Baseball returns to A-Sun play this weekend against Gardner-Webb

March 30, 2006


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After taking two of three games against Harvard last weekend, the JU baseball team will return to Atlantic Sun Conference action as the Dolphins begin a three-game series against Gardner-Webb with a doubleheader on Friday at 2 p.m. at Alexander Brest Field. Friday's contest will be updated on ESPN 1460 until the game is joined in progress during game two of the doubleheader. Saturday's contest will air in its entirety at 1 p.m. with Cole Pepper calling all of the action and former major league pitcher Travis Baptist providing color analysis. The Dolphin Pre-Game Show will air 15 minutes before first pitch.

JU vs. Gardner-Webb: * Gardner-Webb leads the all-time series, 1-8 * The Bulldogs have a five-game winning streak and a 6-0 record at Varsity Field. * The Dolphins' last win was a 6-1 decision at Alexander Brest Field on April 23, 2004. * In the last series: The Dolphins were swept by the Bulldogs at Varsity Field on April 15-16, 2005.

In the latest action: Senior Gordie Gronkowksi went 3-for-4 to extend his career high hitting streak to 20 games but the Dolphins fell short in a late rally as JU fell to Harvard, 7-5, on March 26 at Alexander Brest Field. The Dolphins are now 8-1 against opponents from the northeast. JU had an early 2-0 lead in the second but Harvard scored three runs in the fourth and four runs in the seventh to deflate the Dolphins. Junior RHP D.J. Ackley (2-2) was tagged with the loss after allowing four runs on four hits with three strikeouts in four innings of relief. Senior LHP Aaron Parvey hurled two innings of perfect relief to end the game. Freshman Brian Hudgins finished 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI and sophomore Matt Lopez went 2-for-4 with two RBI to lead the Dolphin offense.

Dolphin notables: The Dolphins are averaging 7.5 runs per game and have scored at least 10 runs in nine games this season. JU is also outscoring its opponents 117-42 in the first four innings, including a 32-6 advantage in the second inning. JU currently has 218 runs, 19 home runs, 194 RBI and 432 total bases compared to 122 runs, 11 home runs, 106 RBI and 330 total bases for its opponents The Dolphins (21-8) are off to their best start since going 21-8 to start the 2001 season. JU is currently 8-1 against teams from the northeast with wins over Ohio State, UConn, Penn State, Wagner and Harvard. The Dolphins have earned season sweeps over South Florida (first time since 1997) and Georgia Southern (for the first time since 1999) to go along with the program's second straight season series win over Belmont.

Matt finds his niche: Sophomore Matt Dobbins, who was a position player last season, has emerged as the ace of the Dolphins' staff in 2006. Ever since a no-decision against Georgia Southern in his first start, Dobbin has won seven consecutive decisions, including a win over Harvard this past weekend. The win moved Dobbins into a tie for second nationally in wins, just one behind NCAA leader Steven Guerra of Oklahoma. Against the Crimson, Dobbins earned the win after allowing only two runs on six hits with a walk and six strikeouts in six innings of work. For the year, he leads the squad with a 7-0 record, a 2.01 ERA and 58.1 innings pitched.

Gordie keeps it going: Senior Gordie Gronkowski has served as one of the team captains for the Dolphins in 2006 and is leading by example by sitting in the midst of a career-high 20-game hitting streak heading into this weekend. During his streak, which dates back to Feb. 24 against Maryland, the first baseman is batting .378 (31-82) with six doubles, a home run, 15 RBI, 40 total bases, a .488 slugging percentage and a .447 on-base percentage. He currently leads the squad with a .383 batting average, 44 hits, 61 total bases, a .471 on-base percentage and 13 multi-hit games.

Hudgins steps up: Freshman outfielder/infielder Brian Hudgins took advantage of his opportunities to play against Harvard and now he is the hottest bat in the Dolphin lineup. In his first career start on March 15 against Wagner, Hudgins went 1-for-3 with a double and two RBI. After sitting for a week and a half, he got another opportunity on March 25 against Harvard and finished 1-for-2 with a double and two RBI. He was rewarded with his first back-to-back start the next day, and again, he seized the opportunity by going 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI. His is currently batting .462 (6-13) with four doubles and seven RBI.

Murph mania: Junior third baseman Daniel Murphy has picked up where he left off in 2005 and during summer league play, while also providing the Dolphins with a solid glove at the hot corner. Last season, Murphy had a .238 average heading into a three-game series against UCF on March 25 before finishing the year with a team-high .329 after going 72-for-219 to raise his average over 90 points. Over the summer, Murphy earned Valley Baseball League Most Valuable Player honors with the Luray Wranglers after leading the league with 57 hits, 44 runs scored and 16 doubles. In 2006, he is second on the squad with a .360 batting average, four home runs and 41 hits, while also tying for the team lead with 32 RBI.

