February 15, 2004
Ricky Henne, Hullabaloo staff writer
After finishing with a 44-19 record and advancing to its sixth consecutive NCAA Regional appearance last season, Tulane baseball is once again the preseason favorite to win the Conference USA title. Early on the Wave have garnered numerous preseason awards and rankings.
The team ranked 10th in both the "Baseball America" and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association preseason polls, claimed the 12th spot in the "SportsWeekly"/ESPN Coaches Top 25 poll, and were named the No. 13 team in the nation by "Collegiate Baseball." "We've been ranked in the top 25 the last few years, so it's not foreign to us. What we have to do is accept the responsibility of being good. It's a challenge not to mail anything in," Head Coach Rick Jones said.
Most impressive is that they have achieved this while losing three of their biggest stars from the 2003 campaign. Losing first baseman Michael Aubrey, centerfielder Jonny Kaplan and shortstop Tony Giarratano would have been a major blow to Tulane's hopes for the upcoming season had they not been replaced with 11 top-notch prospects during last year's signing period.
"We had a solid recruiting year and some of the guys who are returning will take some positive strides," Jones said. "We don't have the one big bat like we've had before, but we do have a balanced line-up."
Headlining the list of newcomers is a pair of "Baseball America" High School All-Americans in first baseman Mark Hamilton and middle infielder Philip Stringer, making Tulane the only team in the nation to land more than one All-American from a year ago.
"Of the freshmen I think that Stringer and Hamilton will have an early impact on the team," Jones said. "Both are All-Americans and can contribute immediately to the team."
Hamilton, out of Bellaire, Texas, will have to prove his star-studded resume can fill the shoes vacated by Aubrey, the 2003 C-USA player of the year and Golden Spikes finalist selected eleventh overall by the Cleveland Indians in last year's draft. A three-time All-Southwest Prepatory Conference selection, Hamilton hit .491 for his career with 25 home runs and 166 RBI's.
As a senior, he earned first-team All-America honors from "Baseball America" after hitting .500 with 60 RBI, 48 hits, 48 runs and a school-record 14 home runs. Stringer, the speedy middle infielder from Spring, Texas, is also expected to pay immediate dividends for the Green Wave. A four-year letterman at Klein Oak High he helped lead the Panthers to a combined 107-30 record in four seasons, finishing his prep career ranked as the 13th overall prospect and No. 1 infielder by "Baseball America."
As a senior, Stringer earned All-America honors from Nike, Louisville Slugger and "Baseball America" (second team), and he was named Greater Houston Area Player of the Year after hitting .500 with nine home runs, 29 RBI, 39 runs scored, 26 stolen bases and a .646 on-base percentage. Stringer is slated to be the team's leadoff hitter.
"Hopefully most of my contributions will be to get on base, play the field and set the tone as the steady guy who scores runs," Stringer said. These two freshmen will compliment a squad that, despite its losses, still returns a wealth of talent for the 2004 season, including 10 pitchers that accounted for 43 of 44 wins and all 14 saves from a year ago.
Spearheading Tulane's pitching are seniors Joey Charron and Cory Hahn, who are joined by sophomores Brian Bogusevic, J.R. Crowel, Matt Goebel, Brandon Gomes, Tyler Kimmons, Ryan Martin and Billy Mohl to form a formidable staff. Selected as a third-team preseason All-American by "Collegiate Baseball Magazine" a season after posting a 2.63 ERA with 12 saves and 68 strikeouts in 61.2 innings of work, Charron is poised to break many major pitching records for the Green Wave.
His 23 career saves is just four behind Tulane's record of 27, and after 10 games will hold the Tulane career record of appearances. Hahn returns for his senior season after leading Tulane with a 9-1 record while finishing second on the team in innings with 88 and strikeouts with 70. His performance led the Oakland Athletics to draft him in the 24th round, but he chose to remain at Tulane for his final year.
A preseason All C-USA team selection, Crowel, was named C-USA Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American in 2003 after leading the Green Wave with 73 strikeouts and 106 innings pitched, while ranking second on the squad with eight wins. Position wise, Tulane returns eight letter winners, including six starters. Highlighting the list of position players is senior catcher Brian Bormaster, junior shortstop Tommy Manzella and sophomore outfielder/pitcher Bogusevic.
Another preseason all C-USA team selection Bormaster, who will also be playing third base occasionally, hit .294 last season, going .366 over the final 22 games en route to earning C-USA All-Tournament honors with a .692 batting average. Bormaster's job will be to help call games and keep the pitchers focused.
"The catcher and pitchers should always be on the same note. I try to do as much with them as I can to try to learn their tendency to calm them down and make them better," Bormaster said.
Manzella, Tulane's third all C-USA team selection, is expected to move from second base to shortstop this season. He is the Green Wave's leading returning hitter after posting a .344 batting average and a team-best 20 doubles. He also posted career-highs by smashing six home runs and plating 44 RBI while showcasing his spectacular glove at second base.
Bogusevic, meanwhile, earned Freshman All-America honors after hitting .321 with four home runs, four triples, 10 doubles and 36 RBI at the plate while going 3-2 with a 3.41 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 34.1 innings of work on the mound. Despite losing key members and youthful squad, many players are optimistic about their teams chances of making it to the College World Series this season.
"Whenever [a team] loses, everyone talks about how young you are, but when you win nobody cares," Stringer said. "We just have to wait and see how we do."
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