WALTHAM, Mass. – 17,819 days and more than 1,600 games after he turned in the lineup card for his first game as the only head baseball coach in Bentley University history, Bob DeFelice will launch his 50th season at the helm on Friday when his Falcons begin a three-game series at the University of Tampa Friday at 6 pm.
The two teams, who are opening against each other for the seventh straight season, will also meet Saturday at 6 pm and Sunday at noon during the first of four trips to the Sunshine State All three games can be seen online at https://portal.stretchinternet.com/tampa/.
DeFelice, the dean of college baseball coaches nationally, returns 21 of 25 players from last year's team that finished 11-30 but earned a berth in the Northeast-10 Championship tournament with strong play during the final week. The primary loss from that squad was right-hander Bill Sullivan, who finished 6-5 with a school-record 90 strikeouts.
Topping the list of returnees is sophomore first baseman Ryan Berardino (Sudbury/Lincoln- Sudbury Reg. HS), the American Baseball Coaches Association Division II East Region Rookie of the Year and a second-team All-Northeast-10 honoree despite missing ten games midseason due to injury. His .355 led the Falcons and ranked fourth in the 15-team conference.
Also back are outfielder Austin Farry (Watertown/Watertown HS) and first baseman/outfielder Brandon Grover (Rocky Hill, Conn./Rocky Hill HS), who were 1-2 on the team in RBI. Farry hit .267 with seven doubles, two triples, a homer and 22 RBI while Grover counted 14 extra-base hits among his 27 total. He had 21 RBI and led the team in slugging (.410).
The top returning starting pitchers are grad student Evan Walsh (Arlington/Arlington Catholic HS) and junior Luke Dawson (Stamford, Conn./Westhill HS). Both had two wins last season and Dawson set a single game strikeout record with 15. Walsh's ERA against conference opponents was an impressive 2.08 and Dawson pitched to a 4.86 in NE10 action.
The roster has been bolstered by the return of senior infielder Mike Samko (Arlington/BB&N) from injury and the addition of transfers Chris Hopkins (Malden/Malden Catholic HS), from Stetson, and Nathan Littman (Abington/Abington HS), from Fitchburg State.
Samko, who DeFelice referred to as his team's catalyst, is a two-year starter who hit .295 with 29 runs scored in 2016. Hopkins didn't see any action at Stetson last year, and Littman is a veteran of 83 games at Fitchburg where he hit .329.
In the Northeast-10 preseason coaches poll that was announced Thursday morning, Bentley was listed sixth of eight in the Northeast Division.
Tampa, 41-10 a year ago and ranked second preseason by Collegiate Baseball, is year-in and year-out one of the premier teams in Division II. The Spartans own seven national championships, the most recent coming in 2015.
Returnees for the Spartans on the hill include right-hander David Lebron, who was 7-1 with 103 strikeouts last season, and Cheyne Bickel, who was 7-4 in 2017. Second-team All-America Darren Miller is back after hitting .371 with 13 homers last spring, and Richie Rivera (.280, 13 2B, 7 HR) is another key returner in the Spartans lineup.
Bentley's next trip to Florida will be Feb. 17-19 for a three-game series at Rollins College.