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Bulls look to build on first winning season since move to Division I

Sports Editor

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 22:02

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Chad Cooper, The Spectrum

Senior outfielder Jimmy Topps came into last season as a backup but quickly earned a starting role when senior Matt Pollock went down with an injury. This season, Topps has a starting job and will be taking over for 2013 MAC Player of the Year Jason Kanzler in center field.

There was little reason for optimism entering the 2013 season as Buffalo baseball followed its 17th consecutive losing season. But a 33-24 finish and a second-straight trip to the Mid-American Conference Tournament have brought new energy to the Bulls as they prepare for 2014.

Buffalo opens its season this weekend against Davidson, but the team will be missing some familiar faces from its 2013 roster, most notably 2013 MAC Player of the Year Jason Kanzler. This year, the Bulls have a mix of established upperclassmen from last season, players returning from extended injuries and some younger players who excite head coach Ron Torgalski.

Torgalski said he senses a new attitude around practice and workouts. The players are more excited and have higher expectations than in previous seasons. The team proved to itself that the talent was there when they finished a half game out of first place in the MAC East.

“Guys want to come out and prove it wasn’t a fluke,” Torgalski said. “[They want to show] that we are making strides in our program, that we are going in the right direction and we want to continue to go in that direction.”

The Bulls return two key players who missed all of 2013 in senior outfielder Matt Pollock and senior pitcher Kevin Hughes. Hughes didn’t play all year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, an ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery.Pollock sat out due to a wrist injury.

Pollock was Buffalo’s leadoff hitter in 2012 and led the team with 79 hits and 56 runs. He batted .357 with a .447 on-base percentage while showing tremendous power with 12 home runs, 18 doubles, four triples and a .638 slugging percentage.

Hughes has alternated as a starter and reliever for Buffalo in previous seasons and expects to be used in the same capacity in 2014. Torgalski expects both Hughes and Pollock to play major roles this season.

Torgalski is excited about a few younger players, including freshman infielder Brian Dudek, freshman outfielder Vinny Mallaro and sophomore outfielder Nick Sinay.

Torgalski said Sinay improved his speed and arm strength substantially over the offseason and thinks he will “really come out and surprise a lot of people.”

The most difficult task for the Bulls will be replacing Kanzler – who is now in the Minnesota Twins organization. Kanzler led the 2013 Bulls in average (.330), runs (46), hits (75), home runs (12) and RBIs (53). He was the most dangerous offensive player in their lineup. Buffalo also loses a strong clubhouse leader in Alex Baldock, a student assistant coach this season, and a valuable middle infielder in Jon Mestas.

“We have some holes to fill that I don’t know if you can just replace a guy like Kanzler or Baldock,” Torgalski said. “The leadership of Baldock, it’s hard to replace something like that on and off the field.”

The Bulls do return senior outfielder Jimmy Topps, who hit .314 last season, sophomore infielder Tyler Mautner, who hit .295 with a school record 23 doubles, and senior infielder Mike Scarcello, who hit .277.

Along with Hughes, the Buffalo pitching staff consists of juniors Anthony Magovney, Mike McGee, seniors Mike Burke, Cory Folk, Dan Ginader, Tyler Wilson and sophomore Ben Hartz. Burke led the staff with an 8-2 record and 2.66 ERA last season. Hartz was named to the Louisville All-American team.

Buffalo’s goal is to return to the MAC tournament and have another opportunity to compete for a title.

After winning nearly as many games in 2013 (33) as 2011 and 2012 combined (34), the Bulls have a reason to be excited for 2014.

The team opens its season on the road this weekend with Davidson. Buffalo’s first home game isn’t until March 28 against Ball State.

 

email: sports@ubspectrum.com

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