Seven returning starters will lead the University of Richmond baseball team when it begins its season tomorrow in Jacksonville, Fla.
The Spiders practiced indoors during much of the preseason because of the snow, but senior pitcher Matt Zielinski said that shouldn't stop them from playing well at the start of the season.
"We don't plan on using the weather as an excuse," Zielinski said. "We know that a lot of teams are in the same situation. Everybody's been playing for a long time, so we'll be fine."
Last season the Spiders had as many as five freshmen at a time in the starting lineup, head coach Mark McQueen said. That experience should benefit this year's team, he said.
"As a freshman, every day is an adventure," McQueen said. "When you come back as a sophomore, you're more familiar with the routine."
The Spider infield includes two sophomores as well as two fifth-year seniors. Sophomore second baseman Adam McConnell stole 31 bases for Richmond last season while batting .355, and senior shortstop Victor Croglio committed only six errors all season. Third baseman Cameron Brown finished second on the team behind McConnell, hitting .340 with 11 home runs and 13 doubles.
Sophomore Ryan Mallory will likely start at first base, while junior Mike Mergenthaler, who played first base last season, will move to right field. Sophomores Matt Zink and Phil Ruzbarsky will round out the outfield in center and right field.
"I think it will work out," Mergenthaler, who led the team with 41 RBIs during 2009, said of the move to the outfield. "I played outfield in high school and in the fall. It opens up some spots to get some other bats in the lineup."
Zielinski will lead the Spider starting pitching staff, which includes sophomore Zach Young and juniors Anthony Cafagna, Billy Falasco and Matt Trent. Senior Ian Marshall will move from the starting rotation to the closing role to replace Brian Alas, who holds the career record for saves as a Spider.
"We have a lot of depth this year," McQueen said of his pitchers. "The main thing we haven't done is get consistent quality starts out of the starting rotation. We need three or four guys to step up and be the kind of starters that are going to give us consistent outings every weekend."
Zielinski said he hoped to set the tone for Richmond's younger pitchers.
"I like to pride myself on being the workhorse," he said. "I want to start the weekend off right and have the other guys follow in the same direction."
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The Spiders started last season 8-0 but suffered a 10-game losing streak during early April and finished the season 22-25, failing to qualify for the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament. McQueen said the ups and downs of last season should help the team focus on playing more consistently this season.
"Sometimes I think they put too much pressure on themselves when things weren't going right," McQueen said. "In baseball, you don't have to wait a week to play again, so you have to have a short memory and you can't get too high or too low, you just have to go out and try to be consistent."
The Spiders start the 2010 season with the non-conference portion of their schedule, which includes games against Ohio State University, Oklahoma University, the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia.
"It's good to measure ourselves against good teams and see where we stand," Mergenthaler said, "but we really want to win those games. We're going into every game trying to win, so it's a good tune up for the A-10s."
This weekend, the team will face Florida A&M University, North Florida University and Ohio State University in Jacksonville, Fla., and will return next weekend for three more games. Brown said the Spiders were excited to head south, get outside and get the season started.
"We all want to get out of here," Brown said. "I think we'll make the most out of our time down there, especially going two weekends in a row."
The Spiders' first home game is scheduled for Feb. 23 against the Virginia Military Institute.
Contact staff writer Reilly Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org
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