The 2020 season did not end as the Shippensburg University baseball team hoped but their chance at a clean slate for the 2021 season starts Saturday with a double-header at Seton Hill University.
Head coach Matt Jones returns for his 15th season with the Raiders and his 22nd overall as a collegiate head coach. Under Jones, SU finished its short-lived 2020 campaign with a 6-12 record. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic stifled the Raiders’ season to a mere 18 games, despite 48 originally being scheduled.
The 2021 schedule looks a bit different than years past, with 36 contests slated. The schedule is composed mainly of weekend home-and-series — a new component added this year in order to stem the spread of COVID-19. One team will host a double-header Friday and the other school, Saturday.
SU’s 2021 roster features 16 returning players and 13 newcomers. Key losses from last year either to graduation or the NCAA transfer portal include Zack Zoller, Jacob Pollock, Noah Inch and Scout Knotts.
Highlighting the 2021 roster are returning 2020 team captains sophomore Tony Vavaroutsos, and junior Ben Werkheiser.
Vavaroutsos, a Toronto, Ontario, native, proved to be a major threat in the heat of the Raiders’ lineup in his first two seasons. The 2019 PSAC Eastern Division Freshman of the Year and 2019 All-PSAC Eastern Division Second Team honoree boasts a career .318 batting average, 12 home runs and 53 RBIs. His 1.000 fielding percentage in 2019 was also among the team’s best.
Werkheiser is looking to build off his hot start from his Raiders’ debut season. Starting in all 18 games, Werkheiser totaled a team high .369 batting average and 25 RBIs, while matching the team lead in home runs (five) and doubles (seven). He spent his two previous collegiate seasons at the University of Delaware.
Another returning mainstay from the Raiders’ 2020 lineup is freshman Joe Barbera. Barbera shined in his debut campaign, sporting a .387 batting average over 12 hits and mixed in an impressive .500 on-base percentage. He cracked the starting lineup in nine of his 14 game appearances.
Junior Chase Zurawski and sophomore Justin Darden are other familiar faces returning to the Raiders. Zurawski owns a career .292 batting average and .991 fielding percentage in his SU tenure. While serving as the team’s primary third baseman, Darden has launched six career home runs and totaled 29 RBIs.
Other notable returnees include sophomores Nick Zanic and Lake Lloyd. In 10 games last season, Zanic tallied a .263 batting average, while sprinkling in two RBIs. Lloyd, the other Raider to appear in all 18 contests, notched a .196 average, while scattering 11 hits and 10 RBIs.
Redshirt-freshman Andres Garcia and freshman Braden Petty round out the returnees. Graduate transfers JuJu Cason and Jordan Yoder head the new hitters, with sophomore Christian Lent, redshirt-freshmen Morgan Wyatt and Justin Byler making their first appearances in Raider uniforms.
SU will also feature three incoming freshmen in the hitting department which include California native Jackson LoBianco, New Jersey native Jafari Williams and Dover (York, Pennsylvania) High School graduate Andrew Chronister.
On the mound, the Raiders showcase a young squad.
Graduate student Kyle Lysy will lead the starting rotation after a career senior season. Lysy tossed for a 2.76 ERA in 29.1 innings of work and tallied a team high 28 strikeouts. His 2020 campaign also featured a complete game shutout against Queens (N.Y.), en route to a 2-3 record.
Redshirt-sophomore Kiernan Higgins should also slide into a rotational spot. Despite a rocky 2020 showing, Higgins totaled 18 strikeouts over 19.2 innings. Higgins fastball is also known to touch the 92-94 mph range, according to a post on his Twitter account from January.
Junior Christ Horst enters as the other tenured SU pitcher. In 2020, Horst made four appearances (two starts and two relief appearances) in 15.1 innings of work. Over the course of his two starts, versus Queens (N.Y.) and Wilmington University, Horst did not allow an earned run.
Sophomore Noah Nabholz, who owns starting experience, allowed one earned run in 4.2 innings of relief last season. He also totaled six strikeouts.
Out of the bullpen, freshmen Austin Labarre, Chris Douglass and Andrew Haynes return. Labarre made the most relief appearances out of the trio last season (six), compared to Douglass’ four and Haynes’ three. Kaleb Sophy is the other returning arm, who did not see any game action last season.
The remainder of the pitching staff is loaded with freshman talent. Local standout and Greencastle-Antrim graduate Ethan Miller heads the promising freshman class. Behind him, Jones brings in Gabe Stotler, Eric Bohenek and Ray Winter.
Editor’s note: With the 2020 season ending abruptly, the NCAA granted all spring sport athletes with another year of eligibility. It is not counted as a redshirt season.