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Preview: Raider baseball eyes redemption in 2013

Seminole State brings more experience to the diamond for the 2013 season.

Seminole State College of Florida’s baseball coach says this season will be about redemption.

The Raiders, who open up their 2013 season Friday, Jan. 25, bring a wealth of talent and experience to the field. After some growing pains and an injury-plagued 2012 season, things are looking up for the seasoned Raiders.

“This team is determined, charismatic and relentless,” says Head Coach Chris Hayes. “They are talented, without a doubt, but it will be their determination that will help drive them to be successful.”

The team has competed during the fall exhibition season, and they have had some time to jell in the locker room. So far, Coach Hayes likes what he sees.

“They compete with each other for everything,” he says. “Ping pong, card games, running, video games, you name it. They don’t like to lose, and they will bring that mentality into each game. All the locker room competition allows leaders to emerge.”

Their goal is to win a Mid-Florida Conference (MFC) championship and make a deep run in the Florida College System Activities Association (FCSAA) State Tournament.

It won’t be an easy road: In addition to a strong out-of-conference slate, the Raiders will face tough, talented opponents in the always-competitive Mid-Florida Conference (MFC), including perennial powers like Santa Fe College – who last season won their fourth-consecutive MFC title – Daytona State College and College of Central Florida.

The Team

Compared to last season, the 2013 Raiders are stronger and more experienced in all aspects of the game, Hayes says. The majority of the 2012 team had never played an inning of college ball at the start of the season, but the 2013 iteration features 16 players who have experience and college-level play under their belts.

“I really like the makeup of this group,” says Hayes. “We’ve got some mature young men who had a lot of great opportunities to learn the speed of the college game last season. That experience will help a great deal: Nothing will be new for them this season.”

The defense-minded team will find its strength this year in its pitching, but Hayes says there is athleticism and speed to complement the players’ game fundamentals. The team has the potential to win big, Hayes says, but it is more than prepared to grind out close, defensive matches.

Batting

While the batting lineup is not yet set on the back end, the Raiders are loaded with talent on the front. They will be anchored on offense by second-team All-MFC infielder Angelo Amendolare, who will hit lead-off and set the tone.

“He’s the guy who makes us go,” Hayes says of the New Smyrna Beach High School product. “He is our best leadoff hitter, and he’s one of our most outstanding leaders, on both offense and defense. He can hit, he can catch, he can throw – there’s not a whole lot he can’t do.”

Also in the top half of the lineup will be sophomore Darryl Knight, who last year finished No. 10 in the state in home runs (7) and No. 17 in walks (28). The Wekiva High School grad led the Raiders last year in those two categories and in RBIs (30), and he was second in runs scored (29).

Freshman outfielder Connor Marabell, who was the team’s best hitter during the fall exhibition season, will appear early in the lineup, along with Notre Dame transfer AC Carter, the 2011 Bright House Sports Network Central Florida Player of the year, and freshman James Jean, of Lake Park. Both Carter and Jean may be utilized as designated hitters.

On the Mound

Seminole State has an abundance of quality pitchers in the rotation, bringing a combination of speed, power and finesse to the mound.

The Raiders will be led on the mound by right-hander Justin Russell, of Jacksonville. The redshirt sophomore was Seminole State’s top pitching prospect last season, but he sustained an injury in the first inning of the season opener and sat out the 2012 season. Now that he is healthy again, Coach Hayes says, he is stronger than ever.

Also serving as starters throughout the season will be sophomores Kyle Andre, of Frostproof; Tony Mollica, of Jacksonville; Drew Jackson, of Naples; and Garrett Nuss, of Sorrento– all of whom have starting experience from last season – as well as southpaw freshman Parker Perez, of Winter Springs.

They will be supported by a strong relief staff that includes newcomers Randy Boza, of Miami, and freshmen Trevor Jones, of Lake Mary; Zach Pinchot, of Jacksonville Beach; and Josh Brooks, of Oviedo (Hagerty).

The Raiders will look to close out games strong with the sophomore tandem of Dan Gilchrist, of Medford, Mass., and Reily Monkman, of Sorrento (Mount Dora) in the bullpen. Monkman finished last season No. 4 in the state in saves (7), and should give opposing batters plenty of difficulty late in games.

Behind the Plate

In addition to his presence offensively, Darryl Knight will provide a steady force behind the plate. The sophomore catcher, who won Seminole State’s Mack Blythe Outstanding Freshman of the Year Award last season, is one of the team’s best leaders and hardest workers.

“He always plays as hard as he can, and he doesn’t let much get past him,” Hayes says.

Knight will be the starter, but there are several great options for backup should the need arise, including Carter and Jean.

Infield

On the roster for the infield, there are several versatile players who may see time in a variety of roles. The only position set is shortstop, filled by all-conference sophomore Angelo Amendolare. He will provide the base upon which a rotation of infielders will be used, depending on matchups and on-field performance.

Carter and Jean are the likely candidates to play first base, though their versatility and athletic ability will allow them to fill in other roles as needed. Sophomore Oscar Santos, of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and freshmen Brian Pietranton, of Sarasota; and Dan Kennon, of Deming, N.M., will be in the running to fill in other infield slots.

Outfield

Much like in the infield, Seminole State may find itself playing outfield by committee early on as the roster works itself out, but it’s not for lack of talent. For only three outfield slots, there are five capable players, anchored by Connor Marabell, a freshman from Jacksonville.

“He had a really good fall offensively, and with his play in the outfield, he has established himself as an every-game outfielder,” Hayes says.

Contributing quickness and athleticism to the outfield will be Marshall transfer John Gandolfo and freshman Parker Perez, of Winter Springs, with sophomores Tanner Pollack, of Homer, Alaska; and Garrett Etheridge, of Winter Springs, set to contribute in important roles as well.

Season at a Glance

The Raiders open their season at home on Jan. 25 against Northwest Florida State College, who made a deep run in the FCSAA State Tournament last year. Seminole State will face off against seven of the eight teams that made last year’s state tournament, spread across 14 games – nearly a third of their regular-season schedule.

“The competition in Florida is about as tough as anywhere in the country,” Hayes says. “We just have to play to our ability every game and grind out wins.”

Coach Hayes plans to use the February non-conference schedule to tweak and solidify lineups in preparation for conference play. The Raiders will play two games – on Feb. 12 and 19 – under the lights at Historic Sanford Memorial Stadium.

But the team is focused on the conference slate. MFC play starts with a three-game series March 6, 8 and 9 against four-time defending conference champion Santa Fe College. To make the postseason, Seminole State must finish the regular season at either the No. 1 or No. 2 slot in the MFC standings. With the parity of the conference and the level of competition, it won’t be easy, but Coach Hayes is optimistic that the Raiders could win their first conference championship since 2008.

“This game is filled with adversity,” Hayes says. “You can’t let it get to you and you just have to play hard. Don’t let yourself get too high or too low. If we can do the right things, we have incredible potential.”

All Raider home events are free to Seminole State students, faculty and staff with a valid Blue & Gold Card, the Seminole State ID. Admission is also available to the general public for a small fee. For more information, and to view the Raiders' complete season schedule, please visit the Seminole State baseball home page.

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