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The Eckerd College baseball team took on its fair share of lumps last spring, winning only five games in the Sunshine State Conference on the way to a 19-28 record
As always the Tritons' success on the diamond this upcoming spring will come down to starting pitching. After losing ace Joe Sinicola and frontline right-hander Josh Stroup, the status of Matthews' rotation is surrounded by question marks.
In their absence, freshman JW Kilpatrick, seniors Tim Karkatselos and Phil Weylie and sophomore Adam Whitlow are projected to fill out the bulk of the pitching staff.
Kilpatrick, a standout at Lake Highland Prep in Winter Park, is expected to carry out a huge role in the Tritons' rotation for many years to come.
Weylie, who finished with a 1-7 record and 6.65 ERA last year, is looking to end his college career on a high note at the front of the Tritons' rotation. A former local high school star, he turned in an impressive performance in the fall workouts, leading to some high expectations for the right-hander.
Seniors Tony Capoverdi, Brendon Elliot, Bobby Gibbons, among others, will handle the primary relief duties.
From an offensive standpoint, Matthews is expected to heavily rely on the talented junior trio of Matt Heller, Jarrett Mackin and Wes Williams.
Heller, recently selected as a Pre-Season “Player to Watch” in the NCAA Division II South Region by Collegiate Baseball, is already recognized as one of the most dangerous offensive players in the conference. In his first full collegiate season, he produced one of the best campaigns by a shortstop in the history of the program, batting .370 with 45 runs scored and 17 RBIs. Equally impressive he was among conference leaders in on-base percentage and went 13 for 16 in stolen base attempts.
Mackin, a transfer from Andover, Mass., was also recently recognized by Collegiate Baseball, earning the distinction as a “Newcomer to Watch,” in his first season with the Tritons.
Williams put his name into the North Carolina high school baseball record books, graduating in 2005 as the state's all-time hits leader after a standout prep career at powerhouse T.C. Roberson High School. Williams was then recruited by several of the top Division I baseball programs in the country, eventually signing with the University of Virginia.
But due to a foot injury, it never worked out for him up in Charlottesville, causing him to transfer to Eckerd during the spring of his freshman year. Like Heller, he enjoyed a fine debut in '07, leading the team with a .462 on-base percentage while hitting .354 with two home runs and 24 RBIs.
Another transfer, first baseman/catcher Dan Branca, who comes to Eckerd from Central Florida Community College, provides the Tritons with some much-needed power in the middle of the lineup.
Senior infielder Jeff Bromley, who can play both the second base and shortstop positions effectively, returns to lead the Eckerd infield. Bromley has shown the ability to reach base, finishing fifth in team on-base percentage in '07 while chipping in a home run and 22 RBIs as the full-time second baseman. In addition, as a three-year regular at the varsity level who is coming off a solid experience in one of the college baseball's prestigious summer wood-bat leagues, the Valley League, Matthews can count on him to help assist the development of the Tritons' diverse group of talented young infielders—Matt Abraham, Dillon Garback, Heller and Stephen Pelc, among others.
Junior outfielders Mike Alvarez, Daniel Kelly and Tyler Howard, catcher Cory Sylvester and a strong mix of transfers, led by Branca and Mackin, are all also expected to carry out important roles in an improved lineup.
With limited resources, playing in one of (if not) the nation’s most competitive Division II conferences, which has produced the last three set of national champions (Florida Southern, ’05, University of Tampa, ’06 and ’07), always sets the Tritons up with quite a challenge, of course. But depending on the production of the aforementioned junior trio and how quickly Eckerd’s’ rising young pitching corps can fully adjust to the next level, Matthews’ squad has a realistic chance to compete in the coming months, perhaps ending the long wait for a .500 season or better (Tampa Bay Rays included) to find its way to St. Petersburg.
Tyler Hissey is a senior business major at Eckerd College. You can contact Tyler Hissey by sending an email to TylerHissey@gmail.com, or visit his blog at tylersarticles.blogspot.com.