The Seton Hall baseball team will open its season this weekend with a series on the road against the University of Oklahoma.
The team was ranked second in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, gaining two first place votes.
Head coach Rob Sheppard said he was pleased with the recognition but acknowledged that the buck should not stop there for his team. “It’s nice to be recognized. We’ve always been the kind of team that is more concerned with how we finish than how we start,” Sheppard said.
“A few seasons ago I think we were a preseason seven or eight and we ended up winning the conference,” Sheppard said about the 2011 Big East championship season.
Since that year, the Pirates have always finished in a better spot than they were predicted at the start of the season. The 2012 team was picked to finish fifth and they finished third, and last season’s Pirates finished second in the conference but were picked sixth in the preseason poll.
Despite their second place finish in the Big East last season, the Pirates were snubbed from the regional College World Series playoffs.
“We have a few guys that were named to the preseason Big East team and I said to them it’s great to get that recognition, but you want to finish up on those teams and be named champions at the end of the year,” Sheppard said.
Seton Hall junior Sal Annunziata and seniors Chris Selden and Josh Prevost were the three members of the Pirates that were named to the preseason All-Big East first team.
Prevost was one of four unanimous selections to the team and the lone Pirate to be given the honor by all seven Big East coaches. He finished last season with a 5-2 record in 58 innings and a 3.24 ERA. He also struck out 31 batters and started nine of his 15 appearances.
Annunziata was one of six Pirates named to last season’s All-conference team but is the only person with those honors to- return for the 2014 season.
He hit .319 and led the club with six home runs last season. Annunziata drove in 38 runs while scoring 36 of his own.
“There’s a lot of hard work behind that and it’s something that I don’t take for granted, I’m just excited to go out there and play,” Annunziata said.
Selden hit .320 with 31 runs scored and was named to last season’s All-New Jersey College Baseball Association second team.
New Big East conference member Creighton earned the top spot in this season’s coaches poll and the preseason Player and Pitcher of the Year are both members of the Bluejays.
The new structure of the Big East reminded Sheppard of the conference’s former competitive- ness. “It reminds me of the original Big East,” Sheppard said.
“The way that the schools are set up it’s going to be a challenge. I’m really excited to get going and we’ll see how it transforms in the next few years.”
The Pirates welcome 15 new- comers to the club who will be forced to make contributions right away to a program that had five member leave Seton Hall for professional baseball at the end of last season.
“There are a couple of freshman that should have an immediate impact,” Sheppard said. “We have a few pitchers that I think will help us out pretty early, position wise we have a couple guys, Joe Poduslenko, who’s a middle in- field guy who I think is really going to contribute.”
Poduslenko will play a part in an aim to replace the dynamic double-play combination of Mike Genovese and Guiseppe Papaccio from last season.
“It’s their turn to come on and really fill some roles and we’re excited for them to get an opportunity to contribute,” Sheppard said.
The preseason work of this year’s freshmen has already impressed the elder Annunziata. “They’re all hard workers, all great players, all good kids. In the future they’re all going to be great players but they all have to step up,” Annunziata said.
Papaccio was joined in the pros by four other 2013 Pirate teammates.
“They were all guys to look up to while they were here and they continue to be that while they’re away,” Annunziata said.
Junior pitcher Anthony Elia has also seen good things from the young players on the pitching staff as well as the seasoned veterans. “I think we did well all fall the young guys came in there throwing strikes early, but we do have a lot of experience though,” Elia said.
The cold weather has kept the Pirates secluded to the field house for practices; something that has certain players pining for the start of the season in Oklahoma. “Just to get outside and see some grass and smell some fresh air is some- thing that’s really exciting,” Annunziata said.
The Pirate’s goals have been set and as their season starts with a Friday through Sunday series in Oklahoma, they hope to go to Omaha for more than just a match up with new conference rival Creighton.
“That’s one trip that we’d like to be there later in the season in June so, that’s what we’re aiming for,” Sheppard said.
Gerard Gilberto can be reached at email@example.com.