2010 Landmark Baseball Season Gets Underway
MADISON, N.J. – The first two seasons of Landmark Conference baseball followed a similar pattern. One or two teams separated themselves from the pack during the regular season, only to see The Catholic University of America enter the double-elimination Landmark postseason as the fourth seed and roll to the title. With the 2010 Landmark Champion earning the first automatic NCAA Tournament berth, the question is anyone can wrest the crown away from Catholic?
In 2009 it was Susquehanna University which posted the best regular-season conference mark, followed closely by Moravian College. Yet neither of those teams saw much success in the postseason as third seed United States Merchant Marine Academy and Catholic advanced to the championship game, with Catholic prevailing. All four of those teams have strong nucleus' in place in 2010, but the other three teams also have plenty of talent on hand to try and make a run at the crown this season.
Pitching looks like the strength for Catholic in its quest for a third title as the team will have to replace three All-Conference players from its regular lineup. But there are three All-Conference performers back from the team that went 10-8 in conference and 22-20 overall, including starting hurler Andrew Moldawer and reliever Jack Mahoney who will anchor a deep pitching staff.
Susquehanna posted a 14-4 Landmark record last season en route to earning the postseason number-one seed, but have some significant holes to fill this year with eight seniors gone to graduation including Player and Pitcher of the Year John Lunardi. The team does bring back two All-Conference choices led by Justin Portzline who hit .349 with 31 runs scored last season, and have six of their nine regulars back in the field.
Moravian narrowly missed the top spot in the Landmark standings, finishing at 12-6 in conference. The Greyhounds may have the most experience returning among the postseason teams as 10 starters and 24 letterwinners return, led by Kevin O'Keefe who hit .421 with 23 extra base hits to earn Landmark Rookie of the Year honors. All-Conference hurler Brendan Close anchors a deep pitching staff that is long on experience.
USMMA enjoyed a huge turnaround in 2009, going from two Landmark wins in 2008 to 10 in 2009 and then won three games in the Landmark postseason. The Mariners will feel the loss of departed All-American hitter Davey May, but slugger Mike Bybee returns after hitting .418 with eight home runs last year and overall the Mariners lost just two starters from its regular lineup and return their top three pitchers.
The University of Scranton was in the postseason chase for most of the season but eventually finished two games out with an 8-10 Landmark record and an 18-18-1 mark for the year. There will need to be some new faces on the mound for the Royals who graduated their top two winning pitchers last year, but All-Region and All-Conference slugger Chris Bligh leads an everyday lineup that welcomes back most of its starters.
After finishing atop the 2008 regular season standings, Juniata College fell to 6-12 in the Landmark and 14-23 overall last year. Most of the team's pitching staff returns intact, with five players who started at least five games all returning, and the lineup is anchored by two-time All-Conference shortstop Andrew Kriss. The team will need to replace four starters from its regular lineup.
Drew University battled to a 3-15 mark in Landmark play a year ago, but has a large returning roster to try and move up the standings in 2010. The Rangers lost only five seniors from that team and will bring back the majority of its starting lineup, and most of the pitching staff, including Evan Martens who led the team in wins and was second in strikeouts. Four of the team's top-6 hitters should also be returning in 2010.
The majority of the Landmark baseball teams will kick off the 2010 season this week with contest as part of Spring Break trips to warmer climates. The first weekend of Landmark competition will be March 20 when Drew hosts Catholic, USMMA plays at Scranton and Juniata plays host to Moravian.