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Baseball opens promising season this week in Georgia

LEWISTON, Maine -- After 137 seasons of fewer than 20 wins (most of which comprised far fewer games than in the current era), the Bates baseball team has surpassed the 20-win plateau three straight years. The Bobcats expect to see that trend continue in the 2013 season, which begins this week with a seven-game swing into Georgia.

Bates plays Berry College in Rome, Ga., for one game on Feb. 19, followed by a doubleheader on Wednesday at Berry. Bates has single games at Emory University in Atlanta on Friday and Sunday, and on Saturday the Bobcats play a doubleheader at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta.

Mike Leonard returns for his third year as Bates' head coach, with a 44-32 record thus far, and he will be assisted by pitching coach Louie Bernardini, Jeff Benson, Don Plourde, Rob Tole, Karl Olson and Bob Flynn. The team has five captains for 2013, in pitchers Mike Antonellis (Sudbury, Mass.) and Mike Spinosa (Charlottesville, Va.) and infielders Kevin McGregor (Randolph, N.J.), Ryan Sonberg (Windsor, Conn.) and Griff Tewksbury (Concord, N.H.). The five are replacing last year's one captain, Mike Ciummei '12, the only everyday player on the 2012 roster who graduated. The pitching staff, meanwhile, will miss one of its top starters in Karl Alexander '12.

Some non-seniors from the 2012 roster are not returning, either, but all in all there isn't much attrition from a 31-man roster, and Bates is bringing in 13 newcomers to the roster as well.

Regulars

In Tewksbury and Sonberg, Bates boasts two All-NESCAC middle infielders. Both have been First Team selections -- Sonberg at shortstop in 2011, while Tewksbury was the top second baseman in the conference in 2012. As a sophomore he led the team with a .375 batting average, a .482 on-base percentage, a .551 slugging percentage, 13 doubles and 14 stolen bases while fielding his position with excellence. Tewksbury also drove in 27 runs and clubbed three home runs. Sonberg struggled through an injury-plagued season for much of 2012 before coming on strong near the end, finishing with a .284 average and 12 RBIs in 25 games.

A pair of rookies gave Bates' lineup a jolt in 2012 and will hope for even better things to come. OF Nate Pajka (Douglas, Mass.) led Bates in home runs (7) and RBIs (28) in his first season, ranking second in the NESCAC in round-trippers, while C/OF Mekae Hyde (Lewiston, Maine) was third on the team with a .319 average and two home runs, and he stole nine bases as well. OF/1B Rockwell Jackson (Fort Worth, Texas) also returns for his sophomore season, looking to move into a regular starting position.

Returning juniors INF/OF Kevin Davis (Andover, Mass.), OF Steve Burke (Bedford, N.H.) and C Jeff Gunn (Lilburn, Ga.) all stepped forward with their best seasons in 2012 and figure to play major roles. Davis hit .321 and scored 28 runs; Burke drove in 16 runs and provided outstanding defense in center field, and Gunn, after moving to catcher, drove in 19 runs while tying Burke for the second most walks on the team, with 20.

Pitchers

Senior captains Antonellis and Spinosa head the Bobcat pitching staff, with a strong junior class giving Leonard plenty of options while the younger arms continue to mature.

Spinosa posted a 4-2 season after going 3-2 in 2011, though his ERA rose from a stingy 2.48 to 5.28. The righthander will certainly take the ball with regularity in 2013, and he'll likely be a deciding factor in Bates' fortunes. The versatile Antonellis has seven starts in 21 appearances over the past two years, while going 6-4 with three saves.

Junior LHP Tom Baroni (Mt. Kisco, N.Y.) went 3-4 in 2012 but was arguably Bates' most effective pitcher, posting a 2.75 earned run average and walking only four batters in 52.1 innings. Bates will seek more consistency from junior RHP Dean Bonneau (Amherst, Mass.), who is 6-2 with a 6.14 ERA in 48.1 innings over the past two years. Bonneau rang up 31 strikeouts in 33.1 innings in 2012.

Junior LHP Brad Reynolds (Lafayette, Colo.) emerged as Bates' top reliever in 2012, collecting four saves, 22 strikeouts and a 3.91 ERA in 23.0 innings, while allowing a team-low .228 batting average to opponents. Junior LHP Chris Fusco (Annapolis, Md.) went 2-0 with a 5.49 ERA after missing all of his rookie season with an injury.

McGregor has been an effective spot pitcher, with a 3-1 record in 36.1 innings over the past two years, and sophomore RHP Sam Maliska (Palo Alto, Calif.; 2.45 ERA in four appearances) will become a full-time pitcher.

Outlook

Seven Bates players won summer league championships around the country after the 2012 college season: Baroni, Bonneau, Hyde, Jackson, sophomore INF Alex Parker (Lewiston, Maine), Sonberg and Tewksbury. Clearly, the hope is that winning will show some carry-over effects into the 2013 campaign.

The Bobcats' ultimate goal continues to be reaching the NESCAC Baseball Championship, which is never an easy task: a team needs to be one of the top two teams in the NESCAC East Division, and those two spots have been occupied by Trinity, Tufts and/or Bowdoin each year. Bates has a three-game series at Tufts March 29-30, a three-game series against Bowdoin April 5-6, and a three-game home series against Trinity April 19-20. They'll wrap up divisional play with a three-game series against Colby April 26-27.

Bates' first scheduled home game will be a doubleheader against Husson scheduled for March 24.