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Baseball season preview: Bulldogs excited about pitching depth in 2018

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SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The return of all but one pitcher from a season ago and the influx of young talent has the Bryant University baseball team excited about its pitching staff heading into 2018.

Bryant returns 88 percent of its total innings pitched from last year, losing only James Karinchak's 56 2/3 innings. In addition to the innings, the Black and Gold will look to its pitching staff to build off the experience gained during an up-and-down season.

"There is a continuity amongst them as a group in their work ethic and their internal competition," head coach Steve Owens said. "There is an understanding of the daily expectations from a coaches standpoint."

The Bulldogs will open the season with a trio of left handers scheduled to start during the opening series at Arizona. Junior Steve Theetge (Syracuse, N.Y.) will get the ball on Friday and will be followed by senior Jack Patterson (Suffield, Conn.) and sophomore Vito Morgese (Warwick, N.Y.). It will be just the second time in DI program history that the Black and Gold will start all lefties in a weekend series (Maryland – 2017).

Theetge steps into the Friday night role after putting together two outstanding seasons for the Bulldogs. He was named the Northeast Conference Pitcher of the Year last spring after going 8-5 with a 3.86 ERA in a staff-high 81 2/3 innings. In his career, Theetge has posted a 17-5 record and a 3.32 ERA in 31 career appearances. He's thrived on throwing strikes and getting his defense involved. Theetge's walked just 60 in 154 1/3 innings and has induced 24 double plays in his two seasons.

"He does what he does," Owens said. "The team knows that when he's pitching you're going to have a chance to win and you'll be involved in the game because of the way he pitches."

Patterson is back for his final season in Smithfield and is coming off a phenomenal junior season. A standout as a freshman back in 2014, Patterson struggled through the 2015 season and took the 2016 season before returning to the club in 2017. After allowing six runs on seven hits over his first three appearances, he allowed just nine runs over his final 36 2/3 innings to finish with a 2.90 ERA.

The late-season stretch included a 21-inning scoreless streak, three-straight outings in which he earned a save and three quality starts in as many outings. Patterson celebrated his first start in two years with a complete-game shutout and eight strikeouts.

"He's probably one of the most competitive kids on our team and was a huge part of resurrecting a difficult year in 2017," Owens said. "Going into his senior season, we have huge aspirations for him and we feel he's going to have a great year."

Another reason for Bryant's resurgence in 2017 was the emergence of Morgese. With Bryant needing a win, Morgese delivered 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball to lead Bryant past Brown. The Black and Gold went on to win 26 of their final 34 games. Morgese went on to post quality starts in wins over Rhode Island and No. 25 UConn before registering Bryant's longest outing of the year with 7 1/3 innings against Mount St. Mary's. He finished the year 4-6 with a 4.89 ERA in 53 1/3 innings.

"He has taken a big step forward since the middle of his freshman year both physically and mentally," Owens said. "After being thrown into the fire as a true freshman, he is much more prepared to handle the rigors of being a consistent starting pitcher."

Freshman Tyler Mattison (Fort Ann, N.Y.) could also find his way into the starting rotation right away. Mattison enjoyed a memorable career at Fort Ann High School, leading his team to a state title and earning New York State Player of the Year honors as a senior. He went on to pitch for the Glens Falls Dragons in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League and was named the league's No. 4 pro prospect at the end of the summer. Mattison went 3-2 and struck out 41 batters in 28 2/3 innings.

"Tyler has a lot of potential, an aggressive approach to pitching and has really good stuff for a kid his age," Owens said. "His competition level and athleticism are exciting and we can't wait to see what happens"

Bryant's depth on the mound will be one of its biggest strengths this season and will aided by the return of senior Logan Lessard (Cromwell, Conn.), redshirt-junior Justin Snyder (Georgetown, Mass.), juniors Craig Lacey (Westfield, Mass.) and Nathan Wrighter (Windsor, N.Y.) and sophomores Chris Wright (Cumberland, R.I.) and Jack Ipsen (Eatontown, N.J.).

Lessard is one of the elder statesmen in Bryant's bullpen, having appeared in 54 games over the course of his career. He's notched 13 career saves and has struck out 65 batters in 61 1/3 career innings. In 2016, Lessard and Snyder formed a formidable duo at the end of games and with Snyder back to full strength, the Bulldogs hope they can team up again in 2018. Snyder missed all but two games in 2017 but was lights out in 2016, posting 10 saves and a 2.35 ERA in 26 appearances on his way to All-NEC First Team honors.

