Coming off a 30-win season in 2014, Stuart Lake is confident the Charleston Southern baseball team will be a serious contender for the Big South Conference title in May.
“This is a team that, at the end of the year, can win the Big South tournament,” said Lake, who begins his seventh season as the Buccaneers’ head coach. “I feel like we have more pitching depth than we’ve ever had in the past. I’ve been telling our guys since the fall, ‘Let’s put ourselves in a position at the end of the year and see what happens.’
“We want to get to a regional, and winning our tournament is how we can do that. I have probably stressed that to this team more than I have in previous years because I really think, sitting here today, we have a chance to be a contender.”
The 2015 roster has 21 names that were not a part of the program last season, including an influx of 13 junior college transfers. CSU lost several quality players from last year’s team, led by center fielder Bobby Ison and shortstop Alex Tomasovich — both now playing pro ball.
Lake, however, does return several players who have been in the program for several years. Now it’s their time to step up, Lake said.
“We expect a lot of our newcomers to play this year, but we also have a group of guys that have been here, have played some in supporting roles,” he said. “This is their opportunity, and from what I have seen in the fall, I expect several to have good seasons for us.
“We also have a lot of new faces, guys that have good experience but not so much at the Division I level. We recruited these guys because we felt like they could play at this level. Now is their opportunity to see if they can.”
Anchoring the pitching staff is junior left-hander Andrew Tomasovich, who was 7-3 a year ago.
“I’m so proud of Andrew,” said Lake. “He will be the first guy we run out there. He’s a third-year guy, has pitched a lot here in the last two years, and has really worked hard to become a complete pitcher.”
Junior right-hander Dylan Lee, a transfer from Chattahoochee Valley Community College, and returning senior Denis Buckley will likely round out the weekend conference rotation this season.
Junior Evan Raynor, sophomore Will Hartsell and junior Alex Ministeri will see time as starters as well.
“All of those guys will get early opportunities and we will let them sort out who pitches on the weekend and who pitches during the mid-week games,” said Lake.
The staff closer is senior Austin Weekley, who holds the CSU single-season and career record for saves. Weekley, a former star at James Island High, had 11 saves last season. Senior Joe Pistacchio provides solid experience out of the bullpen as well, having logged nearly 60 innings in the last two seasons.
Senior Sam Remick is back at catcher after 48 starts and a .276 batting average in 2014. Senior Andrew Widell and freshman Mike Sconzo will get work behind the plate, while Widell, who hit .303 last season, sees time at designated hitter as well.
Anchoring the infield is senior first baseman Chase Shelton (.348, 4 HR, 44 RBIs), who could also see time in the outfield. Junior Bryan Dye, a transfer from USC Lancaster who prepped at Ashley Ridge High School, will see time at first base and has been one of the team’s most impressive hitters in the fall.
Junior second baseman Kevin Hickey has played in 87 games and will begin the season as the starter. Junior college transfer Ryan Maksim, who played his high school ball at Bishop England, will also see time at second.
Junior college transfer Cole Murphy has taken over at shortstop, while sophomore Nate Blanchard will hit leadoff and play third. Senior Robbie Streett also could see time at the corners.
The outfield is full of new faces, but Lake said the group is very talented. Taking over for Ison in center is junior Brandon Burris, a transfer from Spartanburg Methodist. The 5-8 Burris hit .370 with 31 stolen bases last season.
Freshman Chris Singleton, an all-state selection out of Goose Creek last season, will start the season in right field. Freshman Chase Hannifan and junior Sly Edwards are working in left, while junior Jack Crittenberger is working in all three outfield positions.
“I like our depth in the outfield,” said Lake. “They’re all new out there for us, but all of them have been very productive players at their previous schools. It’s a group with a lot of speed.”
Speaking of speed, Lake feels the ability to run may be his team’s overall strength.
“I think we will be a team that has to create scoring opportunities,” the coach said. “We have more overall speed than we’ve had. We feel like we can create some things on the bases. We’re stressing on-base percentage more than batting average. We need to be on base to score runs.”
