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SUNY Old Westbury Baseball Preview: Athleticism and Speed Will Be Hallmark for Panthers

SUNY Old Westbury Baseball Preview: Athleticism and Speed Will Be Hallmark for Panthers

Despite losing to Mount Saint Mary’s College in the first round of the Skyline Conference tournament, the SUNY Old Westbury Panthers baseball team has high hopes and confidence heading into 2018.

“I am the most positive coach. I never talk about the negatives,” said head coach Rod Stephan.

The Panthers, 20-16 (10-8 Skyline) in 2017, have only 12 players returning with 10 freshmen and four new transfers which doesn’t include John Fogarty, who did not play last season.

“We’re young. And when I say we’re young, it means we’re going to be good for a while,” said Stephan.

For coach Stephan, this is his eight season as head coach and 12th year on the coaching staff overall. Stephan has a 171-114-1 (.600 winning percentage) coaching record in his seven seasons at Old Westbury.

The biggest loss for Old Westbury is Tommy Ziegen. Last season, he hit .408 with six home runs and 40 RBI, along with a .446 on-base percentage and a .692 slugging percentage. “When you lose a four-year starter, especially at his caliber, and a middle of the order hitter, it hurts the team,” said Stephan.

The pitching staff will have a familiar face in senior Adam Heidenfelder, who earned a 3.40 ERA with 39 strikeouts in 47.2 innings in 2017. “[In practice] he was throwing low-90s,” said Stephan, who has worked with Heidenfelder as his pitching instructor since he was five-years-old. Junior pitcher Christian Tessitore is recovering from Tommy John surgery last year. He is projected to be back by the middle of the season.

Matt Bohenek, a transfer from LIU Brooklyn, will be added as a starter to the Panthers. Freshman Joe Sarni, a Hicksville native, could earn the last spot in the Old Westbury rotation. “I think he will round out four starters that we’ll go to [in conference],” said Stephan. “It’s good to get [Sarni] in the thick of things because I think he’ll be a good player for us for four years.”

According to Coach Stephan, William Amendola, a transfer from Purchase College, is likely to be the team’s closer.

The lineup is where Old Westbury had the upper-hand against most opponents, hitting for a .323 team batting average compared to a .272 opponents’ team batting average. “I don’t think there [are] any weak spots,” said Stephan. “I really like it a lot. I think it’s a better lineup than we had last year.”

Senior Dean Sheridan will man first base coming off a .272 hitting season last year. Senior second baseman Jesse Russo will be a mainstay in the leadoff spot. Russo hit .399 with a .454 on-base percentage earning him a spot on the 2017 All-Skyline Conference First Team. It was the second straight year making the All-Skyline Conference First Team and Axcess Baseball All-Long Island team. He has a chance to play at the next level if he puts up another outstanding season.

Freshman Manhattan native Joshua Cruz and Adelphi University transfer Tom Macri will both spend time in the two-hole and at third base. Freshmen Shaun Kaminski from Babylon High School and Mike Manetta from Farmingdale High School will see time at shortstop.

Junior outfielder John Fogarty and transfer John Condon will comprise the heart of the order. Condon, a catcher and first baseman, hit .432 last season for St. Joseph’s College-Brooklyn.

Although the Panthers were known to hit last season, coach Stephan likes his team’s defense and speed, specifically in the outfield. “There’s not a quicker outfield in the country,” said Stephan talking about senior outfielders Liam Slattery and David Hawley. “We got some guys that can run…I think I have the fastest team I’ve had since I’ve been here.” Considering the Panthers led the nation in stolen bases from 2011-14 and have been in the top five in stolen bases from 2011-16, that’s a bold statement.

Old Westbury starts their season Sunday, February 19 at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. The Panthers will travel to Fort Myers, Florida to compete in the Gene Cusic Collegiate Classic from March 14-18. Old Westbury plays its first conference games March 24 for a doubleheader against Yeshiva University.

The Skyline Conference has seen four different conference winners in the last four seasons with SUNY Maritime being the defending champions. Old Westbury last won the conference in 2015.

“If we stay healthy, I think we have enough to win this conference. I think the team that stays healthy and plays up to their abilities is the team that’s going to win it

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