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Baseball takes pitching and defense to season opener at Berry (Ga.)

MOUNT BERRY, Ga. -- Ready or not, and hopefully the former, the Bates College baseball team dives into the 2012 season today at Berry College, where the Bobcats split four games with the Vikings in March 2011.

Bates graduated a lot of at-bats and a lot of offense with the Class of 2011, including mainstays like Chris Burke, Noah Burke, Noah Lynd, Pat Murphy, Jake Simon and Gordy Webb. That group helped lead Bates to a 21-15 season in 2011, Mike Leonard's first as Bates' head coach.

Leonard believes pitching and defense will be the Bobcats' strength this season.

The pitching staff returns all but two members from the crew who collectively had a 4.04 earned-run average, including front-line starting pitchers in senior Karl Alexander (Cambridge, Mass.), who went 5-3 with a 2.50 ERA in 54.0 innings last year, and junior righthander Michael Spinosa (Charlottesville, Va.), who went 3-2 with two saves and a 2.48 ERA in 12 appearances, including four starts. Junior righthander Mike Antonellis (Sudbury, Mass.; 3-1, 3.26 ERA, 2 saves), sophomore lefty Tom Baroni (Mount Kisco, N.Y.), sophmore righty Dean Bonneau (Amherst, Mass.) and junior lefty Kevin McGregor (Randolph, N.J.), were already leaned on for important innings last year and, Leonard said, "will all be looked upon to improve on the success they had last year."

When he isn't pitching, McGregor will likely assume regular duties at first base, anchoring what Leonard hopes will be the best defensive infield in the NESCAC. Sophomore 2B Griff Tewksbury (Concord, N.H.) becomes the full-time starter at second base, after a rookie season that saw his offensive numbers surge in the second half. Two of the Bobcats' top hitters last season -- senior captain 3B Mike Ciummei (Acton, Mass.; .343 BA, 25 RBIs) and junior First Team All-NESCAC shortstop Ryan Sonberg (Windsor, Conn.; .364 BA, .500 SLG) return their steady gloves to the left side of the infield.

Stepping into the starting catcher role will likely be Lewiston High School standout Mekae Hyde, and the outfield may also be populated with newcomers to the team.

The roster is replenished with 10 new players -- nine freshmen along with sophomore outfielder Ryan Curit (South Portland, Maine), who had a standout season at running back on the football team last fall. All 10 of them, says Leonard, "will all contribute this year in some way." Hyde, 1B/OF Rockwell Jackson (Fort Worth, Texas), OF Nate Pajka (Douglas, Mass.), OF/RHP Sam Maliska (Palo Alto, Calif.) and LHP Aidan Sullivan (Yarmouth, Maine) will all have opportunities for significant roles, Leonard added.

Bates plays a doubleheader at Berry College today at 2pm, then plays one more against Vikings tomorrow at 2pm. The Bobcats remain at Berry to face North Park (Ill.) in a Friday doubleheader starting at 2pm, then wrap up their trip to Georgia with a doubleheader at Oglethorpe University on Saturday at noon.