Wake Forest Baseball Has Eye On Omaha In 2000
Jan. 26, 2000
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - If Wake Forest shocked the college baseball world in 1998, the Demon Deacons didn't sneak up on anybody in 1999.
The Deacons have stood atop the Atlantic Coast Conference the last two seasons, storming through the ACC Tournament like a team of destiny. In addition to the success within the conference, Wake Forest has made NCAA regional appearances the last two years, narrowly missing College World Series berths in each season.
And coming off those back-to-back league titles, the Deacs welcome back 16 lettermen from a year ago as they look to build on the school's recent success. The goals remain the same, compete for a conference championship, earn a spot in the NCAA Regionals and contend for a berth in the College World Series.
Wake Forest has already gained some national attention and is ranked 21st by Baseball America in its preseason poll.
"We're certainly excited about the upcoming season," says Greer, now in his 13th-year at the helm of the Deacon program. "We have one of the deepest pitching staffs ever at Wake Forest and a good mix of left and right-handed hitters."
Greer and his Demon Deacons will have to replace a pair of first-team All-Americans in first baseman Jon Palmieri and pitcher Mike MacDougal, as well as the school's all-time win leader in John Hendricks and four-year ironman catcher Andrew Riepe.
"We had the same team for basically two years and won two ACC Championships," Greer notes. "There are some now faces on the team this year, but our goals remain the same - win the ACC and advance to the College World Series. Although we may be missing some of the names from last season, other people will come forward and have their time this year."
"Dan is a guy who we expect to be able to play every day," says Greer. "He's a great receiver with soft hands and he has a great arm, too. We have the luxury of replacing one veteran catcher with another this season."
Backing up Conway is versatile redshirt-freshman Ryan Braun. A talented two-way player who is both a catcher and a pitcher, Braun redshirted during the 1999 season as he worked to recover from an elbow injury suffered in the summer of 1998.
A pair of freshmen in Hank Hornsby and Jon Klopacs add much needed depth behind the plate. Both will have the luxury to work behind a veteran in Conway during the rookie seasons in college baseball. Sophomore David Bush, who originally came to Wake Forest as a catcher, could catch in a pinch, but he has established himself as a valuable member of the Demon Deacon bullpen.
Voshell enjoyed a breakthrough season in 1999, batting .353 with nine home runs and 37 RBI after hitting just .140 as a freshman. An excellent all-around athlete, he stole 24 bases in 28 attempts and displayed the slick fielding prowess that helped him get drafted in the 4th round out of high school.
"Chase developed into an excellent shortstop for us last year," says Greer. "He was quite possible the top defensive shortstop in our league last season and he really matured at the plate, too. To win championships you need great players up the middle, and I think we have that in the infield with Chase and Jason Aquilante."
After platooning at second base as a rookie, Aquilante took over that position on a full-time basis last season and batted .286 with five home runs and 36 RBI in 57 games. He played the entire 1999 season with a number of nagging injuries, but is poised for a outstanding season in 2000 now that he is finally healthy. Also part of a fantastic defensive duo, Voshell and Aquilante were keys as Wake Forest turned a school-record 77 double plays last season.
Junior Corey Slavik has been a starter at third base in each of the last two seasons and he enters the 2000 season as the starting third sacker as well. A freshman All-American in 1998 when he batted .375, Slavik struggled to just .272 at the plate last season. However, he continued to make brilliant defensive plays all season and he hit well over .300 during the second half of the year.
Sophomore Jamie Athas will likely open the season as the starter at first base after joining Conway as a transfer to Wake Forest from Providence last summer. Athas earned freshman All-America honors at shortstop last year with the Friars, batting .325 in 64 games. He has the skill and ability to play all four infield positions and swings a potent left-handed bat.
Multi-talented junior Danny Borrell can also play first base, but he will also see plenty of action in 2000 as a designated hitter and on the mound. A second-team All-America selection last season, Borrell hit .365 with 20 home runs and 73 RBI in 56 games and provides a powerful bat in the middle of the lineup for the Deacons.
Adding depth on the infield are sophomore Todd Achilles and freshman Nick Blue. Both players can play any of the infield positions and they provide solid defense wherever they may play.
"Like Scott Daeley, Cory is the kind of player that we can pencil in at the top of the lineup in center field every day," says Greer. "He's a guy that is always on base and creates scoring opportunities for the rest of the players in the lineup."
Greer has a number of experienced players to turn to in both left in right field. The left field job will likely end up with junior Matt Price, seniors Stephen Sullivan and Ricky Mendez, or even Borrell. Price, Sullivan and Mendez have all seen action over the last two or three years, and each player brings a different asset to the lineup.
