DURHAM, N.C. Ė The Duke baseball team will open the 2008 season this weekend with a four-game homestand against Iona, beginning with a 3 p.m. contest on Friday, Feb. 22 at Jack Coombs Field
Duke will then take on the Gaels in a Saturday double header beginning at noon, before completing the series with another noon meeting on Sunday.
Duke is coming off of a near-30 win season in 2007 after the Blue Devils put together a 29-25 overall record that included upsets over the No. 1 and No.2 ranked teams in the nation. Led by a talented pitching staff and a crop of young talent, the Blue Devils batted .302 on the season and finished with a 4.50 team ERA for the best averages since 1998 and 1996, respectively. With just four players departing from last season’s squad, Duke returns 19 letterwinners, six of nine starting position players and eight pitchers who made 10 or more pitching appearances in 2007.
Among Duke’s top returners are first baseman Nate Freiman, catcher Matt Williams, infielders Ryan McCurdy and Gabriel Saade, outfielder and pitcher Alex Hassan and pitchers Michael Seander, Michael Ness, Andrew Wolcott and Will Currier. Freiman, a 6-8, 240 pound junior, led the team with a .369 batting average and 80 hits last season while tying for the team lead with seven home runs and 48 RBI. Expected to once again hit in the third spot or cleanup, Freiman not only has the potential to be one of Duke’s top run producers, but one of the ACC’s best all-around talents as well. Freiman was recently named among the 224 candidates in the Preseason Brooks Wallace Award Watch List, which is an annual honor presented at the season’s end to college baseball’s top player.
Williams returns for his junior season after putting together a .308 batting average in 2007 while starting 48 of Duke’s 54 games behind the plate. One of the best defensive catchers in the ACC, Williams owns a career .977 fielding percentage through 104 career games and will look to improve off of a tremendous sophomore campaign in which he improved dramatically in nearly every offensive category.
Both McCurdy and Saade had tremendous freshman campaigns in 2007, as each solidified spots as Duke’s starting middle infield combination early in the season. Both batted .260 or better, with Saade displaying his power at the plate with five home runs and a .456 slugging percentage. McCurdy scored 24 runs and drove in 21 in 39 games while also providing one of the most reliable gloves on the field. In 2008, Saade will assume second base duties, while McCurdy will slide over to the hot corner at third.
Anchoring Duke’s outfield will be Hassan, who batted .262 with 37 RBI, 39 runs scored and seven stolen bases as a freshman. Hassan will also be a key member of Duke’s pitching staff and could see duty as a weekend or mid-week starter after logging 11 starts and over 50 innings in the same role last season.
Seander is expected to anchor the back end of Duke’s bullpen to start the season and has once again earned a spot on the NCBWA Stopper Of The Year Watch List. As Duke’s closer last season, Seander led the team with a 1.61 ERA, nine saves and 28 appearances while striking out 46 hitters through 50.1 innings of work.
As one of the most seasoned members of the Blue Devil pitching staff, Wolcott has provided Duke with a reliable arm in each of first two seasons after topping 60 innings as a freshman and sophomore. Entering his junior season, Wolcott will look to build off of a successful sophomore campaign in which he went 4-3 through 17 appearances and 10 starts, including a career-high nine-strikeout performance in a 4-2 win over Maryland.
Currier and Ness, both sophomores, combined for eight wins last season, including a 4 0 record posted by Currier. Both emerged as two of Duke’s top options out of the bullpen last season, as Ness logged 23 appearances while Currier contributed 17 outings. Currier’s 3.51 ERA was the fifth-lowest on the team, while his .196 opponent batting average was the lowest mark by any Blue Devil. Ness finished the season with a 4.97 ERA and displayed above average command of his pitches, averaging just 2.33 walks per nine innings compared to 6.36 strikeouts per nine.
Iona returns 22 letterwinners and five position starters from last season’s squad that went 16-35 overall and 8-18 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC). The Gaels are coached by Pat Carey (Providence ’98), who owns a 38-77 record during his tenure at Iona. This weekend will mark the first meeting between the two schools.
Iona returns four of its top five hitters from 2007, including senior infielder Allie Abbatiello, who led the squad with a .297 batting average last season. Abbatiello also claimed the team lead with 29 RBI and 24 runs scored, while racking up 10 stolen bases for the second most on the team. Infielder Joe Lorenzo should also be one of the main contributors after knocking in 17 runs and scoring 20 as a sophomore in 2007. Senior outfielder Paul Salerno returns as Iona’s main threat on the base paths after swiping 17 bases in 20 attempts last season.
Iona’s pitching staff will be anchored by senior right hander Bobby DiNuzzo, who finished with a 3.92 ERA and a 2-5 record last season. Senior righty Nick Stanziani will also be one of Iona’s top arms after putting together a 4.87 ERA along with 22 strikeouts during his junior campaign.
Following the Iona series, Duke will host Alabama A&M for a two-game mid-week series, beginning on Tuesday, Feb. 26, at 3 p.m. at Jack Coombs Field. The teams will complete the series on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at 3 p.m. before Duke welcomes Columbia for a pair of weekend double headers, beginning on Saturday, March 1 at noon.