had an outstanding 2012 season, hitting a team-leading .373 with 30 RBI. Moving in from the outfield to play third base is sophomore Kurt Johnson, a .296 hitter in 27 at-bats as a freshman.

John Muha
Muha led the Mules and ranked seventh in the CC with 59 hits – two short of the school record – last season.
The middle infield consists of sophomore second baseman Chris Manfredonia (.299), who finished the season with a school-record 24-game hitting streak, and veteran junior shortstop John Scuderi (.305).

Junior Brett Rosen (.279, .990 fielding percentage) returns behind the plate. Senior Jimmy Aramanda (.419 in 31 at-bats), sophomore Nick Plinio (.290) and junior Max Litvak (.360 in 25 at-bats) will compete for time at catcher, first base and designated hitter, while also giving the Mules potent bats on their bench.

Muhlenberg hit .313, averaged more than seven runs per game and set a school record for extra-base hits last year, and the offense shows no signs of slowing down.

“Offense is something we’ve always done very well, and seeing that we have that to fall back on is a confidence boost,” said Velys. “But it will come down to pitching and how well we can throw strikes. We have a lot of plus side.”

Senior co-captain Rob Shannon was the staff ace last year, going 5-5. Sophomores Matthew Lawsky and Christian Ferlan showed promise as freshmen in the rotation and should be better with a year of experience under their belts.

Senior Ryan Rechten saved seven games (one short of the school record) and will once again anchor the bullpen. Returning middle relievers include Velys (3.65 ERA) from the left side and sophomores Zach Hoffman (3.52) and Austin Cush (4.50) from the right. Senior Billy Rogers and junior Pat Doolittle will be spot starters.

“It builds a lot of confidence knowing that we have guys who have experience,” said Velys.

And confidence throughout the season may be one of the final pieces of the puzzle for a team that started so strong last year.

“People say that when you’re winning, everything comes easy, and to experience that in the first 15-20 games was awesome,” said Velys. “It was hard [later in the season]. After a while you didn’t know what to do anymore. We need to be able to push through those times this year.”

After they’re finished with practice every day, the Mules yell “Triple C!” – for Centennial Conference championship – in their huddle. Their ultimate goal is to use the same chant when they’re finished with the season.