Baseball Preview: 2009 Eagles hope for a repeat performance
March 5, 2009
Dave Beyer, Sports Information Director
There is a reason Benedictine University head baseball coach John Ostrowski has rolled up more than 800 career victories. Quite simply, he knows what he is talking about. When the Eagles’ veteran mentor speaks – and in all deference to E.F. Hutton – people listen.
So as the proverbial tarp is being rolled up to expose the Eagles’ team to the light of the 2009 season beginning this weekend in Port Charlotte, Fla., Ostrowski likes what he sees growing. A smattering of seniors – yet with plenty of veteran returning players on the overall roster – and some talented newcomers has him thinking the 2009 edition of Benedictine University baseball could be something special.
“This is one of the best group of returning players - in terms of scoring runs - that we’ve ever had,” said the cautiously optimistic Ostrowski. “The middle of our batting order could be awesome and one of the best around.“
The quartet who Ostrowski envisions in those positions in the order – Kevin Graham, Matthew Brewer, Kevin Ross and Rick Porcaro – all had outstanding campaigns in 2008 in helping lead the Eagles to their first conference championship in four years.
Porcaro, a junior (eligibility) designated hitter was a first team all-region and All-Northern Athletics Conference (NAC) selection in 2008. He has also been designated as a 2009 preseason All-America honorable mention by the Web site D3Baseball.com. In 2008, Porcaro hit a lusty .424 with 35 runs and 39 runs batted in. Among his hits collection were 15 doubles and six home runs (both team-leading totals).
Graham and Brewer, both outfielders, were first team All-NAC selections during the Eagles’ championship run, as well. Graham is a junior while Brewer is a senior. Graham was second on the squad with a .359 average with 11 doubles and two triples. Brewer, despite missing several games due to a leg injury, belted seven doubles, two triples and a team-leading eight home runs, while drawing 26 walks, stealing 16 bases and posting a .315 batting average.
Firstbaseman Ross, also a junior, was among the NAC leaders in fielding last season in a platoon role. He had a .985 fielding percentage, but also got it done with the bat by clubbing a .339 batting average and knocking 11 doubles, one triple and one homer.
Another key returnee among the veterans is senior centerfielder Kenny Burdi. As a junior, Burdi hit .343 and drew a team-leading 27 walks. He also scored 34 runs for the Eagles.
With the outfield and first base solidified by returning players, the big Benedictine question then becomes the middle and left side of the infield where Ostrowski has basically held an open audition for everything from second base and over to fill the holes left after the 2008 season.
“There is no doubt that is where we have to shore things up,” acknowledged Ostrowski. “But we have several people back and some newcomers who are competing vigorously for those positions.”
One place where Ostrowski has ample talent is behind the plate with five catchers on the roster. However, the tandem that has emerged to give Ostrowski the platoon option is junior returnee Brendan Keane and junior transfer Gino Miglio. “This is as good a two-some behind the plate as we’ve ever had here,” said Ostrowski. “With the back-to-back doubleheaders on the NAC schedule, this will be a big plus for us.”
“In addition to upperclassmen back at many of the positions, we have added some new faces who I believe will be able to step in and contribute immediately,” continued Ostrowski. “That may be the real key to our success this season: how quickly and easily we mesh as a unit. We need everyone on the same page and aiming at the same goal of a conference title and NCAA playoff berth.”
Ostrowski also very much likes what he has seen thus far from his pitching corps. “I am very excited because of the improvement I’ve seen in the young arms from the fall,” said Ostrowski.
As it did in 2008, pitching may prove to be the Eagles’ strength in 2009. Ostrowski returns virtually every arm from last season with any significant amount of experience. Benedictine’s returning hurlers accounted for 320 of the squad’s 358 1/3 innings pitched in 2008. Again, being well-armed in the NAC’s weekend doubleheader wars can only be a good thing for Benedictine’s chances.
“In this conference you really need to have 4 or 5 starters,” said Ostrowski. “It’s tough and it is challenging, but it also helps prepare you for the rigors of tournament play at the national level.”
Sophomore Jake Thompson – the 2008 NAC “Rookie of the Year” and a second team all-conference selection – heads the cast of pitchers. The righty was 4-4 with a team-leading 2.98 earned run average last year in 54 1/3 innings of work. Opponents hit a paltry .212 against him.
Senior Kennedy Grear and junior James Callahan round out the returning top three arms from last season. Grear was 5-3 with a 4.37 ERA over 55 2/3 frames, booking a team-leading 40 strikeouts. Callahan had a 4-3 record and was the team’s leader in innings pitched at 60 1/3.
Thompson, Grear and Callahan all earned nine starts.
Junior Dan Jedlowski is also back in his role as a middle reliever. Jedlowski was 2-1 with a 4.64 ERA in 21 1/3 innings pitched.
Senior Dan Vincenti – a NAC honorable mention pick last season – set a Benedictine school record with seven saves. Vincenti had a miniscule 1.89 ERA in 17 appearances, spanning 19 innings pitched.
“I feel pretty good if we can get the ball into the hands of one of our ‘Dans’,” said Ostrowski.
Ostrowski knows that he will need all of these facets to come together for his team to repeat its NAC title trek of 2008. Likewise, the pre-league games will go a long way to get his team ready for the rigors of the NAC.
“Our Florida trip is very demanding,” said Ostrowski. “We face some very good national caliber teams, some of which made the NCAA playoffs last season. Our trip to St. Louis (to face Washington University and Illinois Wesleyan University) will also be a good barometer of where we are.
“The league has gotten stronger. There are at least 5-6 teams who are strong contenders to battle for the four spots in the NAC postseason tournament. We will have to be at the top of our game and use every available opportunity to prepare ourselves.”
Benedictine University is located in Lisle, Illinois, just 25 miles west of Chicago, and has branch campuses in Springfield, Illinois, and Mesa, Arizona. Founded as a Catholic university in 1887, Benedictine enrolls nearly 10,000 students in 56 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs. Forbes magazine named Benedictine among "America's Top Colleges" for the sixth consecutive year in 2016. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org). For more information, contact (630) 829-6300, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ben.edu.