BY CORY NIDOH
Assistant Sport Editor
As the weather begins to change from the cold and dreary stages of winter to the brisk and sunny days of spring, the East Stroudsburg University Warriors baseball team is preparing to defend their 2013 PSAC title heading into the 2014 campaign this year.
The Warriors, who has won their first PSAC championship since 1971, are coming off a 34-18 season.
They will look to repeat their success this year and make a third trip to the NCAA Division II Tournament under seventh year head coach John Kochmansky.
Coming into this year, ESU will be without three of their main offensive weapons from last spring:
Joe Bennie ,who played second base, was drafted by the Oakland Athletics.
They lost Eric Boyer who was a four-year starter and pitcher / first baseman
Brian Ernstn, who led the pitching staff and was named the MVP of the PSAC Tournament, is also no longer with the team.
Even with such key losses, Kochmansky and his team enter as the No. 3 team in the PSAC Preseason Baseball Poll, and rank fifth in the NCBWA Division II Atlantic Region Poll.
ESU will be led this year by a pair of seniors: outfielder Chris Knott and pitcher Ryan Lubreski.
Knott, who was named preseason NCBWA All-America second team selection, will be one of the cogs in the Warriors’ line up heading into this year. The Egg Harbor Township, N.J. native finished last year hitting .374 with a .472 on-base percentage and ranked in the top ten in ten categories in the PSAC –– including slugging percentage, on-base percentage, average, RBIs, home runs, triples, doubles, total bases, extra-base hits and walks.
Knott provided an ample amount of production at the plate in the Warriors playoff run as he hit .476 (10-21) with a .581 OBP, and led the team in RBI’s and runs scored.
On the mound, Lubreski will be the number one pitcher and anchor ESU’s staff with the departure of Ernst.
Lubreski, who was named to the NCBWA preseason All-Region First team, is coming off a very impressive season from a year ago.
The righty posted an 8-1 record in 11 starts while yielding a 2.19 ERA.
They were holding opponents to just a .245 average. Against the PSAC East, the transfer from UMass went 5-0 in six starts with a sterling 1.58 ERA while tossing three complete games and one shutout.
Along with Knott and Lubreski, the Warriors have many returning players back for the 2014 season.
Starting with the pitching staff, senior Matt Smith will most likely follow as the No. 2 pitcher after fulfilling the duties as the team’s No.3 a year ago.
Smith, went 6-5 with a 4.28 ERA and pitched the Warriors into the PSAC championships He tossed eight innings, allowing just four runs on eight hits while striking out two.
Also joining the mix will be senior Keenan Stare, who has been solid as both a starter and a reliever.
Sophomore Brandon Holup will see time as a conference reliever after going 2-1 with a 2.77 ERA as a freshman.
Additions to the staff include junior Andrew Furber, who is a transfer from NJCAA Division III powerhouse Gloucester CC (N.J.), and redshirt sophomore Matt Festa.
The Warriors’ top reliever in senior Colin Taylor will be back to bolster the back end of the bullpen after going 4-1 in 20 appearances from the pen and allowing jus four earned runs in 22 innings.
Behind the plate will be a split rotation between seniors Eric Forth and Nico Delerme. Forth, who was behind the dish for the majority of last season, made most of his time as he hit .352 with 29 RBI.
Delerme has started 80 games as the backstop and is known for having a keen eye.
He is a career .311 hitter with 42 walks and 30 strikeouts.
Around the infield the Warriors will have the left side of the infield returning in senior shortstop Eric Linares and redshirt sophomore third baseman Drew Hercik.
The two were part of an infield that set a school record in fielding percentage last season and had a combined 17 errors in 104 games in which they started.
The right side of the infield however will see new faces with the departures of Bennie and Ernst.
At the second base position, there could be a platoon situation as redshirt freshman Jay Young is a right-handed hitter and sophomore Nick Robasco is a left-handed hitter.
At first base, Delerme, along with Mike Tenaglia, who fills the build of a corner infielder, may share playing time at first.
Tenaglia, primarily the Warriors’ designated hitter last year, is a mainstay in the heart of the order and will be slotted in the cleanup or number five spot this year again after hitting .319, 19 doubles, three home runs and driving in 34 runs.
Out roaming the outfield along with Knott for the Warriors’ will be another platoon situation in left field as redshirt junior Andy Brandstetter and sophomore John Amburst will split the time giving another righty-lefty combination that Kochmansky can utilize.
There will be a new right fielder with the absence of Boyer and it will be freshman Ian Allen. Allen was a two-time player of the year at Aurora High School in New York.
The roster make-up of the 2014 Warriors includes nine seniors, four juniors, seven sophomores, and seven freshmen.
Under Kochmansky, the Warriors are 167-128-1 and play in the PSAC East Division, which is one of the best divisions in Division II.
With teams such as West Chester, who was the 2012 national champions, Millersville who were the regular season winners last year, and Shippensburg, defending regional champions, the Warriors will be playing quality teams all season long.
They already opened up their season down south with a sweep over St. Augustine’s this past weekend winning the games by the scores of 6-2, 12-2 and 15-1.
Including those three games, the Warriors will be on the road for their first 16 games of the season.
They have a three game set with Chowan before coming back to PA where they will visit Pitt-Johnstown on March 1.
Warrior fans can catch their first glimpse of the team on March 21 as they play host to Millersville in a twin bill as they try to defend their 2013 PSAC title.
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