Baseball Set to Begin 2012 Season This Weekend
Junior Ben Nelson
Feb. 16, 2012
Navy Opens 2012 Season at North Carolina A&T
The Navy baseball team will open its 2012 season this weekend when it travels to Greensboro, N.C., for a three-game set with North Carolina A&T. Friday's opener will begin at 3 p.m., while the games on Saturday and Sunday will start at 1 p.m. All three games will be played at the Aggies' War Memorial Stadium.
Mids Enter Season as Defending Champs
The Midshipmen captured their conference-best sixth Patriot League title in 2011, winning both the regular season and tournament crowns. Navy defeated both Bucknell (semifinals) and Army (championship), 2-1, in the best-of-three sets as it captured its first league title since 2002.
The Mids last won consecutive Patriot League titles in 1998 and `99.
Pitching Wins Championships
Navy returns a majority of its pitching staff that was tops in the Patriot League last season with a team ERA of 4.97. The staff established a school record with 423 strikeouts and held opponents to a league-low .279 batting average.
Below is a look at what Navy's pitching staff returns in 2012:
Starts: 36-of-59 (61%)
Wins: 18-of-33 (54.5%)
Saves: 12-of-14 (85.7%)
Innings: 322-of-501.1 (64.3%)
Strikeouts: 299-of-423 (70.7%)
Preseason Patriot League Poll
The Patriot League released the preseason baseball poll on Feb. 15 with both Navy and Bucknell tied at the top. Both teams were picked first with 39 points, while Navy received more first-place votes (five) than Bucknell (four). Army was picked just behind Navy and Bucknell with 38 points and received one first-place vote, while Holy Cross took the fourth spot with 29 points and two first-place votes. Lafayette and Lehigh, respectively, rounded out the preseason poll, which is voted on by the Patriot League's head coaches and sports information contacts.
All-Time Record in Season Openers
Navy has won five of its last seven season-opening games and is 66-48-2 all-time on Opening Day. The Mids are 9-22 in season openers on the road, but have won four of their last six.
Kostacopoulos Approaching Win No. 700
Paul Kostacopoulos enters the 2012 season just 14 wins shy of 700 with a career record of 686-470-6. In his 22nd season as a head coach and seventh at Navy, Kostacopoulos has more career wins than any other coach in the Patriot League. Entering 2012, he is 36th on the NCAA Division I Winningest Active Coaches list as ranked by victories.
Returning All-League Honorees
Navy returns three of its six All-Patriot League honorees from last season, including designated hitter Dave Milanes (first team), starting pitcher Johnny Schoberl (second team) and infielder Greg Dupell (second team).
Now both juniors, Milanes and Dupell were two of the conference's top hitters a season ago. Dupell was second in the league with 69 hits, ranked ninth with a .327 batting average and tied teammate Alex Azor for the most runs scored with 49.
Milanes ranked third in the Patriot League with 48 RBIs in 2011, which tied for the seventh-highest single season total in program history and was the most by a Midshipman since Thomas Hamilton's 49 in 2008.
After winning the Patriot League title, the Midshipmen received a notable amount of respect from various publications this preseason. Baseball America picked Navy to finish atop the conference again, while it selected Alex Azor as its player of the year and freshman Chris Cannon as one of its top newcomers.
CollegeBaseballInsider.com surveyed all six Patriot League head coaches in its season preview and Navy was chosen as "the team to beat." The coaches also selected Ben Nelson as one of the "top three starting pitchers," Alex Azor as both "the best defensive outfielder" and "toughest hitter to strike out," while Greg Dupell was included as one of the "three best pure hitters," and "biggest power threats." Paul Kostacopoulos was selected as "the best game coach."
Rinehart on Stopper of the Year Watch List
Junior reliever Joel Rinehart was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) Stopper of the Year watch list, which is awarded annually to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball.
Rinehart led Navy last season with a 1.81 ERA in 23 appearances, which ranked second in the Patriot League. With six saves last season, he notched the fourth-highest single-season total in program history and enters 2012 third on Navy's all-time saves list with nine.
The junior from Kingwood, Texas was critical to Navy's Patriot League championship run last season as in his final nine appearances of the season he allowed just one run, while he struck out 20 and walked just six batters.
The initial list will be updated with a mid-season release the week of April 16, including the national saves leaders. At the conclusion of the regular season, the Division I national saves leader and four other relief pitching standouts will be selected as finalists and released June 6, prior to start of NCAA Super Regional tournament competition.
Navy and the Tar Heel State
Navy has enjoyed success in North Carolina as of late, posting a record 5-1 in the Tar Heel State since 2010. The Mids will play six of their first seven games this season in the state of North Carolina. Navy boasts three players on its roster from the state of North Carolina, including Josh Moore (Mills River), Josh Elmore (Hope Mills) and Nikolai Simonsen (Edenton).
Azor One of the Nation's Toughest Outs
With just 13 strikeouts in 234 at-bats last season, Alex Azor ranked as the nation's 19th-thoughest hitter to strikeout, with an average of one K per 18.0 at-bats. Azor was the only Patriot League player to be ranked in the top 50 in the nation in the category. His 234 at-bats were the sixth-highest total of any player ranked in the top 20 on the list.
The Mids return a majority of their offense from last season that led the Patriot League with 530 hits. Navy returns 67.7% (359-of-530) of its hits, 67.1% of its RBIs (202-of-301) and 68.2% of its runs.
Sipe and Schoberl Look to Bounce Back
After both missed parts of 2011 due to injury, starting pitchers Zach Sipe and Johnny Schoberl have returned to the Navy staff. Both players had surgery following last season and used the summer and fall to rehab and begin throwing again. Sipe, a senior, was limited to a career-low 14.2 innings last season and will look to return as a starter this season. The native of Huffman, Texas, started a combined 22 games in his first two seasons.
Schoberl posted a 5-1 record before a hand injury forced him to miss the final five weeks of the season. The junior went 3-0 in conference play and was voted to the All-Patriot League second team.
Senior Service Selections
Navy's four seniors received their service assignments on Nov. 30. Both Alex Azor and Josh Moore will be commissioned as Marine Corps Officers (Marine Corps Ground), while Andrew Hahn (Surface Warfare) and Zach Sipe (Naval Flight Officer) will be commissioned as Navy Officers.
Graduation for the class of 2012 will take place this spring on May 29. Naval Academy graduates serve a minimum of five years in the Navy or Marine Corps, while pilots serve eight years upon earning their wings.
Navy will travel to Kinston, N.C., to meet rival Air Force in the Freedom Classic. The three-game series will begin Friday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m.