There are many reasons for excitement around the Felician University baseball program.
Despite the graduation of all-America position players Matt Diesel and Bruce Strickland, Golden Falcon coach Chris Langan and his staff believe they have assembled the deepest squad in any of his 16 seasons. Felician is riding a streak of three consecutive Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference league or division regular-season titles and is ranked No. 10 in the Division II preseason East Region writers' poll.
Nevertheless, Langan's stated goals for his program never waver from year to year.
"For me, it still all starts with being one of those eight teams to reach our conference tournament," he said. "If you aspire to regional (postseason) play, getting to and then winning the tournament is the only way that that's in your control. Otherwise, you're leaving the decision in someone else's hands."
One of the ways Langan chooses to develop his team is by playing a challenging out-of-conference schedule. On the 2019 slate are 14 games against other teams in the preseason regional top 10, plus five others against members of the powerful Sunshine State Conference.
"I like to challenge our guys on a day-to-day basis," Langan said. "Those games prepare us for the pressure of big plays, big pitches, big at-bats – they take the fear factor away. Hopefully by the end of the year, guys expect to succeed in those spots."
For the first time in more than a decade, CACC teams will use metal bats in league games. While Langan feels he has built a powerful offense to correspond to the change, he is optimistic about many other areas heading into the Feb. 15 season opener.
"We have a very athletic group," he said. "Our defense might prove to be the best it's been in my time here. We potentially have a lot of power and a very deep pitching staff. But we have to mesh and figure out what our identity is. I still need to see us get better day-to-day, especially at the plate, but I think we will."
PITCHING: Seniors Jacob Nappi (Little Silver, N.J./Red Bank Regional) and Will Kazura (Linwood, N.J./East Stroudsburg [Pa.] North) and sophomore Michael Gutierrez (Garfield, N.J./Garfield), the 2018 CACC Rookie of the Year, return to head the starting rotation. Senior Tony Rivera (Staten Island, N.Y./Bishop Ford) is slated to move from the bullpen into a starting role, and transfer Alex Schwartz (Voorhees, N.J./Eastern Regional) will be given an opportunity to join the rotation. Freshmen Zack Johnston (Hazlet, N.J./Raritan) and Mat Miller (Bayside, N.Y./Cardozo) are also candidates to start games.
Sophomores Nick Nardulli (Staten Island, N.Y./Tottenville) and Kyle O'Neill (West Islip, N.Y./West Islip) are coming off encouraging rookie campaigns and will be given opportunities to close games with leads. Redshirt sophomore and converted outfielder Christian Hoplock (Tinton Falls, N.J./Monmouth Regional) will help in late-game situations. Freshman Cam Price (Tomkins Cove, N.Y./North Rockland) has a power-type arm suited for short relief, and starting shortstop L.T. Struble (Hammonton, N.J./Hammonton) the temperament needed for late-and-close situations. Redshirt junior Matt Downey (Elizabeth, N.J./Elizabeth) will also compete in this role.
The Golden Falcons are deep enough in the bullpen to play matchups if desired. Sophomore Frank Campanelli (Brooklyn, N.Y./HSTAT) would be Langan's choice from the left side, and redshirt sophomore Frankie Polanco (Union City, N.J./Union City) from the right. Junior Danny Lynch (Suffern, N.Y./Suffern) has converted to a sidearm style conducive to one- and two-batter outings.
Senior Quinn Taylor (Marlton, N.J./Cherokee) and freshman Logan Marter (Manalapan, N.J./St. John Vianney) are slated for middle relief. The coaches like the versatility offered by senior Mike Holland (Midland Park, N.J./Midland Park) and sophomore Tyler Pepper (Shoreham, N.Y./Shoreham-Wading River) to be available and effective in virtually any situation.
Transfer Diego Quinones (Bronx, N.Y./Walton) and freshman Peyton Zoeller (Riverview, Fla./East Bay) will look to have roles defined as the season wears on. Redshirt freshman Michael Mercier Jr. (Leonardo, N.J./Middletown North) and true freshman Bo Cancelliere (Williamstown, N.J./Williamstown) hope to become healthy enough to contribute in April.
CATCHERS: Redshirt junior Carlos Bermudez (Miami, Fla./Tampa Bay Christian) saw the bulk of the playing time during last year's postseason. He will be challenged, however, by transfer Gino Tortoriello (New Egypt, N.J./New Egypt) and freshman Jake Gilbert (Valrico, Fla./East Bay).
Junior Armando Ovalles (Union City, N.J./Union City) is a steady option. Senior T.J. Greco (Hopewell Junction, N.Y/Arlington) looks to recover from a late 2018 injury, and freshman Max Alessi (Honesdale, Pa./Wallenpaupack Area) provides depth.
"This is the deepest group of catchers we've had in quite some time," Langan said. "They'll have a lot of responsibility as we have a dynamic and multi-faceted pitching staff.'
INFIELD: First-year sophomore Anthony Condito (Nutley, N.J./Nutley) is the top candidate at first base, and senior Danny Healey Jr. (Brookhaven, Pa./Monsigor Bonner) the incumbent at second base. Both players will be pushed, however, by mid-year transfer Jordan Folgers (Moriches, N.Y./St. Anthony's).
Struble returns at shortstop after an all-region junior campaign. The third base job looks to be between sophomore Sean Downey (Elizabeth, N.J./Elizabeth) and transfer Jasson Corneil (Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic/CENAPEC). Both players may also appear at first base or designated hitter over the course of the season.
Senior Anthony Santoro (Freehold, N.J./St. John Vianney) and junior Pat Faughnan (Union, N.J./Roselle Catholic) can fill in at first base, and senior Omar Jimenez (Perth Amboy, N.J./Perth Amboy) the same at second. Freshman Jake Stoller (Merion Station, Pa./Lower Merion) is being looked to as a late-game defensive replacement. Junior James Greig (Staten Island, N.Y./Tottenville) and transfers Jordi Rodriguez (Queens, N.Y./Bryant) and Rocco DePietro (Archbald, Pa./Valley View) are utility-style infielders who offer the coaching staff maneuverability.
OUTFIELD: The Opening Day outfield looks to contain transfer Mike Martinez (Union City, N.J./Bergen Catholic) in left field to join incumbent seniors Ronnie Sessa (Chester, N.J./Immaculata) in center and Jason Aponte (Loxahatchee, Fla./Seminole Ridge) in right. However junior Vic Jamandron (Aberdeen, N.J./St. John Vianney) is much-improved, and Langan has high hopes for freshman Nicholas Vincelli (Spotswood, N.J./Spotswood). Condito may see some outfield time as well.
DESIGNATED HITTER: All-conference outfielder Rahul Prince (Pomona, N.Y./St. Joseph Regional [N.J.]) is likely slated for full-time designated hitter duties as he heads into his junior season. Sean Downey, Vincelli and Santoro are other candidates here.