Junior righthander Jim Duff leads the pitching staff in the early going. (PHOTO BY Bert Lane)
The Skyhawks return a number of pitchers from a year ago, led by starters Jim Duff and Zach Soulier and closer Armand Rugel. Stonehill is off to a 12-5 start, getting seven wins on a recent 10-game trip to Florida.
BY JIM FENTON
EASTON – Despite hitting just .253 in 17 games, the Stonehill College baseball team is off to a 12-5 start.
A veteran pitching staff, which has a combined earned run average of 1.70, is the main reason why the Skyhawks went 7-3 in Florida after going 3-2 at the Ripken Experience Northeast Challenge in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
"There is not a lot of hitting going on right now, but the pitching has been so good," said coach Patrick Boen, whose team opened the Northeast-10 Conference schedule with a sweep of American International College. "We've got our whole pitching staff back, and they've gotten off to a really good start."
JuniorJim Duff, who was 4-4 with a 2.63 earned run average in 11 starts a year ago, is 4-0 with a 0.32 earned run average in 28 innings.
"He is someone who can really compete against anyone," said Boen of Duff, who was selected to the All-Northeast-10 Conference third team in 2013.
Senior Zach Soulier, who was 5-3 with a 2.87 ERA in 11 starts in 2013, is also 4-0 with a 0.67 ERA and one complete game.
Junior Neal Horan, who had a 2.88 ERA in 10 starts last season, is 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA and a complete game. He was named the NE-10 pitcher of the week after allowing two hits and an unearned run in eight innings against Mercy.
"Neal is one of the best No. 3 guys in the league," said Boen of the BC High graduate.
Junior Armand Rugel anchors the Skyhawks bullpen. (PHOTO BY Jan Volk/SportsPix)
Sophomores John Hauck (2.08) and Mike Krupczak (2.57) are both 1-0 while closer Armand Rugel has four saves with 14 strikeouts and a 0.00 ERA in 11 innings. He had seven wins, six saves and a 2.54 ERA as a sophomore last season.
"To have veterans who have already had 20-plus starts under their belts is really good for us," said Boen, now in his 17th season. "It really comes down to every game we go out, we have a chance because of our pitching.
"The bats haven't come around yet, and we still have 10 wins. If we can put up two or three runs, you know the pitching staff can limit teams to one or two runs."
Stonehill was 23-22 last season, including 11-16 against NE-10 opponents. The Skyhawks are scheduled to play a doubleheader today at LIU Post.
Sophomore left fielder and leadoff hitter Brian Campbell is batting .329 with 10 RBI and eight extra-base hits.
Campbell made the all-conference third team and was on the all-rookie team last season after hitting .347.
Sophomore second baseman Chris Hoyt, who made the all-conference rookie team a year ago, is second with a .328 batting average and has stolen nine bases.
Other returning players include right fielder Billy Karalis, who has drawn 17 walks and driven in nine runs, first baseman Anthony Pagano, who is third with 15 hits, shortstop Dan Fratus, who has 13 hits with three doubles and third baseman Christian Baglini, who has 10 RBI.
The Skyhawks made progress during the trips to South Carolina and Florida, and would like to keep that momentum going with the NE-10 season looming.
"I'm very happy with our start," said Boen. "Three of our losses have been by one run, so we could have had a couple more wins. Overall, the guys are excited about the start and we want to build from here."
In the NE-10 coaches poll, Stonehill is picked to finish fourth in the Northeast Division behind Franklin Pierce, Southern New Hampshire and Merrimack.
Jim Fenton may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JFenton_ent.