It’s the dawn of a new era for La Salle University’s baseball team. With a brand new coaching staff and with the addition of 10 freshmen to their roster, the Explorers are looking to improve on their 10-41 record from last season.
First-year head coach David Miller, a former All-American at Clemson University and a former Major League Baseball First-Round Draft Pick, arrives at La Salle after leading William Penn Charter School to 84 victories over the course of four seasons and a 2014 Inter-Ac league championship win. He also spent two seasons as an assistant coach with Villanova.
Among those who benefited under Miller’s coaching was future Major Leaguer Matt Szczur, who posted an impressive .443 average to win the Big East batting title in 2010. Szczur was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB Draft and would go on to play in 106 games for the World Series champion Chicago Cubs in 2016.
As for Miller’s playing days, he spent seven years in the minor leagues after being drafted by Cleveland. He was a non-roster invitee by the Phillies to spring training in 1999.
“The main thing I wanted to do with this team was to get them to believe in themselves,” said Miller.
The Explorers last winning season was 2011 when the team finished 28-26. It’s the lone winning season the school has had since 2000.
“There have been a couple down years with La Salle baseball… there’s a lot of talent here and it just comes down to getting them to buy into my game philosophy and getting them to believe in it.”
Andrew Amaro, a two-time MLB Draft Pick and former assistant coach at the University of Delaware, and Jimmy Gulden, former assistant coach at Arcadia University, join Miller on the coaching staff. In 2017, Gulden helped guide the Knights to the team’s first MAC Commonwealth Championship and mentored Arcadia’s pitching squad to a program record of strikeouts in a season (330).
The Explorers’ top three hitters of the 2017 season, senior Austin Constantini, and juniors Ben Faso and Kevin McGowan, will return to the plate this season.
Constantini batted a team-high .304 in 171 at bats. Faso established himself as one of the better bats in the conference last season and as a sophomore made his mark as the team’s top home run hitter (6), including a grand slam against Lehigh while ranking first in RBI’s (26). McGowan also had a breakout sophomore season, leading the team in runs (26) and the second-best on-base percentage (.344). He reached base in 15 straight games, a streak which will be carried into this season.
On the mound for the Explorers, Constantini returns after tossing 16 2/3 innings in relief in 2017. He fanned 14 and led the club with five saves. Big 5 Rookie of the Year and two-time Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team, Matt Holt will return for his sophomore season and will look to pick up where he left off. Over the span of 14 appearances (10 starts) last season he pitched to a 3.97 ERA and recorded just under a strikeout an inning.
Seven members of the freshman class come aboard as pitchers, including Lehigh Valley Live Player of the Year, Michael Jenkins, MVP and Pitcher of the Year in the Catholic League, James Kelly and four-year varsity player, Colin Kennedy.
The team spent the offseason working on Miller’s new game philosophy and hyping themselves up for the new season.
“We took a lot of time this fall basically breaking down their mental attitude and building it back up. Mistakes are going to happen but it’s how you handle yourself mentally,” Miller said. “To be a good player you have to enjoy the game but you have to work for it. The kids and coaches are extremely excited for this season.”
The Explorers began their season on the road over the weekend against Presbyterian. In the final game of the series, La Salle scored nine runs in the ninth inning to break the tie and win the game 16-7. The victory gave the Blue and Gold a split in the opening series and a 2-2 record to start the young season.
Emilee Desmond, Editor