As the spring semester evolves, baseball season draws closer.
For IUP baseball, the upcoming season holds not only lots of playoff potential but also an opportunity to bounce back after last year’s losing season.
The Crimson Hawks enter the season ranked seventh in the PSAC and retain three of their four best hitters from last season in Nick DiAndreth (sophomore, exercise science), who led the team in batting last season, Nick Hess (junior, marketing) and Ben Teplin (junior, business). Each of them finished in the PSAC Top 50 for batting average in 2019.
According to head coach Anthony Rebyanski, DiAndreth spent the offseason fine-tuning his fundamentals to not only ensure a repeat season as one of the PSAC’s top batters but to add more to his stat line.
“Nick is a very humble kid, and you would never know he had the success he did as a freshman,” Rebyanski said. “The key to his sophomore year is going to be that teams have seen him over the course of the year. They will have to make adjustments to get him out, as he will have to make adjustments to what the other teams do to repeat that success.
“He is an extremely hard worker and wants nothing more than to help our team win and be successful. If he can continue to learn and be a student of the game of baseball, there is no doubt in my mind that he can have a great sophomore campaign along with a very successful four-year career here at IUP.”
While hitting was DiAndreth’s metaphoric bread and butter of 2019, he also contributed on the base paths and on the field.
He finished with a 90 percent rating in fielding, third in runs scored and second in stolen bases.
Along with DiAndreth, Rebyanski will look to his senior captains to provide the leadership needed to bring a winning record back to Owen J. Dougherty Field.
“There are a lot of guys who we consider impact type players on our current team. A couple to list are seniors Chris Eisel (pre-physical therapy), JP Pellis (finance) and Ben Hudock (software engineering), along with juniors [Hess] and [Teplin],” he said. “Eisel is a guy who has tools to play at the next level professionally, and we look for him to continue his outstanding outfield play and to continue to be the workhorse offensively that he has been since his freshman season.
“Hess has the ability to lead our offense in many power categories while Teplin is the type of hitter that pitchers despise, the pesky type that knows how to get on base and will find a way to do just that.”
Along with the hitting side of the game, Rebyanski knows the kind of impact an efficient pitching staff will have. IUP faces a metaphoric hill to climb following the loss of pitchers Tyler Adams to the Philadelphia Phillies in the MLB First-Year Player Draft and Jeff Allen to graduation and a team ERA of 6.90 last season.
Allen was the team’s primary starter in 2019, but that role is now open.
While the ERA seems high, Rebyanski remains optimistic that pitchers will have a bounce-back season with the physical and leadership capabilities of both Pellis, Hudock and the rest of his staff, and a major overhaul to how the team trains.
“Pellis and Hudock look to lead our pitching staff, whether it’s in a starting role or in the bullpen, these two have tremendous work ethics and have shown drastic improvements since last spring. Pitching is always key and if you can pitch, you have a shot to win each time you step on the field. Baseball and pitching has changed a lot over the last decade, becoming the data-ball era, which means it is now focused on velocity more than command, as you can see with the increased velocity at the Major League level.”
One factor of the training overhaul was how the Crimson Hawks adjust to modernized pitching thematics in order to throw hitters off-guard with focusing on pitch speed and control.
“Since last spring, we have taken a new approach in building our staff,” he said. “We are not only focusing on increasing velocities more than we have in the past, but also continuing the focus on command at the same time. They go hand-in-hand, and once we establish the command with the velocity, the possibilities are endless on the mound for our pitching staff.”
Including in this pitching staff is returning reliever Francisco Manzaro (sophomore, criminal justice), who found success sporadically throughout 2019, posting a 1.59 ERA in six appearances. His most notable game came against Mercyhurst, in which he got through two innings in fewer than 20 pitches.
Moreover, he allowed only seven hits to opposing hitters during the season.
Another addition to the Hawks’ modernized game plan this year will be one that is unrelated to the roster. In fact, it will focus on incorporating the new renovations to Dougherty Field, including new artificial turf on the infield.
Since most teams have adapted to this material, IUP is no stranger as to what this addition means for the team.
”Fields in the PSAC West are predominantly turf, with the exception of Clarion’s home field,” Rebyanski said. “This transition will not be a difficult one for us. It is a blessing to be able to say we are getting a turf field. While Dougherty Field already has some uniqueness to it, the turf will add that final touch we’ve been looking for.”
The Crimson Hawks begin their 2020 campaign on the road Saturday in a three-game series against Lenior-Rhyne, a product of the South Atlantic Conference.
The Bears began their season at the turn of the month, and faced two nationally ranked teams. Currently they have a 2–5 overall record with their most recent contest against University of Mount Olive this past weekend.
For Rebyanski, he is not worried about the difference in games played already.
“I believe this series will come down to who can outlast the other team on the mound and who plays the best defense,” he said. “Our first game will be their eighth, but I feel we are ready to begin the journey of the 2020 season that is ahead of us.
“Lenoir-Rhyne is going to be the prototypical southern team that we play each year. They are going to have great front-line starting pitchers that possess command and velocity while the back end of the ‘pen are going to be tough shut-down type arms. Their 2–5 record does not represent the type of team they are, as they have played very tough competition early on this spring.”
Both teams have not faced off since the 2012 season, when they split the series and the Crimson Hawks came away with a sizeable 20–7 victory in the final game.
Lace up the cleats and apply the pine tar, Hawk nation. Baseball season is upon us.