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NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The Holy Cross baseball team will open up its 2014 regular season this weekend with four games in Kentucky. After winning a program-best 17 games in 2013, second year head coach Brian Blondell has his sights set a little higher in 2014. I sat down with coach Blondell to discuss the 2014 season earlier this week.
Last season was obviously a success for the program, but I'm sure you have bigger goals in mind. Talk about your expectations for the 2014 season:
BB: As a team, our goals are very simple and that is to play each game as if it was a championship game. Our team has set very high expectations for the 2014 season and each day as a coaching staff we have tried to challenge them and remind them of the necessary steps to accomplish those goals. I expect our pitching staff to be substantially stronger at the top of our rotations and we will be a great deal deeper with 18 pitchers available, compared to 11 in 2013. Offensively, we lost only one senior from last season; however, as a coaching staff, we felt that we had some positions that we needed to get better at (whether it be offensively or defensively) and we made that a priority in the offseason. Now we have some depth at every position as well as some quality junior college guys that have been battle tested at a high level already. As a coach, I expect us to compete each day and play hard each game with class.
The 2013 team lost just one senior. What are the strengths of your returning players?
BB: Dan Wawrzusin was a great player for us last year and we will certainly miss having him in uniform. The strength of this team will be our overall team depth. We have added to each position not only creating depth, but added some very high-quality players from some top junior colleges that know how to win. Our starting pitching will be substantially different and much better.
Obviously a lot of new faces on the team. What was the coaching staff's goal during this past recruiting cycle? Do you feel the roster is starting to take shape of how you envision it?
BB: My belief when I took the program over in 2013 was to allow the players that were here to go out each day and prove themselves. As we embarked on the recruiting class for 2014, we realized early on that our starting pitching and depth of pitching was not where it needed to be. We needed to address that immediately and we did (adding four top-level arms from quality junior colleges). Offensively and defensively we felt we were pretty solid in the majority of some key positions, but we needed to get a few new players that could compete immediately and we did in Jacob Lanning, Stephen Clancy, Chris Woodruff and Jordan Hinton. Additionally we wanted to make sure to add some young, quality freshmen on our roster to learn what it means to be a Saints baseball player.
Talk about your non-conference schedule. Obviously a lot of Southern teams on there. Do you feel the strength of the non-conference schedule will get the guys ready for the grind of the CCAC season?
BB: Based on the northern climate, we felt as a coaching staff that we needed to try and play as many games as possible prior to our conference season getting started and the only way to do that was to travel south. Some of the top programs in the NAIA take four to five southern trips beginning in February and I'm a firm believer that the reason they are successful is based on the fact that they get outside sooner, to play games or practice outdoors, and be game-speed ready by the time conference play begins. Our non-conference schedule is very challenging this year, but our league also very talented so we felt that getting challenged right out of the gate will help us see where we stand prior to CCAC play beginning.
The CCAC is clearly a very talented conference in the NAIA. Your team, although inconsistent at times in league play, found some significant success against very talented teams last year. How do you feel the team shapes up with the rest of the league in 2014?
BB: One of the biggest challenges in the CCAC is that you never really get a game off. Playing five games a week is very difficult and pushes each team to have good starting pitching, at least five, and solid depth to be able to compete. I firmly believe that the top of our rotation is as good as anyone in our conference on paper; executing on the field will be the biggest key. Our offense and defense were both pretty solid in 2013 and we have challenged our returning guys to get better each day and encouraged our new guys to push the returners to new heights and show them how to win games based on their past experiences. We have some very talented players this year, but individual talent is only as good as the sum of all of them playing together as a TEAM.
Paul Kappaz was named First Team All-CCAC in 2013 as just a sophomore. Do you envision him continuing to build off that success?
BB: Paul has a ton of athletic and natural God-given ability. He had a very good 2013 and I firmly believe he is capable of doing the same or better in 2014. For the Saints to be successful, we will need another very good year from Paul.
Finally, what one attribute to describe this team has you most excited for 2014?
BB: Our leadership. I thought one of the biggest things in 2013 was that we still were trying to get everyone on the same page and buy-in. As we began fall baseball, you could see the change in leadership, work ethic and direction. All 35 of these players want to be successful and prove they can be a CCAC champion. Why not us?
The Saints will open up their Kentucky trip on Saturday with a doubleheader against Union (Ky.) beginning at 1:00 pm EST.
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