WINTER PARK, Fla. (June 1, 2011) - Looking at holes left after the historic 2010 season, including those left by the departure of two pitchers in professional baseball, Rollins knew the 2011 season would be an uphill battle. In his sixth season at the helm of the program, Head Coach Jon Sjogren led the Rollins Tars to a 27-26 overall record and a 6-18 Sunshine State Conference mark, eighth in the SSC.
Rollins faced some misfortunes along the way, beginning in November with the loss of longtime and beloved groundskeeper Alton Winston "Winnie" Short. A commemorative ceremony was held for Winnie during the 63rd Annual Rollins College Baseball Week tournament, where the Tars finished as the runner-ups with a 10-4 loss to Maine in the championship game. Rollins named four to the All-Tournament Team, including John Avanzino, Matt White, Nick Adams, and Kevin Mager.
Predicted to finish fifth, Rollins fell below the mark finishing one game ahead of ninth-place Eckerd. The Tars collected victories from Florida Tech, Lynn, Eckerd, Saint Leo, and two from the then eighth-ranked Barry Bucs. Prior to the start of the season, Rollins was the 29th-ranked team in the nation, following a successful campaign the year before. Rollins remained in the national spotlight for four weeks, but fell off the rankings prior to the start of Baseball Week.
After a rough start to the season against nationally-ranked West Florida, Rollins was on track with a nine-game win streak before having it snapped against Florida Tech to begin SSC action. The Tars began the streak on the sunny beaches of Puerto Rico facing Puerto Rico-Bayamon and Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras in back-to-back doubleheaders. Rollins then returned to the states to sweep Bentley in a four-game set, followed by an 8-6 road victory over Florida Tech in the series opener.
The 27-26 Tars struggled through the first four conference series, dropping all three contests to Nova Southeastern and Tampa, while falling to Lynn and and Eckerd twice.
As the team neared the end of the season, the Tars had a change of luck on Easter Weekend when Rollins hosted then-No. 8 Barry. The Tars added a pair to the win column, taking the series opener and finale from the Bucs. Rollins handed Barry its first conference series loss and their second shutout of the year.
Seniors Steven Gropler and Will Krasne combined for nine-innings of three-hits baseball against the Bucs in the 2-0 victory. It was only the third start for Gropler as the right-handed hurler tossed a career high 7 2/3 innings. In the series finale, Rollins came back from being down twice to win in extra-innings for a 14-13 victory.
Red-shirt senior John Avanzino led the team in batting average, hits, and doubles for most of the season before suffering a season-ending hand injury against Eckerd at Alfond Stadium. The first baseman was the first this season to receive a Sunshine State Conference Player of the Week nod for his performance during the second week of competition; he also earned CoSIDA Academic All-District First Team accolades. Avanzino concluded his career at Rollins batting a .321 clip, starting 72 games of 78 played. He tallied 86 hits, 46 runs, five home runs, and 56 RBIs.
Providing leadership on the field, outfielder Tony Brunetti returned for his final season starting 51 games for the Tars. The Canfield, Ohio native led the team in at-bats (196) and walks (25) and successfully stole seven bags out of 10 attempts. He was second on the team in runs (40) and was third in hits (59).
With the loss of Rollins' top performers the year before, the Tars looked to the 22 new additions to fill in the missing pieces. Second on the team in hitting with a .321 average was Mercer transfer Nick Adams. The shortstop appeared in all but one game this season, leading the team in stolen bases with 19. He was second on the team in hits (62), doubles (14), and RBIs (32). Adams was also the only other Tar to pick up an SSC Player of the Week nod, coming late in the season for his performance against Barry, and was also named Rollins College Athlete of the Week.
Behind the dish, Rollins saw a new face as well with Florida International transfer Sean Reilly. The junior hit .317 on the year, belting 52 hits, 10 doubles, two home runs, and 33 RBIs. Walk-on freshman Zach Persky provided another solid bat for the Tars as the Solon, Ohio native batted .301 in 46 games played in the outfield. He put up 50 hits, including five extra-base hits, while driving in 20 runs. He strung along a 10-game hit streak, tying for the second longest hit streak on the team this season.
Also providing support for the Tars was outfielder Chris Holloway and designated hitter Greg Smith. Holloway appeared in the outfield in 47 games and led the team in hit-by-pitches with seven and was third in stolen bases with nine. He collected 43 hits and scored 29 runs. UConn-Avery Point transfer Greg Smith provided clutch hits during the season, most importantly in the Tars' 14-13 extra-inning victory over Barry and a 3-2 win over Saint Leo. Against Barry, Smith drove in the tying run on a RBI single and drove in the winning run against the SLU Lions on a sacrifice fly. In his first season, the red-shirt sophomore tacked on 24 hits, including seven doubles and two home runs, and drove in 13 runs.
By season's end, junior Kevin Mager led the club in almost all statistical categories, including batting average, runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, and triples. Mager set the school record with nine triples in a season, breaking a 37-year-old record, of eight, set in 1974 by John Castino. He also ranked in the top-10 in the SSC in eight different categories and ranked as high as first in the nation amongst all Division II players in triples. He was the only Tar named to the All-Sunshine State Conference Team collecting Honorable Mention laurels.
On the bump, Rollins lacked some depth after the graduation of Stephen Hiscock and 2010 SSC Pitcher of the Year Tim Griffin. The Tars made some adjustments beginning with the addition of Will Krasne to the starting rotation. He started a team-high 10 games and led the staff in strikeouts (57) and inning pitched (69 2/3). Wrapping up his four-year career at Rollins was Most Outstanding Senior Matt White. The southpaw was an integral part of the Tars pitching staff logging 66 innings on the hill and recorded 56 strikeouts. He tallied a pair of saves to close out his senior campaign, while holding opponents to a .271 average.
Returning for his junior campaign was right-hander Garrett Yount. The Silvis, Ill. native led the team in wins with five and tossed the Tars' only complete game. Yount worked 54 2/3 innings in 16 appearances earning a starting spot on seven occasions. He ranked as high as ninth in the nation in wins amongst all Division II pitchers.
Leading all arms on staff was UConn-Avery Point transfer Mike Howard. The right-handed junior recorded 43 strikeouts, walking 28 in 61 innings pitched. He collected one save in 13 games, including nine starts. Howard was named the 2011 Team MVP.
Senior Steven Gropler earned his ticket to a starting spot late in the season where he started six contests in 13 appearances. He combined for a shutout against Barry where he finished the season with a 3-2 record. Gropler put in 43 2/3 innings of work on the hill and recorded 27 strikeouts on the year. A very effective arm out of the bullpen was freshman Adam Ogburn. The right-hander saw action in 26 2/3 innings in relief and collected a pair of saves. Ogburn had 24 punch outs in 16 appearances to finish his freshman campaign with a 3-1 overall record.
Wit the 2011 season complete, Rollins will be faced with the graduation of 10 seniors, five pitchers and five position players. The Tars can only look to the following spring to turn things around and make a run for the NCAA South Region Tournament.