“Omahawks” look to defend title, make run

McLeod Brown | Sports Editor

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After winning the program’s third CAA title in 2012, expectations are high, not only within the team, but around the nation as well for the UNC Wilmington baseball squad.

In the annual pre-season poll of CAA head coaches, the Seahawks were predicted to finish first and retain their conference title.

They’re not letting all of the preseason hype rush to their head, however. After all, James Madison was picked to finish first last season and failed to even make the conference tournament.

“Our goal is to win a conference championship, during the regular season as well as the conference tournament, putting ourselves in position for an at-large if we’re not able to win the conference tournament,” said Coach Mark Scalf.

The Seahawks return five all-conference performers in Hunter Ridge, Michael Bass, Corey Dick, Tyler Molinaro, and Mat Batts.

Molinaro led the CAA last year in home runs with 16, becoming only the fourth Seahawk in history to do so. The mark was also good enough for 15th nationally and led to the senior transfer from Pitt Community College garnering third team All-CAA honors in his first season in Wilmington, along with becoming a preseason third-team All-American honoree by Louisiville Sluggerthis season.

“That’s not what I set out to do,” Molinaro said of the home runs. “Obviously, winning a championship was my goal and it is again this year, to go back and win another CAA championship and win our first regional and go to super-regionals.  I want to set a high mark for this program as I leave. If the home runs come again, that’s great. If not, whatever I can do to help the team win is important.”

Molinaro was not the only Seahawk to earn accolades after his first season in Wilmington. Sophomore Corey Dick earned Freshman All-America honors last year from Louisville Sluggerafter he started 50 of 58 possible games for UNCW in 2012, finishing with eight home runs, 35 RBIs, and a .304 batting average.

“Everybody works hard,” Dick said. “I know last year we worked hard. This year, we came in and knew what it felt like to be there so the work ethic was 10 times harder this year as a team. I think (we have to) just stay together, make the plays. Last year we had a rough start so if we come out and make a statement in the beginning instead of later, I think we’ll be alright.”

While the batting will be key to UNCW’s success this year, it is their arms in the bullpen that will look to push them over the top. The squad returns the bulk of a bullpen last year that combined for 17-7 record and 3.16 ERA, along with a .245 batting average.

Batts, a third-team All-CAA performer last year, is regarded as one of the top returning pitchers in the conference after finishing with a 3.04 ERA last season, good enough for second in the league.

CAA All-Rookie honoree Jordan Ramsey, Kelly Secrest whom led UNCW with a 2.12 ERA, William Prince, and Ricky Holden will join Batts in looking to push the program past regionals this year.

Maybe the biggest story for the Seahawks, though, will be the return of redshirt junior Blaze Tart. The Durham, NC native had become UNCW’s top pitcher during his sophomore season in 2011 before arm surgery mid-way through the year forced him to sit out the rest of that season along with all of 2012.

“My arm feels good,” Tart said. “I feel good about letting the defense work behind me. Just throwing strikes, I feel confident. I just want to get out there and just pitch.”

Overall, this is arguably UNCW’s deepest pitching staff in program history, and Coach Scalf is aware of that.

“From a competitive standpoint, I certainly think this is as deep of a staff as any we’ve had,” Scalf said. “Now whether or not we’re going to be able to go out and throw enough strikes and fill roles that need to be filled from the front-end to the back-end that remains to be seen. We have some guys that are going to figure it out on the fly.”

“I really think it’s got to be one of the top pens,” Batts added. “We have guys like Prince as a closer. Ramsey, Holden, Secrest, we’re really strong. We have a lot of experience on the pitching staff. We have a lot of guys that were there last year and a lot of new faces that are hungry to get there the first time.”

After starting off last season at 3-9 before making a run to win the CAA title and earning the program’s fifth NCAA tournament berth, the Seahawks are looking to find success early in the 2013 season.

Nevertheless, they know there are many games to be played on the schedule and are taking it day by day.

“It’s a matter of staying focused every day and giving our best effort every day,” Scalf said. “Last year is over and done with. We can’t think about last year. It’s a new year and we’re going to go about it that everyone, in the league and outside the league, knows we’re pretty good and they’re going to come with their best shot and we have to give ours.”