Lots of faces in the rotation: The Dolphins have found themselves with their best start in five years and a lot has to do with the work of the pitching staff, despite a constant rotation of injuries. JU has used seven players to start on the hill, including freshman relievers Tim Brown and Garrett Dunlap. Senior LHP Donald Brickle missed the first part of the year, but has rejoined the starting rotation, as well as sophomore RHP Matt Davis. Junior RHP D.J. Ackley may move back to the bullpen, where he was originally penciled in as the program's closer, if the rotation holds firm for the remainder of the season. Senior LHP Kyle DeVries, an all-A-Sun selection last season, will also look to work his way back into the rotation for the stretch run.

Bullpen run by committee: Also adding to the success of the squad is the blue collar approach of the Dolphin bullpen. The unit has been manned by everyone on the squad, which includes seven starters on the mound and one position player (junior outfielder Justin Young). The pen has recorded seven saves by six individuals on the year, with senior RHP James Murdock leading the squad with two. Leading the bullpen, among pitchers that have not started, is senior LHP Aaron Parvey who has posted team highs in ERA (1.07), appearances (12), innings pitched (25.1) and opponent batting average (.204).

Thomas tuning up: Junior Thomas LePage started hot in the 2005 season due to the absence of Gordie Gronkowski at first base, but in 2006, he's not going anywhere after another hot start to begin the season. Playing at third base and as a designated hitter, LePage is third on the squad with a .354 batting average and seven doubles. He is also set a career-high 14-game hitting streak.

The perfect fit: Junior outfielder Mike McCallister has been a pleasant addition to the Dolphin lineup after transferring from Alabama. A steady defender in right field, McCallister has made the biggest impact at the plate where he is scorching balls across the field. In his breakout performance in a Dolphin uniform, he went 3-for-4 with a double, two home runs and three RBI against Bethune-Cookman on Feb. 12. He currently leads the squad with six home runs, 32 RBI and a .587 slugging percentage.

Mighty Justin Young: Junior outfielder Justin Young was named Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Week after leading the Dolphins to a three-game sweep over South Florida on Feb. 20. Young became the first Dolphin to receive A-Sun accolades this season and the first JU field player selected since Donald Brickle won the award on March 22, 2004. In game one of the series at Red McEwen Field, Young went 2-for-3 with a double and made several key plays in center field to give the Dolphins a 4-3 win. In game two, he led an offensive onslaught against preseason All-America honoree Casey Hudspeth by going 2-for-3 with a home run and four RBI en route to an 11-6 victory. In the finale, Young had an RBI single and hurled 1.1 innings of relief to lead the Dolphins to an 8-4 win. For the week, he batted .556 (5-9) with a double, a home run, five RBI and a 1.000 slugging percentage.

Alexander reaches 500: JU head coach Terry Alexander set the the Dolphin program record for career wins (433) with a 7-4 win over Bethune-Cookman on April 30, 2003 at Alexander Brest Field. He has continued his legendary status with the program by earning his 500th career win with a 10-4 victory over Western Michigan on March 2 at Alexander Brest Field.

New face on the staff: Tim Montez, an assistant head coach at Fresno State for the past three years, was named pitching coach/recruiting coordinator on July 11. In 14 seasons as an assistant coach at the Division I level, Montez has had 28 pitchers sign professional contracts and has coached, recruited or worked with 12 major league players. Prior to Fresno State, he served as a pitching coach with Arkansas, Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and Pepperdine. During that time, Montez has also been part of programs which have earned five NCAA Post-Season Regional berths (Pepperdine -1, UCSB - 1, Arkansas - 3), including a spot in the Super Regional (Arkansas, 2002).

Dolphins announce early signees: The Dolphins announced the signing of six student-athletes during the early signing period, including local products RHP Carson Andrew and shortstop Chuck Opachich (Jacksonville/Episcopal). The local duo will join RHP Glenn Witkowski (Pembroke Pines, Fla.), shortstop/RHP Matt Gardner (Livermore, Calif.), catcher Alex Swenson (Alexandria, Va.) and RHP Jason Hooper (Lake Mills, Wis.) in 2006. The signees marked the beginning of the first recruiting class under recruiting coordinator/pitching coach Tim Montez. Montez, who joined the Dolphins after a three-year stint with Fresno State, had nine nationally ranked recruiting classes in 12 years as a recruiting coordinator.

Dolphins ready to compete: JU will once again face a tough schedule as the Dolphins will play No. 16 Florida State. JU is also slated to play four other teams which played in last year's NCAA Regionals - Harvard, Ohio State, Florida Atlantic and Stetson. The Dolphins will also square off against perrenial powers USF, Connecticut, Maryland and Penn State. All totaled, the Dolphins will play seven teams from the state of Florida.

Atlantic Sun preseason rankings: The Dolphins are the tied for 5th in the Preseason Atlantic Sun Conference Coaches Poll and 6th in the Media Polls. Florida Atlantic was selected first in both polls while Stetson, North Florida, Gardner-Webb and East Tennessee State rounded out the top five.