MIDDLETOWN, Pa. – The 2013 season marks a new beginning for the Penn State Harrisburg baseball program. After two forgettable seasons in 2011 and 2012, the winds of change are blowing through Middletown, beginning at the top in the form of a new man at the helm.
Head Coach Ryan Bown joins the Lions after several years of success at the high school level. A former Ursinus standout, Bown led Hershey to a Keystone Division title and a Mid-Penn Conference championship last spring. He also coached in the 2008 NCAA Division II College World Series as an assistant at Shippensburg. The new skipper brings with him a sense of hard work and dedication.
"Every place I've coached, I've had a similar philosophy on how we are going to play and do things both on and off the field," said Bown. "Hopefully people will see our team as being very fundamentally sound and disciplined. We take pride in being conditioned and ready to outwork our opponents."
While Bown is a newcomer to the Blue & White squad, there are several familiar faces returning to join him for the upcoming campaign.
Back for his junior year is 2012 North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) third-team all-conference selection Colton Houseal (Maytown, Pa. / Donegal). The outfielder was the team's leader in hits (48) and batting average (.361) last season. Junior Dalton Trolinger's (Carlisle, Pa. / Cumberland Valley) experience should pay dividends in the outfield as well.
Also returning to help sure up the infield is sophomore John Cataldo (Pine Grove, Pa. / Pine Grove), the Lions' leader in RBIs (25) last spring.
Harrisburg returns some solid pitching from the 2012 squad in the form of sophomores Clint Hicks (State College, Pa. / State College), Hunter Rowe (Halifax, Pa. / Halifax), Dan Samick (Frederick, Md. / Frederick) and junior Jim Klingerman (Telford, Pa. / Souderton). Hicks pitched 52.2 innings, the most of any player last year, while Rowe won a team-high four games and recorded a team-best 4.73 ERA.
"We have not named captains at this time," said Bown about his returners. "We are evaluating and seeing who is going to step up into those leadership roles. But I will say I think we have a good group of guys that are going to come together and want to play hard for one another."
There's also a host of new players hitting the diamond for Penn State Harrisburg this season. Bown and his staff have yet to make definitive decisions as to who will see most of the playing time but there is belief that the newcomers will make an impact when called upon.
"I feel that we have a good mix of guys between the returners and new guys and that we have a solid team," said the skipper. "However, it's too early to make any determination on who will be a starter at most positions. We have a lot of competition going on for the starting jobs."
Junior transfer Travis Crammer (Cerritos, Cal. / Cerritos) should help out in the middle infield and Tim Gonzalez (Whittier, Cal. / St. Paul) is back after a one-year hiatus to add a strong bat to the lineup and some depth behind the plate.
This year's Lions will also be some of the best conditioned players in the league. From the first moment of the first practice last fall, Penn State Harrisburg has been working non-stop to be in game-shape come opening day. Bown has also honed-in on building team chemistry.
"We've focused on getting to know the players both as a baseball player and as a person," he said. "We want to determine what we can do with the talent we have and what each player's role may be. We also want to instill key fundamentals and understandings of the game that are vital to our philosophy and success."
Repetition of those fundamentals should go a long way towards accumulating more victories in 2013. Last season, the Lions had trouble putting together a solid all-around performance for a full game. On the days the pitching was strong, the bats went cold. When they scored a lot of runs, they gave up even more. Harrisburg's new front man expects things to be different this season.
"I feel we should be pretty balanced across the board," said Bown. "Our pitchers are going to keep us in games, our offense is going to take advantage of scoring opportunities and play team baseball and our defense is going to make the routine plays. As a coach, that's all I can ask for."
When asked what his realistic expectations for his first season guiding the Blue & White are, Bown's response was simple and to the point.
"We want to be playing our best baseball at the end of the year in the postseason."
The upcoming campaign will be Harrisburg's last as a member of the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC). Next season, the Lions will be competing as members of the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) and the men would like nothing more than to end their time in the NEAC with a successful run in the conference's postseason tournament.
After two postponements to its season-opener due to weather, Penn State Harrisburg's journey to success finally begins this Wednesday, Feb. 27 when the Lions travel south to take on soon-to-be CAC rival Stevenson in the Lions first outing of 2013. Harrisburg then travels to Myrtle Beach, S.C. for some baseball by the beach beginning on Mar. 2.