Friday, May 3, 2013

Spartan Strong: 2013 STAC Baseball Year in Review

2013 STAC Baseball Team

By Ken Kirshner

The St. Thomas Aquinas baseball team is on the verge of its best season in its long and storied history. Under the tutelage of Coach Scott Muscat and assistant John Garvey, the Spartans have already broken the record for most conference wins in a series, 18, set by the 2012 St. Thomas Aquinas baseball squad. Another record is also set up to be broken by the 2013 group by season’s end; most wins in a season in program history, 34, also set by the 2012 team. The team sits at 32-11 with three non-conference games remaining on the slate vs. Dominican College and a doubleheader against Concordia College this upcoming weekend.

The 2013 campaign started off hot for the Spartans with two impressive and signature Eastern Regional victories against Wilmington University (Del.) in a three game set. It took a game tying double by Ken Kirshner in the 8th inning and a Frank Salerno walk off a single in the 11th inning to seal the victory on opening day. The Spartans were aided by a huge opening day performance from junior lefty Eric Cooper, who worked into the 7th inning, allowing 5 hits and only 1 run before handing the ball to closer CJ Ferrigi, who shut the door.

After a tough 3-2 defeat in game two, the Spartans came back to take the series in the finale, behind junior Robert Franke, who gave the Spartans six solid innings of work, scattering 3 hits and 5 runs. The Spartans got a big performance from senior catcher Mike Russo, who slugged 3 hits while driving in 3 runs. Why were these victories so significant? If the Spartans fail to win the East Coast Conference Tournament on May 11th, they could still receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament because of those two wins. Wilmington currently sits at 9th in the NCAA D2 baseball rankings, 1st in the Eastern Regional, while the Spartans sit in 5th in the regional rankings.
The 2013 team is led by junior standout ace pitcher, Robert Franke, senior catcher Mike Russo, junior transfer Ken Kirshner, and freshman pitcher Robert Naughton.

Franke is having a breakout campaign for the Spartans. On April 24th, Robert Franke was named NCBWA East Region Pitcher of the Week along with ECC pitcher of the week for his performance against LIU Post in which he threw a complete game shutout, allowing just 4 hits and no walks. Franke currently sits with a record of 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA, allowing only 25 hits in over 50 innings of work. In his past four conference outings, Franke is 3-1 with an astounding ERA of 0.62. Franke received one of D2 baseball’s most prominent weekly awards, National Pitcher of the Week, something STAC has never seen in its existence.

Senior catcher Mike Russo is coming off arguably the best season a STAC hitter has ever had. Russo’s 2012 campaign consisted of winning the ECC Triple Crown Award and receiving a spot on the All-American team. Russo led the ECC in batting average, runs batted in, and home runs. He hit an incredible .381 with 44 RBI’s and 6 long balls. In 2013, Russo has already surpassed his last year’s mark of 44 RBI’s and 6 homers. Currently he is hitting .342 with 8 home runs and 49 runs batted in.
Freshman right handed pitcher Robert Naughton is on track to capture St. Thomas Aquinas’ second consecutive ECC Rookie of the Year award (won by Stanley Susana in 2012). Naughton is a perfect 5-0 on the year, posting a 1.63 earned run average in over 49 innings of work, with one complete game to his name. Just this past week, Naughton was named ECC Rookie of the Week, the second time he has captured this award in his rookie year.

Junior first baseman Ken Kirshner is also having a breakout year for the club. Kirshner got off to a nice start, hitting a game tying double down the left field line to tie the game vs. #9 Wilmington on opening night. He hasn’t looked back since. Kirshner currently leads the Spartans in hits and batting average. He is hitting .360 with 30 RBI and 16 stolen bases. He currently leads the East Coast Conference in hits with 59. In over 400 chances at first base, Ken has only committed 6 errors on the year, posting a .985 fielding percentage.

The STAC baseball team looks to close out the season on a strong note, trying to capture the ECC title for the first time in school history. They came into the 2012 tournament as the heavy favorite to take the conference, only to be upset by Dowling College on their own field. The record for wins in a single season is in their thoughts, but seizing an ECC title is what’s first on their minds.

Ken Kirshner is a Junior baseball player at St. Thomas Aquinas College. He is a transfer student from Siena College in Loudonville, NY.  Ken is expected to graduate in the Spring of 2014 with a degree in History with a minor in Communication Arts. He hopes to pursue a career in Sports Journalism or Sports Broadcasting.

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