Brandywine Baseball Opens 2017 Season Sunday

John Gorgone
John Gorgone

MEDIA, Pa. -- Spring sports have officially arrived at Penn State Brandywine as the Lions' baseball team will get its 2017 regular-season started on Sunday with a doubleheader against Cabrini (at West Chester University), Game one is slated to start at 11:00 am.

Following a four-year playing career at Brandywine and four more years as an assistant coach, Head Coach Vinny Gallo was named as the team's skipper in July. He expects his team to compete for the Penn State University Athletic Conference title despite the graduation of seven seniors from the 2016 squad. To offset the large graduating class, Gallo recruited a group of 13 newcomers, including 11 freshmen.

"Losing seven guys is not easy, but we filled those holes in our roster with not only talented players, but guys who are willing to do what it takes for our program to win," said Gallo. With 13 new faces, we are extremely excited to have true competitions all around the diamond. There is a lot of talent in our freshman class that is going to help us win now and in the future."

In addition to its 25 non-conference games, Brandywine will play five, three-game series against PSUAC Eastern Division competition this spring. The new conference format has split the league into eastern and western divisions. Along with Brandywine, the eastern division is comprised of Hazleton, Schuylkill, Scranton, Wilkes Barre and York. The Lions posted a combined record of 8-2 against those five teams last season.

"We are excited to have the opportunity to play in a divisional format.  The three-game series will help with tie breakers at the end of the year," commented Gallo. While I do like the new format, I am going to miss our trips to Pittsburgh to play conference rivals from the western part of the state."

The Lions' 15-man pitching staff features seven returners, led by senior closer Nate Forwood. A fourth-year member of the team, Forwood became the conference's top closer in 2016, converting each of his three save chances. He did not allow an earned run during any of his 11 appearances, spanning 17.0 innings, while surrendering just 11 hits to opposing batters.

Senior Joe Samohod is Brandywine's most experienced starting pitcher, having tossed 115.1 innings during his career. Samohod has six complete games and 65 strikeouts on his ledger. Juniors Bradley Ulmer and Frank Newman and sophomore Tyler Michaels are also expected to see time in the weekend rotation this spring. Ulmer made six starts, winning a pair of games, while Newman posted a 3-2 record with one complete-game shutout and 13 strikeouts last spring. Michaels will transition to a starting role after pitching in six games as a reliever during his freshman season.

Senior Stephen James and sophomores Charlie Cooper and Steve Patterson will also compete for innings on the mound, along with a group of five freshmen hurlers.

"Having a pitching staff of 15 guys is a major strength of ours. It's not just four or five guys that can pitch and the rest are fillers; we have 15 guys that the coaching staff feels we can hand the ball in any situation and be comfortable with anyone we have out there," noted Gallo.

Completing the battery with the pitching staff will be a pair of freshmen catchers. Rookies Brian Reynolds and Anthony Polanco are the two catchers on the roster and will each look for playing time behind the plate.

Brandywine returns three-quarters of its starting infield from last season in junior Tommy Crumlish and sophomores Matt Masi and Kevin Roche. Masi displayed power at the plate with three home runs and a team-best 13 extra-base hits, along with a solid glove a first base (.987 fielding percentage), in 35 games and will likely slot into the middle of the Lions' lineup. Crumlish will play second base full-time this spring after splitting time between the infield and outfield the last two seasons. Crumlish owns 40 hits in 59 career games, while Roche looks to bounce back from an injury-plagued first season at Brandywine in which he played in 27 games, displaying a strong glove at shortstop.

Gallo expects junior T.J. Wiest and freshman Brett Sheeran to battle for playing time at third base, while sophomore Will Scott-Norris also returns to the left side of the Lions' infield.

In the outfield, senior John Gorgone, an all-American in 2015, is one of the top threats at the plate in the conference. In 104 career games, Gorgone has collected 96 hits, 10 home runs and 76 runs batted in. He has registered at least 20 RBI during each of the last three seasons.

Sophomore Kevin Dougherty looks to build on a solid freshman campaign in right field when he hit .295 and scored 29 runs in 37 games, while junior Chris Skahill, sophomore Joey Buoni and freshman Robert Spitaletta will also receive innings in the outfield. Buoni, a transfer from Widener University, is expected to see time as the team's designated hitter, while the versatile Skahill can also play first base and pitch.

"As far as position players go, we have great leadership in the field from two of our team captains: Tommy Crumlish and John Gorgone. When you add guys like Kevin Roche, Matt Masi, Kevin Dougherty, and Joey Buoni to the mix, we expect to be have a strong year from an offensive stand point, but more importantly, on the defensive side. Our infield defense is much improved, especially on the left side with Kevin Roche being healthy and Brett Sheeran and T.J. Wiest competing for the third base job. We feel we have four great gloves all the way around the infield," added Gallo.

Following its season-opening games versus Cabrini, Brandywine will begin the home portion of its schedule on Saturday, Feb. 25 with the first two contests of a four-game series against Fisher College (Mass.) at Maple Zone. The team will head to Vero Beach, Fla., where it will play nine games during its annual Spring Break trip and then starts PSUAC play with a three-game series against Penn State Scranton on March 24-25.