Price started in left field for much of the second half of the season, where he hit .368 in 37 games. An excellent athlete, Price runs well, covers a lot of territory in the outfield, and has a knack for getting on base.
Sullivan, who played in 36 games last season before suffering a broken arm, gives Greer the luxury of adding another left-handed bat to the lineup and also possesses good speed. Mendez, who appeared in 22 games in 1999, brings power to the lineup and can also play first base if needed.
In right field, junior Carlos Brackley and freshman Ryan Johnson give Greer the luxury of a righty/lefty platoon with two players that can hit for power. Brackley hit .271 in 29 games last season and runs very well for a player with his size, while Johnson is an excellent power prospect who should see time against right-handed pitching.
"Although we lost two key guys from last year's staff, I think we will have one of the deepest pitching corps in the conference," says Greer. "I'll take our top three starters against anybody in the ACC, and I think we have the chance to have an outstanding bullpen."
The weekend starting rotation that Greer refers two includes senior Eric Schmitt, and juniors Scott Siemon and Danny Borrell.
All Schmitt does is win. A potential early-round draft pick this spring, the powerful righty's career record stands at 17-2. He missed the second half of the 1999 season with an elbow injury, but no surgery was required and he should be ready to go for the start of the 2000 season.
"Eric is a horse on the mound, just give him the ball and let him go," says Greer. "He's got command of a number of different pitches and he has already proven that he can win big ballgames. He's been throwing since October 1st, and I expect him to be ready to go at the start of the season."
Siemon blossomed on the mound last season after playing primarily at third base as a freshman. He ranked second in the ACC in victories with a 12-2 record and led the Deacs with four saves. The workhorse of the staff a year ago, he posted a 4.79 ERA in 29 games and 92.1 innings. He proved he is ready to assume a full-time role in the starting rotation with his complete-game shutout of Florida State in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament.
"Scott proved that he can be a successful pitcher in our league last year," says Greer. "He began the season as our closer, be he certainly showed that he has the talent to be a first-rate starter, too."
A powerful lefty, Borrell has all the tools to be an outstanding pitcher in the ACC. After a very promising freshman season on the mound, he was limited in his pitching availability in 1999 with numerous nagging injuries. He was completely healthy during the fall, however, and should be back to top form in 2000 with his 90+ MPH fastball.
"Now that he's back to 100%, Danny is ready to assume a more prominent role on our pitching staff," says Greer. "I expect him to have an outstanding year on the mound for us."
Freshman Ben Clayton, a tall, powerful southpaw, could crack the weekend rotation or be used in midweek, non-conference starting assignments. He combines a quick fastball with a good curveball and has all the tools and potential to be a front line pitcher in the ACC.
Senior right-hander Matt Briggs will likely be the workhorse out of the bullpen in 2000 after posting a 6-0 record and a 4.14 ERA in 20 games last season. Briggs is a versatile hurler who can start, close or pitch in long relief and he possesses the endurance and stamina to pitch in a high number of games.
"Matt is a guy who is absolutely invaluable for our team," Greer says. "He can pitch in any role that we need, and he does it without hesitation. He's worked hard during his career at Wake Forest to become a very solid member of our pitching staff."
The closer's job will initially fall to sophomore David Bush and redshirt freshman Ryan Braun. Bush made a name for himself in the championship game of the ACC Tournament when he retired 19 of 20 batters faced, while Braun was a highly touted prospect out of California last year before missing the entire 1999 season with an elbow injury. Both powerful righties, each has the "stuff" to get batters out in the ACC.
Also in the mix out of the bullpen or in midweek starting assignments are sophomores Brad Comer, a powerful righty who transferred from UNC Asheville, and Ryan Lewis, a southpaw who joined the Demon Deacon program from Providence. Rounding out the pitching staff are senior righty Ricky Paugh, sophomore lefties Josh Bartlett and Adam Heaps, and freshman southpaw Ben Elbe.
As the Demon Deacons look to the 2000 season, they face perhaps their most challenging schedule in school history. In addition to the always challenging ACC schedule, included on the 2000 slate are matchups with defending national champion Miami, as well as NCAA regional participants Rice, East Carolina and Notre Dame. The Deacs will also face their local rivals, including UNC Charlotte, Virginia Tech, and UNC Greensboro, all regular members of the NCAA regional field.
"We've had two great seasons in the last two years," says Greer. "But now its time to build on what we have done and focus on what we want to accomplish this year."
And with this talented group of veterans and newcomers composing the 2000 squad, the future of Wake Forest baseball appears extremely bright.
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