BANGOR, Maine — The Husson University baseball team plays its home opener against Bates on Sunday, and eighth-year head coach Jason Harvey is optimistic.
The Eagles are coming off a 26-17 campaign, and Harvey said this is the hardest working group of players he has ever coached.
Husson was picked second in the North Atlantic Conference preseason coaches poll behind two-time defending champ Castleton University (Vermont).
The Eagles have virtually their entire pitching staff back including NAC Rookie of the Year and All-NAC second-teamer Robert Graf of South Portland, who was 6-0 with a 1.76 earned run average.
They recently completed a 2-5 spring trip during which players faced stiff competition.
Harvey said his starting rotation of Graf, Bar Harbor junior Ben Walls (4-2, 2.59), Pemaquid senior Brandon Reilly (4-2, 4.25) and Bethel senior Dan Whitney (4-3, 3.83) can “compete with anybody.”
“Outside of game one [a 10-1 loss to Coe College of Iowa], we were in position to win every other game because our pitchers made big pitches and kept us [in games],” he said.
“I think it’s a huge strength when we can call on four or five guys who have experience and can come out and get a [win],” said the 32-year-old Harvey.
Sophomore Tommy Burns of Orrington has stepped up to give them a resourceful fifth starter.
Harvey also has two reliable relievers in Bar Harbor sophomore Steven Hanscom and Dixfield junior Ben Holmes. Hanscom posted a 1.80 ERA in two outings on the spring trip, and Holmes was even better at 1.29.
Harvey said they needed to develop at least two or three relievers because of their upcoming volume of games, and “we feel like we have two really good guys in Hanscom and Holmes.”
Freshmen Kyle Bourget of Lisbon, A.J. Purcell and Joe Skoczylas supply relief depth.
Harvey’s everyday lineup will have plenty of speed, including “four or five players who can steal 10-15 bases,” and a few long-ball threats.
He will have to replace All-NAC first-team outfielder Kyle Bishop and second team catcher Jordan Carter.
Center fielder Christian Corneil of Bangor, who hit .312 a year ago with three homers, 19 runs batted in and 14 stolen bases, and shortstop/second baseman Ryan Rebar (.363-0-15, nine SBs) of Harmony are juniors and were All-NAC second-team picks in 2015.
Senior first baseman J.T. Whitten was a .321 hitter and his 27 RBIs were second most on the team. Senior Andrew Curran (.275-0-12) will catch and also play right field.
The left side of the infield will be new with freshman Mike Wong of Lewiston, who hit .400 on the spring trip, at shortstop and classmate Sam Huston from Bangor having the inside track at third, although Whitney also could be there. Senior Zach Sugar also is in the infield mix.
Freshman Conor Maguire, who went 5-for-11 on the spring trip, and senior Julien Boone will see time in the outfield as will Old Town junior Cam Archer and freshman Alex Chapman.
Harvey’s goal is to win the NAC tournament, but Husson must “shore up a few things” defensively. He thinks it will come around as his young players develop their confidence.