In Coach Mark McQueen's six years of coaching the University of Richmond baseball team, he has never had a bigger turnover year. With the departure of seven seniors, five of whom were key starters, at the end of last season, McQueen was left with a lot of holes in his lineup. But as the team prepares to open its 2013 season, McQueen is confident that this year's players can fill those holes, he said.
McQueen is slightly concerned about the hit the team's offense is going to take, he said. The seniors who left took with them 50 percent of the team's offense, 50 percent of its runs batted in and 60 percent of its home runs, McQueen said.
But McQueen is excited about this year's class of freshmen and is confident that the team will be successful, he said. "It's always fun to try to build a new team, which is the way it's been after the large departure of last year's seniors," McQueen said. "We use the fall to teach the freshmen how to play baseball the Spider way at the NCAA Division 1 level and then put different people in [in the spring] to see who steps to the forefront and how good we can be."
Though the offense carried the team last year, pitching and defense will keep this year's team contending, McQueen said. While six of the seven graduates were position players, the team essentially only lost two pitchers, graduate Alex Maffett and senior Jacob Mayers.
Mayers was one of the Spiders' best starting pitchers last year, leading the team with 82 strikeouts, but after sustaining a lat injury at the end of the season, it is uncertain whether he will pitch this year.
It would be great to have Mayers back this season, junior Mike Small said, but adding pitchers who missed last season with injuries will fill in that void.
The most notable addition to the pitching roster will be redshirt freshman Jonathan de Marte. He was one of the current sophomore class's most exciting prospects, but he missed the entire 2012 spring season with an elbow injury.
This season, de Marte is slated to be the Friday starter, which is typically when a team's ace pitches, Small said.
In addition to losing offense, McQueen noted that the team also lost a lot of leadership, and he is expecting current players to step in and assume those roles.
The lack of defined team leaders this season feels a bit strange to Small, but he said that this year the team has a more united feel, rather than leading on a few leaders.
"Losing the experience the seniors brought hurts a little bit, but we have enough guys who have been playing for a few years to anchor the team and help the younger guys get used to playing at this level," Small said.
Even with the change in the overall composition of the team, McQueen is confident that the 2013 squad will be good enough to make the A-10 tournament, he said.
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"There are a lot of quality teams in the league and I think we're one of them," McQueen said.
Sophomore Ryan Cook is also very confident in his team, and thinks their schedule will play to their advantage.
"I think we will do very well this year and have a good shot of competing for a conference championship," Cook said. "Especially if everyone stays healthy, then we will be a very dangerous team."
The Spiders will start their season with a three-game series against Bucknell beginning on Friday at Pitt Field. Friday's game is scheduled to start at 2:30 p.m.
McQueen is looking for the season opener to be a confidence-building series, especially for the freshmen in their first college-level game, he said. McQueen considers Bucknell, whose team finished last season with a 21-28 record, to be a quality opponent, and he thinks they will provide a good test for the strength of the new team.
Contact staff writer Erin Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org
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