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Vulcans spring-cleaning memories of last season

| Sunday, April 8, 2001

Heading into the 2001 college baseball season, the big question hanging over California University of Pennsylvania's program was this: Can the Vulcans shed the stigma of finishing dead last in the western division of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference•

Those 2000 Vulcans, you may recall, finished a woeful 6-14 in the league, dropping the last nine games to conference foes by a combined score of 64-37.

But with the new season just a few weeks old, it appears that the Vulcans have already swept away the memories of last spring's disaster. Cal U, now at 15-10 overall, has won its first four games against PSAC-West competition to find itself atop the division standings.

Coach Mike Conte's squad opened league play with a sweep of Clarion (4-1 and 1-0), and followed with a sweep of Edinboro (10-4 and 12-4).

Next up for the Vulcans are PSAC-West twinbills with Slippery Rock (Wednesday) and at Indiana (Saturday) and Clarion (April 17).

Staking an early claim on first place is certainly a good way to start the campaign. But staying in first could prove difficult.

Last year's squad, after dropping a pair to Indiana, reeled off five straight PSAC-West wins, giving rise to title hopes. Those hopes were dashed during the final two-thirds of the season, when Cal U managed just one victory in the final 13 division games.

If Cal U is to stay in the race, it will need good pitching. So far, so good. The Vulcan staff has fashioned a tidy 3.06 earned run average this spring, its hurlers allowing just 142 hits in 153 innings.

Jason Foreman, the 6-3, 205-pound junior, was 3-1 with a 1.69 ERA after five starts. Foreman, with three complete games, has limited opponents to a measly .177 batting average and has walked 10 and fanned 23 in 32 innings.

Ryan Balan, another junior, notched a pair of wins in two route-going efforts, including a shutout. His ERA stood at an impressive 0.57 after two starts and two relief appearances. The 6-1, 195-pound Whitby, Ontario, native allowed just seven hits in 15.2 innings, walking six and striking out an impressive 17 batters.

Sophomores Scott Belcastro (2-2, 2.22) and Bobby Saddler (1-1, 3.86) and junior Brad Markovich (2-1, 3.43 with 2 saves) have started a combined 13 times. And freshman Nick Damico (3-3, 5.82) has earned a decision in each of his appearances. Ian Heisel, who had not allowed an earned run in four appearances, checked in with three saves.

Sophomore outfielder Bryan Hartung opened the campaign with a hot bat, ripping opponents for a .388 batting average and, thanks to eight doubles, a triple and four home runs, a lofty .716 slugging average. He also leads the team with 22 runs batted in.

Ditto for Brian Stoecklein, the junior shortstop who had a .351 average, 10 doubles and 14 RBI.

Junior outfielder Brad McClelland was hitting .325 with a pair of homers, three triples and a double, and Foreman, who also plays third base, was hitting .319 with 10 RBI and a team-leading 12 walks.

Jeff Boyle, a senior infielder who shares captains duties with Foreman, was sporting a .313 batting average. And Balan, who also plays outfield, was sporting a .294 average.

First baseman Jim Booth (.286), outfielder Wayne Loyer (.286) and middle infielder Scott Van Sickle (.226) - all of them juniors - round out the cast of regulars. Justin Pifer, Bob Winwood, Frank Morgan, Duke Nave and Ryan Nemshick are the top bench players.

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