CSU will play 17 of its first 19 games at home, with games at Clemson and South Carolina, sprinkled in early. The Bucs’ schedule also include a three-game series at West Virginia, coached by Randy Mazey, a former head coach at Charleston Southern. Lake played for Mazey at CSU.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN BASEBALL
2014 RECORD: 30-26 (12-15 in Big South)
COACH: Stuart Lake, 134-201 in 7th season
TOP PLAYERS: 1B/OF Chase Shelton (.348, 4 HR, 44 RBIs); C Andrew Widell (.303, 1 HR, 26 RBIs); LHP Andrew Tomasovich (7-3, 3.85 ERA); RHP Denis Buckley (3-1, 3.33 ERA); RHP Austin Weekley (11 saves, 3.51 ERA).
TOP NEWCOMERS: OF Chris Singleton (6-0, 175), Goose Creek HS; SS Cole Murphy (6-0, 175), Andrew College; RHP Dylan Lee (6-2, 190), Chattahoochee Valley CC.
OUTLOOK: The Buccaneers are coming off their best season yet under Lake, a 30-win campaign that included a victory over South Carolina. Lake feels this year’s team is potentially better overall and the coach will rely on 21 newcomers, including 13 players from the junior college ranks. This year’s pitching staff has more depth and Lake feels comfortable using many arms. Newcomer Dylan Lee will take on a weekend starter’s role, but the ace of the staff is junior lefty Andrew Tomasovich. Closer Austin Weekley had a school-record 11 saves last season. The biggest question may be offensively. Chase Shelton returns as a bona fide Division I hitter and could end up as the school’s career hit leader before the season ends. Shelton hit .348 with 44 RBIs last season, striking out only 15 times in 221 at bats. Only one other returner, designated hitter Andrew Widell, managed to hit over .300 last season. The Bucs lost two key offensive leaders — center fielder Bobby Ison and infielder Alex Tomasovich — who combined for nearly 200 hits last season. Both were drafted after last season. Lake feels several of the newcomers will be effective hitters, and this year’s team has more overall speed than any of Lake’s previous six.
February: 13 – Chicago State, 6 p.m.; 14 – Chicago State, 4 p.m.; 15 – Chicago State, 1 p.m.; 18 – at Clemson, 4 p.m.; 20 – LaSalle, 6 p.m.; 21 – LaSalle, 4 p.m.; 22 – LaSalle, 2 p.m.; 24 – Furman, 6 p.m.; 27 – St. John’s, 6 p.m.; 28 – North Florida, 6:30 p.m.
March: 1 – North Florida, 2 p.m.; 3 – at South Carolina, 7 p.m.; 6 – Penn State, 6 p.m.; 7 – Penn State, 4 p.m.; 8 – Penn State, 2 p.m.; 10 – USC Upstate, 6 p.m.; 11 – N.C. Central, 4 p.m.; 13 – at UNC Asheville 4 p.m.; 14 – at UNC Asheville, 3 p.m.; 15 – at UNC Asheville, 1 p.m.; 17 – Lafayette, 6 p.m.; 18 – at USC Upstate, 6 p.m.; 20 – at Longwood, 6 p.m.; 21 – at Longwood, 4 p.m.; 22 – at Longwood, 1 p.m.; 24 – College of Charleston, 6 p.m.; 25 – at N.C. Central, 5 p.m.; 27 – at West Virginia, 6 p.m.; 28 – at West Virginia, 4 p.m.; 29 – at West Virginia, 1 p.m.
April: 2 – Liberty, 6 p.m.; 3 – Liberty, 6 p.m.; 4 – Liberty, 2 p.m.; 7 – at Savannah State, 5 p.m.; 10 – Gardner-Webb, 6 p.m.; 11 – Gardner-Webb, 4 p.m.; 12 – Gardner-Webb, 1 p.m.; 15 – Savannah State, 6 p.m.; 17 – at Campbell, 6 p.m.; 18 – at Campbell, 4 p.m.; 19 – at Campbell, 2 p.m.; 21 – at The Citadel, 6 p.m.; 24 – Winthrop, 6 p.m.; 25 – Winthrop, 4 p.m.; 26 – Winthrop, 2 p.m; 28 – The Citadel, 6 p.m.
May: 6 – at Furman 6 p.m.; 8 – at Radford, 6:30 p.m.; 9 – at Radford, 4 p.m.; 10 – at Radford, 2 p.m.; 12 – at College of Charleston, 6 p.m.; 14 – Presbyterian, 6 p.m.; 15 – Presbyterian, 4 p.m.; 16 – Presbyterian, 2 p.m; 19-23, Big South Tournament at Gardner-Webb, TBA.