"Logan is a senior that's going to need to provide experience in our bullpen and has the chance to be a very important part of our pitching staff," Owens said. "With Justin, we are really confident that he's returning to his form from sophomore year and we are excited to get him back out there competing in games."

Lacey and Wrighter formed their own little duo in 2017, as the classmates emerged as key arms in Bryant's bullpen, combining to make 45 appearances. Lacey thrived in multiple roles during the year, serving as a starter, a middle reliever and a short reliever. He pitched more than an inning in 14 of his 19 appearances, including 1 1/3 scoreless innings in the NEC Tournament. Lacey finished with a 3.46 ERA in 41 2/3 innings.

After making just two appearances as a freshman, Wrighter made a staff-high 26 on his way to All-NEC Second Team honors last spring. He posted a 1.80 ERA and allowed just 34 hits in 40 innings on the mound. Like Lacey, Wrighter was also asked to get more than just three outs on numerous occasions, going longer than an inning in 16 of his 26 outings. He recorded 11-straight scoreless appearances and also pitched in six-straight games during one stretch.

"Craig is starting to understand the pitcher that he is and the ways that he can have success," Owens said. "Nate was thrust into a lot of high traffic situations and I think he's prepared for anything that comes at him. He's found his niche and understands what he needs to do to be successful."

Wright and Ipsen saw varying degrees of success during their freshmen seasons. Bryant's opening day first baseman, Wright also began the season in the starting rotation. He worked through early command issues to post some of the best strikeout numbers on the team, fanning 31 in just 26 2/3 innings. Wright struck out eight in a start against Brown and his best outing of the season was his last, as he struck out four in 2 2/3 scoreless innings of relief against Sacred Heart to earn his first win.

It took just one game for Ipsen to become a key part of Bryant's bullpen as he recorded the final three outs in the 2017 opener to earn the save. He went on to pitch in 19 games during the year, posting a 1-0 record with two saves and a 4.32 ERA. Ipsen's second save was impressive as he tossed three innings of scoreless, one-hit relief in Bryant's win over No. 25 UConn last year.

"Chris has good velocity and is a lot better going in fresh for a short period," Owens said. "Jack gives us another guy that can pitch in a variety of roles; early, middle and late."

In addition to Mattison, freshmen Matthew Stansky (Douglas, Mass.) and Will Treuel (Wolfeboro, N.H.) both could see time early in their careers. Stansky shined for American Legion Post 397 last summer, pitching them to the American Legion World Series. He then tossed a 10-inning complete game in the opener to earn the win. Treuel grew up in a baseball family and went on to earn all-state honors in three-straight seasons at Kingswood Regional.

"Matt is an aggressive reliever with good confidence and a quick tempo," Owens said. "Will gives us another power arm in the bullpen and could see time early."

Bryant will also welcome back five others that made 10+ appearances a season ago. Senior Ross Weiner (Woodbridge, Conn.) went 1-1 in 12 appearances (six starts) and has the second-most experience on the staff with 97 2/3 career innings. Fellow seniors Matt Knych (Manville, R.I.) and Ryan Johnson (East Falmouth, Mass.) also return in the bullpen. Knych was a situational lefty in 2017, striking out 12 in 12 1/3 innings, while Johnson made three appearances.

Redshirt-sophomores Mason Palmieri (Lincoln, R.I.) and Jack Owens (Scituate, R.I.) both saw extended innings last spring. Palmieri pitched in 15 games and finished with a 4.58 ERA in 19 2/3 innings. Owens made 12 appearances and earned his first-career win on Easter Sunday.

Tyler Schoff (Lee Center, N.Y.) rounds out Bryant's freshmen pitchers and comes to Smithfield after a decorated career at Rome Free Academy. He was a two-time Tri-Valley League Pitcher of the Year and was a second team all-state selection after going 5-2 with 49 strikeouts in 48 innings as a senior.

"We feel the depth of the pitching staff is, without question, one of the biggest strengths of our team," Owens said. "There is a gap of a championship driving this group and there is a motivation to prove themselves."