The changing of the seasons from winter to spring. The smell of fresh cut grass. The spitting of sunflower seeds. That timeless sound of a ball popping a mitt upon impact. The knowing that baseball season at Seton Hall University is right around the corner.
With plenty to be excited about in 2015, the Pirates will begin their season on the road when they head to the University of North Carolina for a three game series from Feb. 13-15. After going 39-15 in 2014, the Pirates enter the new campaign receiving votes in the Collegiate Baseball Preseason Top-40 Poll and are ranked third in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll after netting 29 points.
The trip to Chapel Hill, N.C. will be the start of a long opening road stretch, as the Pirates will play 18 of their first 19 games on opposing turf. While no easy task, the team has played well away from home, racking up 37 road wins over the past two years, tied for the fourth-most in the nation. With eight seniors on the team, the Pirates have the needed experience to keep that up.
“It’s exciting man,” one of those seniors, first baseman Sal Annunziata said. “It’s exciting. You know you got a lot of guys returning. I think it’s been a long offseason and we’re all just ready to go out there and compete and win some games.”
“We can’t wait to get out there and just play the game,” added senior catcher Alex Falconi.
UNC will be the first of four opponents on Seton Hall’s schedule to have made the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
The Pirates will play games against Old Dominion and the Universities of Hartford and Virginia before they come home to Owen T. Carroll Field for the first time for a game against Manhattan on March 4. After that the team will pack their bags again as they head to Florida, first to play the University of South Florida and then to participate in the Snowbird Classic over Spring Break.
After that Seton Hall will begin a stretch that will see them play 10 of 11 games at home starting March 18 when they host St. Peter’s. The Pirates will welcome the University of Connecticut and Fordham University on March 20 as part of the Strikeout Cancer Classic.
The Pirates will open up Big East play when they visit Xavier, the conference’s defending champions, for Easter weekend, April 2-4.
Also of note in the Big East are St. John’s and Creighton, ranked No. 1 and 2 in the coaches’ poll, respectively. St. John’s was listed as the 29th-best team in the Collegiate Baseball's Preseason Top-40 Poll. The Hall will face the Red Storm in April and the Bluejays in May.
The 2015 Big East Championship will be played from May 20-24 at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb. The event was held in Brooklyn's MCU Park on Coney Island last year.
On an individual basis, the Pirates have several players receiving preseason recognition. Junior Luke Cahill was named Big East Preseason Co-Pitcher of the Year along with Creighton’s Matt Warren and he, Annunziata, D.J. Ruhlman and Derek Jenkins were all named to the Preseason All-Big East Team. Ruhlman, a senior, was a unanimous selection.
With Josh Prevost and Conor Krauss gone, the Pirates will rely heavily on Cahill, senior Anthony Elia and sophomore Anthony Pacillo in the rotation. The blue and white also have a talented freshman class of arms that includes Tim Edwards, Matt Leon, Shane McCarthy, Chris Morris, Andrew Politi and Zach Schellenger. Overall, head coach Rob Sheppard believes this pitching staff’s bar will be set by the upperclassmen.
"The key for our staff is the going to be our returning veterans really setting the tone and showing the younger guys the way in college baseball," Sheppard said. "College is a big jump from high school and we'll need our veterans to not only give us innings, but provide an example for our freshmen."
"I really like our staff,” he added. “If we can stay healthy, we'll have some depth.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.