College Sports

Dog days

At the end of a 33-27 season on May 25, Winthrop coach Joe Hudak wasn't overjoyed, but was optimistic about 2008. The Eagles stood to return seven position starters and most of their starting pitching staff, and the potential to return to the NCAA tournament was good.

The potential is still good scarcely more than two months later. But if the Eagles do make it to the final 64 next year, it will be a with a lot of new faces.

Hudak recalled an interesting summer Thursday while reclining in his office. It quickly became apparent this wasn't an average offseason.

"I'm probably looking forward to coaching this season as much as any I have in the past," he said. "We'll take the guys that are here and we'll work hard and we'll have a good year."

The good news -- Winthrop came through the annual coaching domino effect with no losses, returning its staff. And the projected starting lineup Hudak looked forward to at the end of last season should be on campus within the next month.

The bad news -- the Eagles' top two pitchers and starting designated hitter won't be around. Two projected starters in the field are nursing injuries and may miss portions of fall practice.

"It's been kind of an interesting summer," Hudak said.

Ace pitcher Alex Wilson felt some discomfort when throwing in the Cape Cod League this summer and it was revealed he had a ligament tear. The Eagles' top pitcher each of the past two years, Wilson had Tommy John surgery and won't pitch next season.

Compounding the problem is Wilson will be draft-eligible after this year, and even with the surgery, he may be a hot commodity. Wilson could be drafted in the low rounds and elect to return to Winthrop, but may have also pitched his last college game.

Jason Franzblau, the team's No. 2 pitcher who won eight games last season, won't return.

"Last week I dismissed Jason Franzblau from the team," Hudak said. "Jason's a good kid, he didn't break any laws ... (but) his actions were not what I want in a Winthrop baseball player. (His) actions and attitude, I guess, were not what I want in my players."

Wilson and Franzblau combined for 14 wins and were among the Big South Conference leaders in ERA and strikeouts.

The Eagles are down to five-game winner Josh McDonald, senior Ryan Schwartz and a collection of guys who spot-started last season or the four pitchers Hudak signed in his 11-man recruiting class.

"When you lose your one and two, guys that are proven starters, obviously it's cause for everyone in the staff to step up," Hudak said. "About every role on the club right now, on the pitching staff, is wide open."

Designated hitter Phil Carey decided to transfer, taking advantage of college baseball's last year of transfer eligibility.

The old rules stated any player could transfer to another school and play the next season, instead of having to sit out a year. The new rules, which go into effect in January, place baseball on the one-year penalty list, which caused Carey and pitcher Chris Pepe to try their luck elsewhere.

Pepe, a big right-hander who sat out last year with arm trouble, decided to stay closer to his Pennsylvania home and did so with Hudak's blessing.

Carey, a Canadian native whose father lives in Texas, was another story. Hudak was stung by Carey's defection, saying the player felt it would help his draft status by going elsewhere. The Eagles' third-leading hitter, Carey batted .325 with four homers and 37 RBIs last season.

"One of the problems that you have in society today in general is a lack of loyalty," Hudak said. "I certainly would have every legal and moral right to not release him ... but his dad lives in Texas so I actually just (Wednesday) released him to five or six schools in Texas."

Third baseman Bryn Henderson and left fielder Billy Froehlich suffered injuries in summer ball, although both are expected to be fine by the time the season rolls around. Henderson popped a ligament in his wrist and had to have surgery, putting him on the bench for the fall session, and Froehlich has shoulder tendinitis that won't affect his swing but could keep him out of the field in the fall.

Naturally, there was a period where some Winthrop fans or personnel could have panicked and questioned how good the team was going to be. Hudak said the thought may have crossed his mind but was quickly squashed.

"I'm not sitting here wringing my hands, saying, 'Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?,'" Hudak said. "I want kids who are here that want to be here and we're going to work very hard coaching those guys."

The recruits and the returnees begin class Aug. 21 with a team meeting set for the night before. Weightlifting and conditioning begins then and team drills are from late September to early November.

Yes, it's going to be tough to replace the losses, but Hudak's in charge of rising above it.

"We've had good clubs with lesser talent in the past," he said. "We'll be fine."

n NOTE: Hudak said renovations at The Winthrop Ballpark could be done within two weeks, leaving just the cleanup and move-in processes. The park should be ready for the 2008 season.