Coming off of back-to-back 20-win seasons, the Stormy Petrel baseball team is looking to take the next step in the always tough SAA. The 2017 Petrel nine has a mixture of youth and experience with 27 returners and 14 newcomers. They'll get their season started Friday afternoon at 4:30 p.m. Eastern against Southwestern (Texas) in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Petrels will once again rely heavily on their offense as they return seven offensive starters, including All-SAA performers Adrian Celata, Brandon Fish and Andrew Mink. The Petrels have led the league in home runs each of the last three seasons and have been an explosive team who can score in bunches.
Junior catcher Celata looks to once again pound imposing pitchers after his record setting 2016, where he was named to the D3baseball.com All-America First Team and the American Baseball Coaches Association All-American Second Team. In addition, he earned SAA Player of the Year honors. He finished fifth in the nation in home runs with 14, and seventh in total bases with 133, while his average of 0.33 home runs per game placed him seventh and his .811 slugging percentage put him eighth. All of those marks placed him first in the SAA. He also finished first in the league with 18 doubles and 46 RBIs, while placing second with a .409 batting average.
Senior outfielder Fish will anchor the outfield and looks to improve on his Second team All-SAA performance a year ago where he moved toward the top of the SAA leaderboard in a number of statistical categories this year, most notably RBIs. He finished tied for second behind Celata with 33. He also finished in the Division III top 50 in both hits and doubles. He accrued 53 hits on the year, placing him 40th in the nation and sixth in the SAA. Thirteen of those hits were doubles, placing him 46th in the nation and in a 3-way tie for second in the SAA behind Celata. He also played errorless ball in right field for the Petrels.
Sophomore first baseman Andrew Mink who was named Second Team All-SAA, is ready for another solid season after posting a .299 batting average on the season with a pair of home runs and 11 RBIs. He worked a .380 on-base percentage and a .448 slugging percentage on the year, collecting 10 walks and seven doubles. He was also impressive defensively, committing just three errors at first base and accruing a .987 fielding percentage, a mark which placed him in the league's top 10.
Around the infield, senior third baseman Austin Ferlita is primed for a huge bounce-back season, and has the ability to change the game with one swing . The middle of the defense will feature some new faces after 4-year starters Spencer Transue and Keith Dearden graduated at the end of the 2016 season. Juniors Matthew Motz and Connor Crooke are vying for playing time and both are strong offensive players. Freshmen Sam Held, Bryan Kowalski and Jacob Rivers have shown tremendous potential in the field and all should see time up the middle. The outfield returns three more starters from last season along with Fish. Junior Jarvis Miller hit .309 and slugged .423 on the season last year. Junior Britton Araujo (.308 batting average, .372 on-base percentage) and Corey Hamm (.310 avg., .333 OBP) give the Petrels tremendous depth in the outfield and also at designated hitter. The Petrels will also return great depth behind the dish with Celata and Bobby Rezac. Mink will also see some time behind the plate with two freshmen, Dylan Childress and Alex Morales, pushing for playing time.
"We have tremendous depth in the field with a nice mixture of youth and experience," said Giordano. "The young guys have looked impressive and are ready to contribute."
On the mound, the Petrels will look to three returning pitchers who have logged some very important innings the last few years. Junior Matt Davis will return as the top of the rotation arm and is coming off of back-to-back All-SAA performances. Last season, he went 5-4 as the Oglethorpe ace with a 3.33 ERA. Seniors Sam Traxler (3.52 ERA) and Justin Thigpen (11-3 career with 7.26 strikeouts per nine innings) return to their familiar roles at the back end of the bullpen, where both of each experienced great success. Senior Ryan Brennan has made huge strides and looks primed to have an impact for the Petrels in 2017. Most of the staff will be made up of a slew of newcomers. Transfers sophomore Kyle Babb, sophomore Parker Farschman, freshman Austin Manuel, freshman Caleb Martin, and freshman Preston Vegotsky should all see significant time on the mound and pitch in some big situations for the Petrels.
"Overall this is a young group," concluded Giordano. "We graduated a lot of innings and experience, but Davis, Traxler and Thigpen have done a fantastic job of leading the way for the young guys. We have plenty of talent on the mound and I'm confident these guys will get better as the season moves along."
The schedule will once again be daunting and will give the Petrels a chance to show what they can do against some of the best in the nation. Birmingham-Southern and Rhodes have been the perennial powers the last few seasons inside the SAA, but the non-conference slate is just as tough. The Petrels will have games versus crosstown rival and Division III World Series participant Emory, regionally-ranked LaGrange, Huntingdon and MIT.
"Every game will be a challenge," said Oglethorpe head coach Dan Giordano. "It is a demanding schedule, but one that will make us a better club. I'm excited to face off against the best."