Courtesy: Fairfield University

The Journey Begins on Friday Night

Courtesy: Fairfield University
February 22, 2017

FAIRFIELD, Conn. – The 2017 season will start just like 2016 ended: in the state of Texas. Of course, last year the Stags had to earn their position in the Lone Star state, by making the first NCAA Regional in program history. While last year is something the Stags won’t soon forget, this new season has the chance to be even more unforgettable. That’s because the program has earned a new mission. They are determined to show that last year was just the beginning of the transformation from underdogs of the conference to a perennial team, not only in the MAAC but also in New England. That goal will start on Friday night when the Stags travel to Beaumont, Texas to face a team that posted 35 wins last season in the Lamar Cardinals out of the Southland Conference. The four-game series will start on Friday with first pitch at 7pm EST. The two teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at noon followed by the conclusion of the series on Sunday at 11am.

INFIELD PREVIEW: Around the horn, the Stags will have a familiar look as the Stags will return three of their four infield starters from last season, with second baseman Brendan Tracy being the only graduate. To fill Tracy’s spot, the Stags could look at 2016 All-MAAC Second Team selection Mac Crispino who set program records defensively at first baseman in his first year at the position. Crispino completed 554 defensive chances and 515 putouts during the 2017 campaign, both setting the single season record for the program. Offensively, Crispino should do a fine job in replacing Tracy’s left handed bat as the senior is coming off a year where he was fourth on the team with a .292 batting average and drove in 35 runs, the third most on the team.

One of the most underrated hitters in the conference, Michael Conti will return to his shortstop position after finishing last year with a .335 average, placing second on the team. As the number two hitter last season, Conti reached base in 42 of the 46 games he played in, including a streak of 27-games in-a-row.

In the hot corner and a year removed from his rookie season, Jack Gethings provided nice defense at third base and also provided stability in the lineup. Gethings was named to the MAAC All-Tournament Team and led all Fairfield rookies in runs (33), hits (51), RBI (20), average (.267), and stolen bases (13). In his first tournament, Gethings batted .500 which included a pair of three-hit games.

OUTFIELD PREVIEW: The one spot that the Stags might have a question mark in is how to make up the offensive productivity of Jake Salpietro, who graduated last season and will return as a Volunteer Assistant Coach. Salpietro set the program record with 77 hits in 2016 and finished second in the record books with 10 home runs.

To make up for his right field position, the Stags have several options to look at which includes rookie Dylan Reynolds, who was selected as the MAAC Freshman of the Year in the D1Baseball.com conference preview. Senior Dan Hopkins also provides power off the bench.

There is no question who will patrol center field as Drew Arciuolo who grew to become one of the best defensive center fielder in the conference, will return for his junior season. Arciuolo recorded eight outfield assists last season, including one in the NCAA Regional against Dallas Baptist. The leadoff hitter set career-highs in almost every offensive category including hits (62), which was the 12th most in program history.

Left field could see any combination of sophomores Tim Zeng and Tyler Gambardella who both add speed on the base paths. The duo combined for 12 stolen bases and 37 hits during the season. Gambardella earned nine of those stolen bases, while Zeng led all Fairfield rookies with 22 walks and a .408 on-base-percentage.

CATCHER PREVIEW: One of the heart and soul pieces for the Stags is behind the plate in junior catcher Kevin Radziewicz who was also named to the All-MAAC Second Team. The intangible leader led the Stags with a .423 batting average in games won. He also hit .357 against lefties, .333 with runners on base, .364 with two outs, and drove in the run 71 percent of the time with a man at third and less than two outs.

If you followed Fairfield games last season, you would know Mitch Williams also had a crucial hand in bringing the championship to Fairfield. The junior drove in keys runs in the 14-inning win at Iona, which included the tying and go-ahead run in the 14th. He also put home the go-ahead run in the season finale against Quinnipiac and worked out a 10-pitch walk to bring home an insurance run at Monmouth. Williams could see time as the backup catcher or even around the infield.

PITCHING PREVIEW: This is where the Stags could make their name. Fairfield will return all three weekend starters in John Signore, Kyle Dube, and Gavin Wallace, who were all big pieces as the Stags posted a MAAC leading ERA last season. Signore is coming off a fantastic rookie season where he was the national leader in strikeout-to-walks ratio until the final weeks of the season while also leading the team with a 2.90 ERA. For the season, he struck out 58 batters while issuing just eight free passes.

Dube was the bulldog for the Stags and was rewarded with a spot on the All-MAAC Second Team. In conference games, Dube led the team with a 4-1 record and a 2.84 ERA. The Stags were 6-1 in MAAC games that Dube started, which usually ended the series.

Wallace posted one of the most historic seasons in Fairfield history, tying a program record with eight victories. Wallace recorded a 6-1 record in conference games, including an eight inning performance against Rider, which turned his season around. He would finish fifth in the MAAC with 87.2 innings, which included five complete games.

THE CARDINALS SCOUTING REPORT: Picked to finish in the same third place position they did last year in the Southland Conference, the Lamar Cardinals are already off to a 4-0 start after posting two wins against Illinois and Milwaukee during their first weekend. Preseason All-American Reid Russell picked up five hits in his first 15 at-bats of the 2017 season after being named the Southland Conference Hitter of the Year last season. The Stags will see three junior college transfers on the mound in Tanner Driskill, Jace Campbell, and Carson Lance.

UP NEXT: The Stags will head back on the road on Friday, March 3 when they travel to Richmond, Va., to take on VCU in a three-game series that starts on Friday at 3pm.

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