EDITOR'S NOTE: The Lourdes double header, season opener against Asbury today has been postponed until Saturday with one of the games rescheduled for Wednesday.
Lourdes University's baseball team is set to begin the 2014 season, looking for the continued improvement the Gray Wolves saw last year.
Optimism is high for the Gray Wolves moving into the program's third season with third year head coach Andy Ham. Ham returns 24 players to a team that finished the year 16-27-1 overall and 5-20-1 in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, finishing in ninth place. The Gray Wolves have added several talented newcomers to the roster as well, looking to make an impact in 2014. Lourdes looks to climb the conference ladder and make the WHAC tournament for the first time in program history.
The season begins Saturday as the Gray Wolves head to Kentucky for their first eight games of the year at Asbury. Lourdes will return home for the first time in 2014 on March 14, playing host to Grace.
The Gray Wolves have 23 games slated for Mercy Field this season over 13 dates, concluding April 26-27 with a four-game series against Siena Heights. This year's WHAC tournament is slated for May 5-7 in Fort Wayne, Ind.
PTICHING: The weekend rotation returns intact for the Gray Wolves 2013. Drew Lepiarz went 4-4 with a 5.20 earned run average to lead the way for the Gray Wolves while striking out 37 hitters in 53.2 innings of work. Kyle Vandecaveye had the lowest ERA of all the starters at 4.56 and tossed a pair of complete games to go along with his 37 strikeouts, tying for the team lead. Frank Shaffer logged a team-high 59.1 innings, walking just 13 while Lee Lovejoy also was a mainstay on the weekend. Lovejoy had a 5.84 ERA, giving the Gray Wolves four starters under six. A pair of newcomers look to take over the midweek starts. Josh Payzant, a 6-foot, 6-inch right-hander arrives from Jackson Community College and looks to make an immediate impact along with freshman Nate Snow.
Lourdes bullpen looks to be solid entering the new season. Closer Matt Olsavsky returns after registering seven saves and a 2.04 ERA in his rookie year. He will be set up by Jonathan Barker, who limited opponents to a .133 batting average one year ago along with transfer Sean Koerber, who arrives from Owens Community College. Freshman Nick Patterson looks to fill the role of left-handed specialist this season while transfer Brandon Holt and junior Ryan Veres are slated to be used in long relief.
CATCHERS: One of the tightest position battles heading into the season opener is behind the plate. Ryan Kovar drove home 15 runs one year ago while posting a .391 on base percentage while starting 25 games. Garrett Jex will also look for time behind the plate as a junior after starting 21 games between catching and designated hitter one year ago, as will Zak Laubscher. Laubscher, the lone right-handed bat of the trio, will see time against left-handers.
INFIELD: Lourdes infield may be one of the team's strong suits this year. Josh Redies returns at first base where he started 42 games one year ago, batting a team-best .299. He committed just four errors in nearly 300 chances as a junior, and looks for a strong senior campaign. Tyler Trame will also look for time at first base. He appeared in 19 games as a sophomore, mostly coming off of the bench. At second base, John Crooks returns to a position in which he hit .279 with a team-leading three home runs and 24 RBI. He slugged .486 last year with 19 total extra base hits. Crooks became the first Gray Wolf to earn WHAC Player of the Week accolades. Cody Berg and Kyle Sherman will both look for time at second base as well. Berg made 29 starts at shortstop last year while Sherman is a freshman.
At shortstop, Jake Conklin returns to the diamond after missing all of last season due to illness. He was an Honorable Mention All-WHAC selection in 2012 as a freshman after hitting .313 with 21 RBI. Berg will also see time at shortstop behind Conklin. At the hot corner, Marty Ramirez is set for his sophomore campaign. As a rookie, he started 29 games, tallying 12 runs batted in while posting a .316 on base percentage. Sam Jerome will also look for time at third base after appearing in 15 games as a freshman.
OUTFIELD: Andy Kefalos moves to the outfield after playing first base his first two years with the Gray Wolves. He will be joined on the corner by Cole Fitzgerald who hit .276 in his first season of collegiate baseball with 19 runs batted in. Fitzgerald had 10 assists from right field during his freshman year. In center, Nick Toth looks to take over the job which was vacated by graduation. Toth is a transfer from Lakeland Community College. Mike Calloway and Nick Mazgay will also look to crack the lineup this year in the outfield.
DH: Victor Diaz will look to hold down the designated hitter slot this year. He was the team's most utilized pinch hitter one year ago, batting .278 in 15 contests. He will be joined in the designated slot by Trame as well as one of the catchers not starting behind the plate.