Deacons Baseball Looks Forward To Another Outstanding Season
Jan. 25, 2001
Taking the Next Step
Following three straight 40-plus win seasons and two Atlantic Coast Conference championships in the last three years, Wake Forest has proven itself as one of the elite programs in the ACC. Now, in 2001, the Demon Deacons are ready to take the next step, to travel to Omaha for their first College World Series appearance since winning the national championship in 1955.
Head coach George Greer, in his 14th season at Wake Forest, brings back six starters from last year's 41-20-1 lineup in addition to two starting pitchers and a stable of experienced relievers. Several of the team's 11 newcomers will have an immediate impact for the Old Gold & Black.
Greer, the winningest coach in WFU history in any sport, and the coaching staff hope the right mix of these ingredients will lead to a place in Omaha in June.
"The goal is always to win the ACC, regionals and go to Omaha. That's where anything can happen," Greer said. "That's where we want to be."
Heading the list of returnees on the mound is senior Scott Siemon, a first-team All-ACC pick last season after posting an 11-2 record with a 2.68 ERA. The right-hander led the ACC with two complete game shutouts in 2000. He enters the season fifth on the all-time wins list at Wake. After an impressive rookie season in which he was chosen to the freshman All-America team, lefty Ben Clayton enters the spring as the No. 2 starter. Clayton was the Louisville Slugger National Pitcher of the Week after throwing a no-hitter against UNC Greensboro on March 22.
Sophomore Ryan Braun is the third starter and proved to be fully recovered after undergoing Tommy John surgery in October of 1998 with 21 appearances and a 3.76 ERA last year.
Freshman Kyle Sleeth and sophomore Brad Comer will fill the rotation, likely to begin the season as weekday starters while seeing spot duty on the weekends. Senior Cory Sullivan, the team's leading hitter last season and a preseason All-American as a centerfielder, will also be used in some capacity on the hill.
Greer and newly promoted associate head coach/pitching coach Bobby Moranda will have a number of options out of the bullpen. Newcomers Adam Hanson, Danny Mackey, Eric Maycroft and Gregory Russell are all talented right-handers with the ability to get batters out. The Deacons also have a number of southpaws including Ryan Lewis, Ben Elbe and Josh Bartlett, Adam Heaps.
Once again, Dave Bush will be the team's closer. Described as having "overpowering stuff" by Greer, Bush is one of the best stoppers in the ACC. He had seven saves as a sophomore and was named a Cape Cod League All-Star over the summer. The junior from Devon, Pa., will be a contender for postseason honors.
The everyday catching job is up for grabs with the departure of second team All-ACC performer Dan Conway.
A trio of newcomers, Stephen Ghutzman, Josh Hansen and Ryder Mathias, has the talent and ability to fill the position but Jason Aquilante, a three-year starter at second baseman, may be asked to move behind the plate.
Aquilante hit .295 as a junior with two home runs and 32 RBI. Hank Hornsby and Jon Klopacs will give the Deacons valuable depth at the position.
Third baseman Corey Slavik and shortstop Jamie Athas anchor the left side of the infield. Slavik, a former freshman All-American, gives the Deacs an experienced, reliable player with good power. He hit .311 last season with eight home runs and 56 runs batted in.
Jamie Athas is slated to be the everyday shortstop. Athas served in a utility role last year and stepped into a starting position when Slavik and All-ACC shortstop Chase Voshell went down with injuries. Athas performed well in every situation, hitting .312 in 56 games with an on-base percentage of .420.
If Aquilante moves to catcher, the heir apparent at second base would appear to be sophomore Nick Blue. Blue played in 22 games last season, most often as a late-inning defensive replacement. He did not see much action at the plate - just 22 at bats - but he made the most of his opportunities, hitting .364. Blue has outstanding range and good speed. The coaches like his versatility.
Freshman Jamie D'Antona is the front-runner at first base. D'Antona, who can also play third, was a two-time all-state selection at Trumbull High School (CT) and was a USA Today honorable mention Player of the Year.
This is an experienced group of players with the possibility of seniors holding down the three positions on opening day. However, sophomore Ryan Johnson will also figure into the mix on a regular basis.
Wake Forest's man in the middle is senior Cory Sullivan. The preseason All-American led Wake Forest in nearly every offensive category in his first season after joining the Deacons from Cypress JC in California. Sullivan was a second-team All-ACC pick in 2000 while hitting .374 with nine home runs, 50 RBI and 23 steals. His 102 hits were the third highest single-season total in Wake history.
The left field job will likely belong to senior Matt Price. He appeared in 53 games with 38 starting assignments in 2000. Price hit seven home runs and finished the season strong while batting .400 on a six-game hitting streak. Price was a perfect nine-for-nine in stolen base attempts last season.
Johnson and senior Carlos Brackley will share time in right field. Johnson showed a lot of promise as a freshman hitting .304 and once enjoyed a stretch of nine hits in 13 at bats. He started 22 games and appeared in a total of 34.
Brackley brings a powerful bat and a wealth of experience to the lineup. He had a breakout season as a junior, finishing the season with 10 home runs, the most of any returning Demon Deacon.
No single player figures to fill this role on an everyday basis as several players will have the opportunity to contribute. When he is not scheduled on the mound, Ryan Braun may be called upon as the DH.
The Deacons already face some of the nation's best competition in the Atlantic Coast Conference, widely considered to be the country's best league. This season, Wake Forest opens the schedule against the best of the rest.
The defending champions from the Colonial Athletic Association, James Madison, the reigning Sun Belt Champions, New Orleans and the 2000 Big Ten champs, Penn State, visit Hooks Stadium in the first weekend of the season.
The Deacs will also get a look at perennial regional powers East Carolina, Liberty, Old Dominion, UNC Greensboro, Virginia Commonwealth and Virginia Tech throughout the course of the season.
One of the highlights of the season will be a trip to the Lone Star State for the Rice Tournament in Houston where the Demon Deacons will face Central Florida, Purdue and host, Rice.
Finally, the Demon Deacons begin a two-year agreement with the University of New Orleans. The 2000 Sun Belt Conference champs will come calling in Winston-Salem the first weekend of March. Wake Forest will return to the Big Easy to face the Privateers in early March 2002.
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