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A mere 60 feet and six inches stand between the Harvard pitcher and his adversary in the batter’s box. The distance between this year’s Crimson staff and the championship rotation of 2002 is far greater-on paper at least.
Last June, the Colorado Rockies selected staff ace Ben Crocket ‘03 in the third round of the annual Amateur Baseball Draft, and key contributors Chaney Sheffield ‘02 and Justin Nyweide ‘02 graduated.
During the offseason, would-be-junior Marc Hordon fell victim to season-ending shoulder injury that forced him to temporarily withdraw from Harvard to maintain full eligibility.
Not a single returning starting pitcher won more than one game last season. So who comprises this new-look collection of arms?
With 19 pitchers on its roster, Harvard coach Joe Walsh’s staff will not suffer for lack of numbers. But are there any stars?
Mike Morgalis, a sophomore transfer from Notre Dame, will look to anchor the 2003 staff. Before the season began, Morgalis was projected to be the Crimson’s most consistent and talented hurler.
“Morgalis is the type of guy that you come to a ballpark and everybody’ll [want to] know his name. They’re going to be saying, ‘Who’s that kid?’” said Walsh of Morgalis back in February.
Morgalis (1-1) is off to a rocky start this year, posting a 6.97 ERA through his first four appearances. But he picked up his first victory in last week’s Ivy opener against Penn, and is hoping the league season will “help him get in the groove.” His teammates think it should.
“Morgalis is looking very good. He kept us in the game with [No. 13] Miami and has excellent mound presence,” says freshman pitcher Matt Brunnig.
While Morgalis adjusts to flame throwing on the East Coast, junior Trey Hendricks seems to have already found his niche. Hendricks, who doubles as the team’s offensive juggernaut and first-baseman, has been Harvard’s most prolific force on the mound, leading the team in innings pitched (29) and ERA (2.79).
“I always thought of Trey more as a first baseman, but he really surprised me with his pitching performances,” Brunnig says. “He should keep us in every game he pitches.”
Brunnig, himself, has proven to give Harvard another force on the hill. Standing at 6’7-and with the rare ability to pitch with both arms, Brunnig will be sure to strike fear into the hearts of Ivy League batters, despite his first-year status.
“I think by the time Matt Brunnig finishes his four year career here, he’ll be a well-known New England name,” Walsh says. “He’s got a nasty slider, and he’s a strike thrower. His size is deceiving, and with innings his velocity, 85-plus with either arm, will climb.”
Brunnig (2-0) leads the team in wins a third of the way through the 2003 campaign and still describes his transition from high school to college ball as “challenging.”
“The main difference is that mistakes are hit more often, and pitch selection is better on the hitters’ parts,” Brunnig says. “The long ball is a much larger part of the game as well.”
Rounding out a potential weekend rotation of Morgalis, Hendricks and Brunnig is senior lefthander Kenon Ronz. Ronz entered the season, with Morgalis, as one of the Crimson’s top two pitching prospects, but has since faltered a bit posting a 9.69 ERA and going winless in the Crimson’s pre-Ivy action. His first win also came last weekend, in an 8-4 decision over Columbia.
“Ronz really had a great autumn, and we really like that left hander in the mix,” Walsh says.
Despite a rocky start, Ronz’s catcher, senior Brain Lentz remains confident in the southpaw’s abilities.
“When Kenon was a freshman, I figured he would be as good, if not better than anybody in the Ivy League by the time he was a senior, and I have no reason to not agree with that statement now,” Lentz
says. “I think Kenon is going to get on a roll when he gets out there. He didn’t get all the innings last year he wanted because he was hurt, but he’s a really mentally tough kid with great stuff, and he knows it, and he’s going be a real plus for us.”
Surprisingly Ronz is the only recruit from the class of 2003 to figure prominently into the Crimson’s pitching scheme this season. Highly-touted and strong in numbers (over one-third if the pitchers on roster are members of the class of 2003) it would be hard not to call the class a collective disappointment. Performances by seniors Ronz, Matt Self, Madhu Satyanarayana and others will dictate the legacy of the senior class.
Ironically, the most prominent of the senior pitchers is a walk-on. Barry Wahlberg, a former Crimson quarterback, is now the team’s captain and closer. Wahlberg emerged as the team’s stopper during its title run last season, and the same production is expected of him this season.
Three years Wahlberg’s junior, a group of highly talented freshman have invigorated the depleted ranks of Harvard pitching. Led by Brunnig, this year’s freshman should have an immediate impact
on the mound. Wes Cogriff and Javier Castellanos flank Brunnig and form a promising trio of first-year flame throwers. Castellanos is currently sidelined with a broken hand, but his teammates remain confident based upon a promising fall.
“After seeing him early on, I expect him to contribute a lot to the team this year,” Brunnig says.
Yet, questions still linger as the Crimson forges ahead into its Ivy League campaign. Will the seniors step up to solidify the bullpen? Will Morgalis live up to the hype? Will a group of talented, but
inexperienced, freshman be able to contribute immediately?
Harvard’s veteran backstop thinks that the recipe for pitching success this season is simple. “I think the pitchers have the talent they need, it’s just a matter of throwing strikes every time they go out there,” Lentz says.
It might take more than strikes to repeat last year’s stellar performance. But hopefully, a Brunnig slider or a Morgalis two-seamer will be enough.
—Staff writer Sean W. Coughlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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