Sitting Down with Coach Leoni
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - After narrowly missing a berth to the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament last spring, the William and Mary baseball team returns a wealth of talent this year and is eager to challenge for the conference title in 2012. Led by seventh-year head coach Frank Leoni, as well as tri-captains Sean Aiken, Ryan Brown and Chris Forsten, the talented and experienced squad looks poised to reach its postseason goals. With the start of the season less than a week away, TribeAthletics.com recently sat down with Leoni and discussed the upcoming campaign.
Direction Heading into the 2012 Campaign
What are the goals for Tribe baseball in 2012?
Coach Leoni: “Our goals remain simple. Make the CAA playoffs, try to win at least 30 games and win the CAA championship.”
Compared to last season where do you expect the biggest improvement to come from?
Coach Leoni: “I think we’ll be a much more effective offensive team. We did not do enough to adapt to the changes in the bats last year. Also, we have a considerable amount of experience returning in our line-up, which I think will provide improvement.”
What kind of identity do you anticipate this 2012 squad to have?
Coach Leoni: “This year’s edition will be “team first” all the way. I believe we’ll be tougher when it matters most.”
Who are you expecting big things from this season?
Coach Leoni: “I never like to single out players. That said, I believe our pitching will continue to lead the way. We’re more athletic this year, and as I’ve mentioned previously, our offense should be more productive.”
Chemistry is an integral part of any team; describe how important chemistry is in college baseball.
Coach Leoni: “Chemistry is very important in baseball, especially since there is more downtime than in other sports. Our team chemistry has been outstanding so far.”
Who will the Tribe rely on for leadership this season?
Coach Leoni: “We have nine seniors and 10 juniors. Many have played a lot for us over their time here. They are all doing a great job of keeping our team focused on what’s important. The leadership on this team has improved considerably.”
Junior hurler Brett Koehler headlines a Tribe pitching staff that ranked near the top of the CAA last season in every major statistical category. The 2012 Preseason All-CAA selection dominated the competition last spring, posting an overall ERA of 2.73 and a league ERA of 1.25. After moving to the bullpen in the early part of last year, Koehler tallied eight saves, which was good for third in the CAA. Junior Matt Wainman, fresh off of a solid sophomore campaign brings depth and quality to the rotation. The southpaw started 10 games last season, posting a 5-3 record with a 4.06 ERA. Rounding out the returning experience is senior right-hander Matt Davenport, who made 18 starts in 2011, striking out 60 batters in only 68 innings pitched. Talented freshmen - Matt Houston and J.T. Castner - look to be in the mix, by adding quality depth to the staff.
Last year’s pitching staff ranked among the CAA’s best. What is the 2012 outlook for the pitching staff?
Coach Leoni: “The staff is solid once again. Replacing Logan Billbrough‘s contribution from a year ago will be difficult, but we have added some exciting new talent here, and there are others ready to step up to fill the void.”
At the plate senior slugger Tadd Bower leads the College. Last season, Bower drove in a team- best 40 runs, while homering five times and tallying nine stolen bases. At one point last season, the Chesterfield, Va., native reached base in 38 straight games. Junior outfielder Ryan Brown adds to the Green and Gold firepower. Last spring, Brown started all 55 games and posted a .292 batting average. The speedy Brown led W&M with 15 stolen bases during the 2011 campaign, while his .445 on-base percentage was good for 10th in the CAA. Sophomore Ryan Lindemuth looks to keep the momentum rolling after a stellar freshman year. As a freshman last spring, Lindemuth appeared in all 55 contests, earning 54 starts.
Offensively, what kind of potential exists?
Coach Leoni: “We have the potential to be a more consistent offense. The addition of Coach Miller has helped us change our mindset at the plate. The hitters have bought into being complete offensive players and I believe we’ll take better advantage of opportunities as they present themselves.”
Defensively, the Tribe returns a core group that finished second in the CAA in fielding last spring, posting a team-fielding percentage of .967. Pacing the Green and Gold vacuum is junior outfielder Ryan Brown. Named a team captain for the 2012 season, Brown roams the gaps for W&M, and last season notched a .985 fielding percentage. Senior catcher Chris Forsten has been a mainstay behind the plate for the Tribe during his career. Named a captain for the third consecutive spring, the College will rely on Forsten for his solid defense and leadership abilities. Last season, 23 baserunners were caught stealing by Forsten, which ranked the senior leader third in the CAA.
Strong fielding and a solid bullpen can win a lot of games. How do you envision these two components being this season?
Coach Leoni: “As I mentioned, we’re more athletic this year, which I believe will translate into an improved defensive effort as well. We’ve made some changes to the middle of our infield, which I know will be positive in the long run. We have a host of players who should anchor another strong bullpen. Games are won and lost in the bullpen, so we feel we’re going to be in good shape.”
Headlining the non-conference portion of the 2012 slate are match-ups with 2011 College World Series participants Florida and Virginia. William and Mary opens the season on Friday, Feb. 17, as it welcomes the Rhode Island Rams to Plumeri Park, for a three-game series. On Feb. 21, the College will travel to Virginia for a mid-week game against the Cavaliers. Three days later on Friday, Feb.24, W&M treks down to Gainesville for a weekend series against the Gators. Rounding out the mid-week non-conference schedule are contests against VMI, NYIT, Quinnipiac, Norfolk State, Richmond, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Longwood, East Carolina and George Washington.
Colonial Athletic Association play begins for the College on Friday, March 9, as the Northeastern Huskies travel to Williamsburg for a weekend affair. Other league members making the trip to Williamsburg include: Towson, Delaware, Old Dominion and UNCW. Conference road trips are comprised of visits to: James Madison, George Mason, Georgia State, VCU and Hofstra.
The early season schedule consists of 2011 College World Series participants Florida and Virginia. In past seasons, the College has played national powers Oklahoma and LSU. How do playing these teams prepare the Tribe for the remainder of the season?
Coach Leoni: “Matching up against the best of the best prepares your team for conference play. There should not be much that we haven’t encountered once we get to CAA play. We’ll truly know our strengths and weaknesses, and what we’ll need to do to improve.”
The Tribe’s season gets underway Friday, Feb. 17, against the Rhode Island Rams. First pitch from Plumeri Park is slated for 4 p.m. Fans can follow all of the action online at TribeAthletics.com with live audio and stats.