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Penn State Altoona Baseball 2013 Season Preview
2/22/2013 — Penn State Altoona baseball enters a transitional season in 2013 after losing several key players at the conclusion of last year. Gone are outfielder Jimmy Baum and first baseman Cord Heine, two of the program’s top hitters of all-time. The Lions will also be without the services of their regular middle infielders and several pitchers from last year’s squad. But head coach Joe Piotti is upbeat about his young team and hopes that the best of the crop will rise to the occasion to fill the holes in his lineup.
The 2013 Lions boast 15 newcomers after losing 16 players from last season’s roster. Only four starting position players return from last year: outfielders Tim Norris (Greensburg, PA/Hempfield) and Ken Terpack (Rennerdale, PA/Chartiers Valley), infielder Jordan Swope (State College, PA/Tussey Mountain), and catcher Matt Schmauder (Ellicott City, MD/Mount Hebron). A mostly young batting order will look to pick up the slack left behind after the departure of Baum and Heine, who combined for 42 home runs, 121 doubles, and 303 runs batted in during their four-year tenures.
“It’s going to be tough to replace the production that those two guys [Baum and Heine] gave us over the last four years,” said Piotti, who enters his 17th season as the squad’s head coach. “With a whole new kind of team this year, we’re not going to be relying on one or two hitters. We’re going to be a team that, offensively, needs everyone to pitch in.”
Piotti plans to lead off the batting order with Norris, who started all 39 games as a freshman last year while posting a .298 average. The team’s other returning starter in the outfield, senior Terpack, hit .279 in 34 starts and was second on the team with three home runs. Norris and Terpack will both utilize their speed on the base paths and can cover plenty of ground in the outfield.
Junior transfer Cody Swope (Robertsdale, PA/Tussey Mountain) will be inserted at shortstop and is penciled in as the team’s number-two hitter. He will be followed in the order by his brother, sophomore Jordan Swope (State College, PA/Tussey Mountain), who will move from third to second base this year. As a freshman with the team last year, Jordan hit .344 in 36 starts and was second on the team with 32 RBIs and 28 runs scored. A pair of freshmen, first baseman Brandon Clark (Latrobe, PA/Greater Latrobe) and catcher John Szmed (Delmont, PA/Greensburg-Salem), should also be regulars in the heart of the team’s order.
“We’re looking for production from the whole team, not just the three and four hitters,” explained Piotti. “As the leadoff batter, Norris is going to be critical to the lineup. We expect production out of the middle of the lineup, but for us to really be successful, we need production from one all the way down to nine.”
While the batting order could be a work-in-progress for the team in the early part of the schedule, the Lions will count on their most proven commodity: pitching. Senior right-handers Anthony Castelli (Morganville, NJ/Marlboro) and Chris Keeler (Oxford, PA/Oxford) will anchor the starting rotation. Last year, Castelli went 4-2 with a 4.63 earned run average, best among the squad’s starting pitchers. Keeler was close behind with a 4.71 ERA, posting a 2-2 record.
Returning sophomores Mike Keeler (Oxford, PA/Oxford) and Brandon Auman (State College, PA/State College), as well as freshmen Nate Tessitore (Harrisburg, PA/Central Dauphin), Derek Totaro (Lancaster, PA/Hempfield), and Elliot Clemens (McVeytown, PA/Mount Union), will also have starting opportunities for the team.
Senior Matt Gehret (Altoona, PA/Altoona) will resume his role as the team’s closer. In six relief appearances last season, Gehret posted a 1.12 ERA and two saves.
“We feel really confident about our pitching staff,” said Piotti. “Castelli and Keeler will be the seniors leading the way in the rotation, along with Gehret coming out of the bullpen. We’re expecting the younger pitchers this year to step up. Early in the season, we’ll see how they throw and how they can help us, then go from there.”
Piotti also hopes his team can improve defensively from last year. In 2012, the Lions often struggled in the field, committing 95 errors compared to 66 errors by their opponents. With new players at nearly every position, Piotti is optimistic that his team will cut down on its defensive miscues.
“Defense was one of our weaknesses last year,” he acknowledged. “We need to improve that to compete in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference.”
Penn State Altoona baseball begins its 2013 schedule on February 24 at Mary Washington University in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The team then travels to Florida from March 2-9 to play a variety of non-conference teams in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational. The Lions’ home opener is March 19 at 1:00 PM against Saint Vincent College, and the squad starts AMCC play the next day against Pitt-Greensburg.
Photo: Sophomore outfielder Tim Norris (left) and senior pitcher Anthony Castelli (right) will be keys to the Lions' success this season.