Season Preview: Baseball

(PRESQUE ISLE, ME) --  For anyone that has given up 'nice' weather reaching the northeast this spring and looking for another outlet for their optimism may want to keep an eye on the University of Maine-Presque Isle baseball team in 2013.

While the team's reputation as "road warriors" is well documented (most notably in this ESPN feature and this New York Times article from 2009) and often seen as a road block to success, the Owls continue to perservere.  And in 2012, the team gave its biggest indication yet that the best stories about them may have yet to be written.

Perserverence is one thing.  Winning is another.  The Owls are out to prove they can do both.  Last season, the program took big steps in that direction.  With nary a senior on the roster, the team pulled out a win for the first time during their annual week-long February trek to Virginia.  Later in the season, they posted an 8-3 record during an 11-game stretch.

With the majority of that team returning in 2013, optimism for more success is understandably high.  This February, the Owls once again pulled out a win in Virginia and found themselves in six of their eight contests against solid NCAA Division III competition.  That foundation potentially set the table for success during next stretch of games says head coach Leo Saucier.

"Those games showed them they can compete with the teams down south; we now know we stand a good chance with any of our northern competition," says Saucier.

That confidence will be important as Saucier has set this team's sites on boldly going where no UMPI baseball team has gone before.

"Our team goal this year is to set the single season win mark (14, set in 2009)."

While lofty, the goal is hardly out of reach when one considers that the Owls return leaders in all major offensive and pitching categories.

At the plate, Presque Isle looks to be anchored by the trio of Jordan Duffy (Sr./Fort Augustus PEI, Canada) (.347 BA, 15:8 BB/K in 2012), Ted Walker (Jr./Caribou, ME) (5 HR), and Carlos Villoria (Sr./Caracas, Venezuela) (27 RBI).

Additionally, during the team's 8-game February road trip this year they got strong contributions from Justin Bergeron (Jr./Tiverton, RI) (11 hits, .367 BA) and Joshua Gale (So./Sedgwick, ME) (1 HR, .429 OBP).

On the hill, 2013 leaders Jake Fillebrown (Sr./Stoneham, ME) (5.01 ERA, 49 K in 50 IP) and Dylan Worster (Jr./Howland, ME) (3-1, 31/16 K-BB) anchor a pitching staff that gets tapped frequently during the necessary stretches of multiple doubleheaders in short periods of time.  Fillebrown  posted a 2.77 ERA in 13 IP this February with a sparkling 12 strikeouts to 1 walk ratio.  

"We expect to compete in any games that Jake and Dylan are pitching," explained Saucier.  "We like our chances regardless of who is starting on the mound, but Jake and Dylan have demonstrated thet they can go up against any team we face."

Managing the pitchers behind the plate is veteran Alex Csiernik (Jr./Hamilton, Ontario).  During the 8 games this February, Csiernik showed a good eye at the plate, drawing 5 walks and posting a .500 on-base percentage.

Games against that "northern competition" is scheduled to begin this weekend when the Owls travel to Bangor to face Eastern Maine Community College on Friday and return to the field Saturday for a doubleheader at Husson University.  Then on March 27th, the birds will head south to begin a stretch of 11 games in 10 days playing in New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.