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New faces on diamond for Winthrop Eagles

Winthrop baseball coach Tom Riginos is through the name-tag phase of the season.

But that doesn't mean he knows what to expect when the Eagles begin their season in just over two weeks.

The Eagles began practicing last Friday, and after the first full weekend and some intrasquad scrimmages, the defining trait of this team is the shiny new quality.

"It really isn't," Riginos said with a grin when asked if so much turnover created a daunting task this year. "We have some guys from last year who can help teach the new guys about our program, but it's the young guys who are going to take ownership of the program.

"Last year, everybody was new, so everybody was learning everything together."

The Eagles went 27-30 overall last year, and a late surge got them to 15-12 and a third-place finish in the Big South. This year, they've been picked fourth in the conference, but predicting such things seem like a shot in the dark considering the year-to-year roster churning.

But the only real similarity in last year's Winthrop team and this one is the uniforms, such is the change.

Of the 34 names on the current roster, 18 are new to the program.

And it's not just quantity, either.

Gone is the entire weekend series starting rotation, with Tyler Mizenko and Robert Lake about to report to spring training and Matteo D'Angelo having graduated.

Of the 507.1 innings pitched by the Eagles last year, only 152.1 were thrown by guys who return.

Riginos, in his second year here after an eight-year run as an assistant at Clemson, has said such pitching turnover can be viewed two ways. It's a pain to bring in new arms, but it shows you had quality at the position.

For the short term, it creates a huge uncertainty, as he rattled off a list of eight names that could factor into prime starting roles this year.

The most prominent are two of the rare returners, juniors Eric Ruth (6-1, 3.66 ERA last year) and Matt Pierpont (4-4, 6.57).

Pierpont started six games last year, while Ruth took all his work out of the bullpen, but they're in the process of being stretched out now to get ready to start.

Riginos talked about their "toughness and experience," but the thing he's most excited about are the increased numbers of candidates.

Mitchell Knox (3-1, 3.29) leads the rest of the potential starters, along with newcomers Preston Johnson, Tyler Klitsch, Josh Strong, Michael Gilroy and Stetson Nelson.

"If you look at last year, most of the work was done by seven or eight guys," Riginos said. "Now, it's early, but I really think we've got more depth and competition. At the moment, I'd say we've got nine, 10, 11 guys who you think can go out there and help you.

"What we see in the next two or three weeks will tell us a lot, but realistically, it will be 20 games into the season before we know what we have."

The turnover is just as dramatic in the field, although Riginos is quick to admit it's easier to adjust there than to the dramatic changes on the mound.

Last year's top three hitters are gone -- catcher Eddie Rohan (.342), outfielder Cam Walters (.321) and shortstop Adam Gliebe (.316).

He's counting on sophomore T.J. Olesczuk (.307) and junior Patrick Gamblin (.292) to be consistent contributors at the plate, but the changes to the everyday lineup are such that defense is a major concern.

They're breaking in a brand new middle infield, no longer able to count on Gliebe and second baseman Tyler Cook every day.

Between Jason Driver, Patrick McLendon and Leighton Daniels, he hopes to find a new shortstop-second base combination, but said all three should play.

At this point, it's among the many unknowns. As the days progress, they're stretching out the intrasquad games, up to around five innings per day now and climbing. But that's not the only time they're evaluating, as Riginos said they're charting fielding percentages on ground balls in batting practice, taking every chance to get a grip on this new roster.

"The really neat thing about this year is, you have to evaluate everything," Riginos said. "It's exciting, because we talk about building the program, and this is a chance to do just that."

2012 Winthrop

Baseball Schedule

DATE

OPPONENT

TIME

Feb. 17

Georgia Tech

6 p.m.

Feb. 18

Kent State

5 p.m.

Feb. 19

Kent State

11 a.m.

Feb. 19

Georgia Tech

2:30 p.m.

Feb. 21

Western Carolina

4 p.m.

Feb. 24

at Georgia

5:30 p.m.

Feb. 25

at Georgia

2 p.m.

Feb. 26

at Georgia

1 p.m.

Feb. 28

Charlotte

4 p.m.

Mar. 1

Northern Illinois

7 p.m.

Mar. 2

Oregon State

2 p.m.

Mar. 3

Arizona State

7 p.m.

Mar. 4

Saint Louis

2 p.m.

Mar. 7

College of Charleston

6 p.m.

Mar. 9

Holy Cross

6 p.m.

Mar. 10

Holy Cross

3 p.m.

Mar. 11

Holy Cross

12 p.m.

Mar. 12

Valparaiso

6 p.m.

Mar. 14

at The Citadel

6 p.m.

Mar. 16

Rider

6 p.m.

Mar. 17

Rider

3 p.m.

Mar. 18

Rider

1 p.m.

Mar. 20

at Wake Forest

6 p.m.

Mar. 21

at Charlotte

6 p.m.

Mar. 23

*Campbell

6 p.m.

Mar. 24

*Campbell (DH)

2 p.m.

Mar. 28

Furman

6 p.m.

Mar. 30

*at Gardner-Webb

6 p.m.

Mar. 31

*at Gardner-Webb

2 p.m.

Apr. 1

*at Gardner-Webb

2 p.m.

Apr. 3

at Clemson

6:30 p.m.

Apr. 6

*at VMI

5 p.m.

Apr. 7

*at VMI (DH)

2 p.m.

Apr. 10

at College of Charleston

6 p.m.

Apr. 13

*Liberty

6 p.m.

Apr. 14

*Liberty

3 p.m.

Apr. 15

*Liberty

1 p.m.

Apr. 17

The Citadel

6 p.m.

Apr. 18

at Furman

6 p.m.

Apr. 20

*Radford

6 p.m.

Apr. 21

*Radford

3 p.m.

Apr. 22

*Radford

1 p.m.

Apr. 24

Wake Forest

6 p.m.

May 2

at North Carolina

6 p.m.

May 4

*at Charleston So.

2 p.m.

May 5

*at Charleston So.

2 p.m.

May 6

*at Charleston So.

2 p.m.

May 11

*at Coastal Carolina

6 p.m.

May 12

*at Coastal Carolina

6 p.m.

May 13

*at Coastal Carolina

2 p.m.

May 15

at Western Carolina

5 p.m.

May 17

*High Point

6 p.m.

May 18

*High Point

6 p.m.

May 19

*High Point

2 p.m.

May 22-26

Big South Conference Tournament (High Point, NC)

*Asterisk denotes Big South games

**Bold denotes games played in Surprise, Ariz.

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