TUESDAY, JANUARY 27, 2004
Maintaining the Momentum

Jan. 27, 2004

The Dolphins hope to build on 2003's strong finish by raising the bar in 2004. JU returns the core of its championship team, including Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year Gordie Gronkowski and junior hurlers Dennis Robinson and Josh Deel. Senior infielder Orlando Diaz and senior outfielder Larry Best-Berfet return after standout junior seasons, while junior Chris Kelly returns after a torrid finish in 2003.

The biggest void the Dolphins have to fill is that of departed All-American and A-Sun Player-of-the-Year, Chad Hauseman, who led the league in hitting (.401), home runs (16) and slugging percentage (.717) a year ago.

PITCHERS
Robinson emerged as the Dolphins' top starter toward the end of his sophomore season, winning six games and dominating the Atlantic Sun Tournament by going 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA, while holding opposing batters to .232 in two starts. His exclamation point came in the championship game against Stetson, where he threw a complete game, allowing just one run as the Dolphins captured the title. Robinson followed his collegiate season by spending the summer with the Thread City Tides of the New England Collegiate Baseball League where he posted a league-best 6-1 record with a 1.60 ERA and 33 strikeouts, while allowing just eight earned runs in 45.0 innings.

Junior righthander Deel will assume a starting role this season after working as a reliever in 2003, when he tied for the team lead with four saves. Deel appeared in 20 games as a sophomore, posting a 4.65 ERA with 49 strikeouts. He had a successful summer on the Cape in 2003, recording five saves with a 1.59 ERA and 47 strikeouts and earning a spot in the Cape Cod Baseball League All-Star Game where he struck out two batters in 1.0 innings.

Sophomore Donald Brickle and junior Brett Nagy will shore up the starting rotation. Brickle went 3-4 last year with a 4.41 ERA, but tossed three complete games and held opponents to a team-best .258 batting average en route to Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team honors. Nagy compiled a 4-2 record in 16 appearances, while recording 23 strikeouts. Nagy will also see time as a closer.

The departure of closer Bobby Bowman, drafted in the 19th round by the Texas Rangers, and Deel's move to the starting rotation, gives junior James Murdock a chance to be the primary closer. Murdock made 21 relief appearances in 2003, recording four saves and with a 2.86 ERA. Junior D.J. Kaercher, senior Patrick Sitkins, sophomore Kyle DeVries and sophomore Aaron Parvey will have an opportunity to contribute on the mound, while junior Chris Kelly will also get the opportunity to close games in just his first season of pitching.

INFIELD
Gronkowski will anchor the Dolphin defense at first base after a breakout freshman season in which he hit .366 with 40 RBI. Gronkowski is a 2004 preseason all-conference selection after earning Louisville Slugger All-America honors last season. Junior transfer Sean McHugh brings a big bat to second base after hitting .392 with 13 doubles and 25 RBI for Florida Community College-Jacksonville last season.

Junior Tom Alford will be the everyday shortstop after platooning in the infield in 2003. Diaz is JU's other Atlantic Sun Preseason All-Conference selection and will man third base. Diaz contributed to the Dolphins' offense last season by hitting .289 with 11 doubles, eight home runs and 30 RBI. On defense, Diaz has the ability to gun down runners from any spot on the infield.

A pair of junior catchers, Alex Jamieson and Jon Galui will handle the pitching staff in 2004. Jamieson hit .324 with seven doubles and 12 RBI in 2003 before missing the final 29 games of the season with a broken hand. Galui hit three home runs and 19 RBI while assuming the everday role in Jamieson's absence, and played an integral part in JU's late season surge by hitting .281 over the last 10 games.

OUTFIELD
Four outfielders will look to compensate for the loss of Hauseman's steady bat in 2003. Best-Berfet will patrol centerfield after starting 11 games in the center last season. He is a true leadoff hitter who led the A-Sun with 27 steals in 2003, while batting .283 with 11 doubles and 26 RBI. Kelly returns in right field after starting 32 games a year ago when he hit .278 with 26 RBI, while also recording seven outfield assists. Kelly started the 2003 season in a terrible slump, but rebounded to hit safely in 14 of the last 15 games.

Seniors Clint Hart and Rob Hudson will also see time in the outfield, while utilizing their offensive skills at designated hitter. Hart hit .286 with 27 RBI in 2003 and earned A-Sun All-Tournament honors after batting .429 with seven RBI and four steals in the conference tournament. Hudson batted .280 with 13 doubles and 31 RBI, hitting safely in 14 of the first 16 games of the season.

SCHEDULE
After facing six teams in 2003 that advanced to the NCAA Regionals, Alexander has once again put together another challenging schedule to test this year's more experienced Dolphin club. JU will play nine games against teams ranked in the preseason top 25 polls, including a three-game set with preseason No. 1 Miami, four games against perennial powerhouse Florida State and a three-game conference series against Florida Atlantic. The Dolphins will also play a number of tough non-conference opponents including Conference USA powerhouse South Florida and perennial BIG EAST contender Connecticut.

The Atlantic Sun continues to be one of the premier baseball conferences in the nation, sending three teams to the NCAA Regionals in 2003 for the fourth-straight season. This season's conference schedule looks as tough as ever with a road series against preseason favorite and Collegiate Baseball Preseason No. 19 Florida Atlantic as well as series against No. 40 Stetson and UCF. JU will open the conference schedule by hosting Belmont, which sports three preseason all-conference players.

Stetson will host the 2004 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship for the third-straight year at Melching Field at Conrad Park in DeLand Fla., May 26-29. The winner of the tournament receives the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals.