Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Written by Elliott Wiley, Jr.


The Tufts University baseball team departs for Ashland, Virginia on Thursday, March 13 to kick off its 2003 season. It will play 10 games over the next 10 days against schools from Virginia and North Carolina. Coach John Casey feels his team will be playing tough competition in the south, but this is done so on purpose.

"The only way to elevate your game is by playing good teams," Casey said.

Among the exemplary squads they face are Methodist (ranked 12th in country) on March 18, North Carolian Wesleyan on March 20, and Virginia Wesleyan who they will be double-dipping against on March 23.

While winning is always in the back of the team's mind, the purpose of the trip is not to come back with all W's. According to Casey, it is to solidify his lineup. Since these next 10 games are the only contests before NESCAC play starts on March 28 at home against Bates, the team must play well in preparation.

This season's squad is without a few key players from last year's successful campaign. Right fielder Dan Callahan, who finished his career last season with multiple Tufts records and was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks, first baseman Tim Ayers, who hit .309 last season, and pitcher Steve Lapham, who finished with an earned run average of only 3.30, all need to be replaced by younger players.

Currently Casey feels he has two number one pitchers in senior Jon Lee (Manhasset Hills, NY), who went 7-1 last season, as well as senior tri-captain Dave Martin (Arlington, MA), who was a First Team All-NESCAC selection last season. Martin was second in the nation last season with a 0.85 earned run average before a hand injury caused him to miss the final third of the season. Lee was the NESCAC Pitcher of the Year in 2001 who overcame an elbow injury last year to post a strong season. The two aces will each pitch once in the important NESCAC East three-game series.

Casey believes his seniors must set the tone, but junior Randy Newsom (Cincinnati, OH) is currently the third starter, while sophomore Jeff Volinski (Andover, MA) battles for the fourth slot. Casey assures this is a tentative order depending on how players pitch in the upcoming games. Newsom went 7-1 last year, including a stellar 7-1 win over Suffolk in the NCAA Tournament as Tufts faced elimination.

The team will rely on experience for the middle-relievers. Last season senior Mike Byron (Hanover, MA) and junior Dave Frew (Worcester, MA) combined for 53 innings pitched and a 4-2 record. This season they will head the duties.

Senior tri-captain Brian Shapiro (Swampscott, MA) enters the year tied for the team's all-time lead with 11 saves. His first of 2003 will be a new record. Also the shortstop, he will be one of New England's top closers

"It's tough to relieve until you have done it," Casey said.

While the pitching rotation is not much in question, the infield is an entirely different story. Casey said he has about 10 different scenarios playing in his head and that only each individual performance over Spring Break will finalize his infield. Shapiro has been a constant, starting at third base his freshman year and moving to shortstop ever since. He was an All-NESCAC Second Team selection last season after batting .343 and stroking seven homeruns.

Currently sophomore John McBride (Billerica, MA) has the edge at first base as Casey feels he is good defensively. Freshman Matt Clement (Norwood, MA) is also making the trip down south and might get some time at first. He's looked sharp at bat in pre-season workouts. Sophomore Frank Dinucci (Wilton, CT) started at second base in 32 games last season, making just five errors for an excelling .966 fielding percentage. Junior Adam Kacamburas (North Reading, MA) started at third base and batted .306 last season. The junior also was fourth on last season's team with 62 total bases.

Sophomore catcher Bob Kenny (Milford, MA/Milford) started 29 of 31 games he played in. In the field, he hosed eight attempted stealers. From the plate, he batted .269 with 12 RBI. Competing for the starting job with Kenny will be junior Greg Hickey (Medway, MA). He started 26 of the 28 games he played in at various positions, which included outfield, designated hitter, and catcher. He hit .337, driving in 24 runs.

According to Casey, one player who is pushing the middle-infielders is junior Nick Palange (Hudson, MA). A starter in 22 games as a freshman, he was a utility player last season, starting nine games and playing in 20 total. He has proved himself capable of stepping into the lineup at any time after finishing last season with a .379 batting average, in 29 plate appearances. Also, Martin may play some at first base in order to get his bat in the lineup on days he is not pitching.

The outfield is similar to the pitching staff with its senior leadership and primarily set lineup. Senior tri-captain Evan Zupancic (Lake Oswego, OR) is returning to center field after belting a Tufts single-season record 11 home runs last season. He also was a First Team All-NESCAC selection. Senior Jon Herbert (Davidsonville, MD) has nailed down one of the other outfield positions, leaving juniors Drew Blewett (Great Falls, MT) and Frank Giliberti (Medford, MA) fighting for the final spot. Hickey and Martin may also get time in the outfield, depending on the situation.

This season's team has many expectations to live up to after last year's team finished 27-10-1 overall, and 10-1 in NESCAC play. They earned the NESCAC crown and an NCAA Tournament berth, losing in the Eastern Regionals to eventual Division III NCAA champion Eastern Connecticut. Casey feels the team has the tools for another successful season, leaving it up to them to produce.

"We are going to play ever game and see what happens," Casey said. "[The coaching staff] will do everything to get the guys where they want to be, but it's up to them."