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March 6 - BETHANY, W.Va. – When the 2010 season opens for the Bethany College baseball team March 9 against Denison at Chillicothe, Ohio, the focus will be on the Bison returning to the PAC Tournament and a chance at competing for the conference title.

Head coach Rick Carver, who is entering his 20th year at the helm of the Bison, will have a solid mix of newcomers and returning veterans when BC opens the season March 9 and then travels to Florida for their spring break March 12-21. That includes in the coaching staff, where long-time coach Duane Lanzy returns for his third season on the Bison bench, while Ian Corso, who just finished a four-year stint playing professionally in Italy and was an all-conference player at California State University-Dominguez Hills, is in his first year on the staff.

“The preseason has gone pretty well,” said Carver, who has 318 victories during his tenure at the helm of the Bison. “There is a lot of enthusiasm and we have excellent leadership from our captains Mark Cummins (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) and Tyler Dillinger (McKeesport, Pa.). We are young, eager to learn and invite the challenges of the upcoming season.”

In the outfield, Dillinger and Cummins highlight the most experienced position on the Bethany roster. Entering his third year as the starting center fielder, Dillinger was a Second Team All-PAC selection last year after he batted .360 with one homer, 16 RBIs and scored a team-high 27 runs. While Carver says everyone knows of Dillinger’s exploits at the plate, it’s his work patrolling the outfield that should draw as much attention.

“Tyler has established himself offensively, but everyone underestimates what he does in center field,” said Carver. “He’s effortless in tracking down fly balls because he gets such good jumps on balls. Because he’s so smooth out there, his defense doesn’t get enough credit and coupled with what he can do at the plate, he should be a First Team All-PAC caliber player this spring.”

While Dillinger has center field under control, with sophomores Marc Montecalvo (Washington, Pa.) and Jeff Joyce (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) backing him up, Cummins is the returning starter in left after he batted .313 with one home run and 13 RBIs last year. Junior Mike Pegg (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands), who hit .355 as a freshman, in addition to freshman Matt Paonessa (Niagara Falls, N.Y.), are in the mix as well.

Right field is an open competition through the opening weeks of preseason, with no less than six players battling for time. Freshmen Alex Evans (Washington, Pa.) and Lamar Fisher (Mount Vernon, N.Y.), sophomore Ryan Chaney (Waynesboro, Pa.), senior Chris Leasure (Stafford, Ohio/Monroe Central), Pegg and Montecalvo could all get time and with two lefties (Pegg, Chaney) and four righties, there are options for Carver’s line-up.

“Our outfield overall is athletic, more than adequate defensively and the competition for playing time will make everyone more productive,” said Carver. “The right field situation is wide, wide open, but we could be looking at a platoon situation, especially since we have the ability to be very left-handed in the line-up.”

There are expected to be two new faces manning the left side of the Bethany infield, with freshman Brad Kubis (Aliquippa, Pa./Hopewell) at third and freshman Ryan Owens (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland at shortstop. Evans will see time at both spots as well, while Fisher could see time at third and Joyce may play some at short.

“Brad inherits a position where we made 26 errors last year and that will NOT happen this year,” said Carver. “He is a solid player who really knows how to play the position, so we will be vastly improved at third base. At short, Owens is very smooth. He was all-section at second base in high school, so there were some concerns about his arm, but it has really improved. And Alex is one of the top five athletes I’ve ever coached. He’s a gamer who competes hard every day, which is why if he’s not playing at short, I have to find time for him in the outfield or at third.”

The right side of the infield looks like it will have returners handling those spots. At second, junior Eric Fudala (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands), who .306 last year, and sophomore Anthony Packer (River Vale, N.J./Pascack Valley Regional), who hit. 301, are neck and neck for the starting nod. Sophomore 1B Nate Tieman (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Darby), returns after hitting a team-best .361 last spring, while Leasure and freshman Chuck Ziants (Moundsville, W.Va./John Marshall) could see time as well.

“It’s a coin flip at second right now between Packer and Fudala,” said Carver. “They should both see significant time and I will likely go with whoever has the hotter hand defensively. Tieman is not your prototypical first baseman in terms of power, but he still produces. Leasure may also get time at first, as will Ziants, who is a John Marshall product with a bright future as he makes the transition to college ball.”

Behind the plate, sophomore T.J. Zarewicz (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Hills), who made 31 starts last year, will share time with junior Josh Lawrence (Mather, Pa./Jefferson-Morgan), who missed all of last year because of injury, with freshman David Pivik (Pittsburgh, Pa./Plum) backing up.

“T.J. and Josh will split time, especially with T.J. excepted to see a lot of time on the mound,” said Carver. “It’s very good to get Josh back from injury because his steady presence back there will make a difference.”

Leading the designated hitter candidates is Leasure, who enters the year with 16 career home runs and 80 RBIs, leaving him two long balls and 41 RBI away from the Bethany records. Fisher and the plethora of right field choices could also get a chance to fill the DH role.

“The key for Leasure bouncing back from last year is focusing on RBIs, which he did in the fall,” said Carver. “The home run record will come, but if he gets over 40 RBIs, it will mean the offense is really clicking.”

Bethany’s pitching staff will be a major factor for their success this season. Zarewicz, who went 1-2 in over 22 innings pitched last year, is expected to be the top starter for BC this spring. Junior Mike Kochman (Pittsburgh, Pa./Serra Catholic), who is the top returner in innings pitched (28.1), is expected to be the #2, while the third conference starter will be decided between junior lefty Robert Erickson (Saugus, Calif./Chaminade), sophomore righty Zach Grayson (McKeesport, Pa./South Allegheny) and freshman righty Ryan Styche (Buena Vista, Pa./Elizabeth Forward).

“T.J.’s development last year on the mound was slowed because of the injury to Lawrence at catcher, but he’s worked really hard on his game and is very competitive,” said Carver. “Kochman’s ability to change speeds make him an adequate compliment to T.J. The three pitchers battling for the #3 spot all bring different approaches. Erickson is the lone lefty and his key is having control of the strike zone. Grayson, who missed last year with an injury, is converting from relief but has the ability to throw strikes. Styche has a deceptive wind-up, but is real competitive.”

Two freshmen who will begin the year in long relief, but could work their way into the rotation include Zack Kozlowski (Pittsburgh, Pa./Baldwin) and Trent Cornwell (Grove City, Ohio).

“Kozlowski has the best stuff on the staff, but we just haven’t seen consistency from him yet,” said Carver. “Cornwell is a strike thrower who changes speeds and has a bright future.”

In middle relief, Carver will look to Evans, sophomore Matt Perkins (Bayside, Calif./McKinleyville) and freshman Jack Graham (Cadiz, Ohio/Harrison Central), while set-up duties will fall to junior lefty Adam Nyswaner (McDonald, Pa./South Fayette), who broke his own Bethany single-season appearance record last year with 21, and Owens. And although Kubis is a freshman, Carver says he has the closer duties from the start.

“Kubis is very composed and determined and also unusual as a closer in that he has four pitches,” said Carver.

The keys for Carver’s Bison in 2010 will be if the starting pitching can get deep into games and improved defense in the infield, because the long-time BC coach believes in his offense’s ability to produce.

“We don’t have a lot of power, but we are capable of scoring anywhere in the line-up,” said Carver. “Our starting pitching is a huge key. They need to throw strikes, get deep into games and keep us close so our offense has a chance to score.

“The second key will be good defense, particularly on the left side,” said Carver. “Between third base and shortstop, we made more than 60 errors last year, but with Kubis and Owens, we feel pretty good about those positions. Even though they are just freshmen, they have shown they are more than capable.”