BRADFORD, Pa. – The University of Pittsburgh at Bradford baseball team is set to begin its 2018 season today as it heads to Chatham for a single game at 6 p.m.
The Panthers enter the season under second-year head coach Zach Foster, a Bradford native and Pitt-Bradford graduate who became the first-ever player from the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference to be taken in the Major League Baseball Draft, selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2008.
Pitt-Bradford is looking to continue off a successful end of the 2017 season in which the Panthers claimed the No. 5 seed in the AMCC playoffs and knocked out Penn State-Altoona in the first round, fell to La Roche in the next round, defeated Mount Aloysius in the elimination game and narrowly fell to Penn State-Behrend in the conference semifinals, 5-4.
"Jay is our leader," Foster said. "He epitomizes what Pitt-Bradford baseball is all about. He comes to work every day and he doesn't complain. That's what we look for. Dalton is another one. He's one of our best overall hitters. If he sticks to his approach, he can be a .400 hitter.
"Tim is the best raw power guy that we have and he'll be an added lift in the middle of our order," Foster continued. "Brody was our starter at first base last year and held it down pretty well for us."
Clinger (Third Team) and Renn (Second Team) were All-AMCC honorees last season. Clinger hit .336 last season and scored 29 runs while driving in 25 RBIs. Renn led the Panthers in many offensive categories including RBIs (42), slugging percentage (.594) and doubles (16).
Brown was the top power hitter with five home runs while hitting .308 and driving in 31 RBIs. Wood, the AMCC's 2017 Male Faculty Athletics Representatives Award recipient, played 39 games as the Panther first baseman, hitting .295 while earning nine multi-hit games.
The Panther shortstop Hoops led all Pitt-Bradford freshmen with 39 games played last season while leading the team with 45 runs scored and had the second-best on-base percentage in the AMCC at .512 during his rookie campaign. The week of May 8, he was honored as the conference's Hitter of the Week while also earning the D3 Offensive HERO of the Week.
"He's our leadoff hitter and one of the hardest working guys on the team," Foster said. "He's very smart on the base paths, and he has an engine that just goes constantly. Ty is very knowledgeable about hitting and he always comes off the field with the most dirt on his uniform as the 'heart and hustle' guy."
An All-AMCC Second Team honoree, Parent played 39 games during his sophomore year as the Panther catcher. He was the most consistent hitter on the team last season, leading Pitt-Bradford with a .366 average and a .446 mark against conference opponents. He drove in the second-most runs on the team with 38 RBIs and had 15 multi-hit games. Behind the plate, he posted a .964 fielding percentage and threw out 14 would-be base stealers.
"Austin is our best contact hitter," Foster said. "He's going to be a huge lift for us, and it's not very often you see a catcher hit .360. I expect him to boost his power numbers during his junior year."
Adding depth as returning Panther position players will be sophomores Robert Sawicki (three games, six at-bats) and Samuel Dreistadt (31 games, 97 at-bats, 25 hits), and juniors Nick Blovsky (12 games, 20 at-bats, five runs scored), Joshua Zelinski, Michael DeLuca and Sawyer Packard.
Leading the Pitt-Bradford pitching staff is junior Ryan Boyer, who, along with Clinger and Renn, was named to the Collegiate Baseball Magazine's 2018 Players to Watch List prior to this season. Boyer led the Panthers with 66.1 innings pitched last season and went 6-4, picking up crucial wins in his final three starts of the season to lift Pitt-Bradford late in the season.
"He has established himself as the ace of this staff," Foster said of his starting pitcher. "After his freshman year, he made the active effort to get in better shape and he developed the mentality on the mound that no one was going to beat him. He has every tool to play at the next level."
Joining Boyer on the staff will be Alex Andrzejewski (1-2, 20 IP, 22 strikeouts, 9.9 K/9), Nate Renick (1-0, 12 IP, seven strikeouts), Andrew Bacha (nine appearances, 14.1 IP, seven strikeouts), Benjamin Hayes (five appearances, 7.2 IP, five strikeouts) and Tom Easton (three appearances, 4.2 IP, five strikeouts).
"We're going to ride the hot hand," Foster said of his pitching staff. "We did that last year when Nate was throwing really well. Whoever is dealing, that's who we're going to turn to."
Joining the Panthers are six newcomers. Outfielder Jason Lucarelli (Hamburg, N.Y.) joins Pitt-Bradford as a sophomore transfer along with five freshmen: outfielder Cole Tippens (Fredonia, N.Y.), Dalton's brother pitcher and infielder Drake Renn (Hallam, Pa.), pitcher and infielder Sam Gwiazdinski (Lansdale, Pa.), catcher Kyle O'Donell (Little Valley, N.Y.) and infielder Colin Buckwalter (Collegeville, Pa.).
The Panthers will begin their regular season taking on Chatham on Saturday followed by a doubleheader Sunday against Bethany (W.V.) played on neutral sites in New Market, Va.
From there, the Panthers will head to Fort Myers, Fla., for six games in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic from March 3-9.
Pitt-Bradford's first scheduled home game is March 21 against Thiel. Pitt-Bradford will then host five doubleheaders, highlighted by three-straight home AMCC game days against Penn State-Behrend (April 17), Medaille (April 21) and La Roche (April 28).
"I think our finish last year showed our guys that we can compete with the top teams, Behrend and La Roche," Foster said. "Our conference as a whole is tough. Every AMCC game we play is going to be a battle. Our main focus is to take one or both games of each doubleheader. If we can do that, that'll put us in a good position to battle through the conference tournament and make a run."