Guilford's 2003 baseball team looks to finish a job left undone at the 2002 Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) Tournament as it came up one game short of clenching the ODAC title and the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Coach Gene Baker returns 15 players from last year's squad and expects 15 newcomers to play key roles on this year's team. The Quakers hope to improve on the 30-14 record of a year ago and help Baker enter the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his Guilford tenure.
The Quakers' veterans must adjust to cover significant holes in the lineup left by graduation. The mound is left mostly to a group of understudies and newcomers due to the graduation of All-American Joe Dooley, whose 12-3 record led Division III last year. He had 223 strikeouts in his three years at Guilford and his 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings ranks first on the school's career list. New faces will also be seen in the outfield with vacancies left by all-region selection Zach Whicker '02 and All-ODAC pick Steve Danis '02. Whicker left as Guilford's career doubles leader and ranked second in hits, while Danis set school records for hits and stolen bases. Their replacements could come from the infield, which will result in shuffling there as well.
Two-time All-ODAC selection A.J. McCauley, who is on track for a record-breaking career, will likely move to center from left field. He ranked among the national stolen base leaders last year and hit .374. Look for senior Gabe Staub in the outfield along with junior Nick Harvey, who returns after missing half of the 2002 season with a broken collar bone. There's also the chance of moving All-ODAC and All-South selection Brad Franklin from second base to the outfield.
Another all-region player, senior Luke Kempton, may shift from first base to third. Baker calls him a great role hitter. He ranks eighth on Guilford's career hits list and seventh in runs. Sophomore Josh Miller, another good hitter, could be seen at first base or even in the outfield rather than his natural shortstop position. If not playing outfield or pitching, expect Franklin back at second base batting third in the order. Franklin led Guilford with a school-record 51 runs batted in and nine triples last year. Senior Zach Morgan looks for a better season at shortstop after playing with a broken hand for most of last season. Senior Andrew Duffy has starting experience at third base. Newer faces could also be seen as Jake Lubel and Rob Bittner are among several rookies with fine talent, but minimal college experience.
Look for a new face could be behind the plate as rookies Matt Harper, Jeff Roberts, and Brad Schlesinger will battle All-ODAC selection R.J. Marks for starting duties. Marks hit .358 with 12 doubles and seven homeruns, but spent most of the season as the Quakers' designated hitter.
With Dooley signing a professional contract with the Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League and Anthony Ramakis '02 lost to graduation, a group effort will be needed on the mound. Senior Mike Goettler proved his ability at last year's conference tournament with a nine-inning, three-hit relief appearance against Bridgewater in the ODAC Finals. He has an above-average fastball and good breaking pitch. When he locates them, he is tough to hit. Junior right-hander Ciahnan Miller returns after compiling a 6-1 record with a 5.45 earned run average and 45 strikeouts as the Quakers' top mid-week starter last year. Sophomore Dave Shaffer missed most of his rookie season with a broken left hand and will have a bigger role in 2003. Junior Michael Idol and Franklin will be joined by a few newcomers to round out the pitching staff.
The Quakers have nine conference doubleheaders this season, including a home twinbill midway through the year against defending ODAC champion Bridgewater. The games will mark their first meeting since last year's ODAC finals. The Quakers have a better chance of getting into the ODAC Tournament this year. With the addition of Roanoke, the event becomes a six-team tournament instead of four.
According to Baker, the difficulty remains in winning the double-elimination tournament."We know what it takes to get there," Baker said.
"We have to make sure that we don't allow the discouragement and frustration (of last year) to supersede the intent of returning to the conference tournament."