December 14, 2011

2009 Pomona-Pitzer Alumni Continue In Professional Ranks

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The Pomona-Pitzer Baseball team has been one of the most successful programs on campus over the last decade, winning five SCIAC championships from 2002-10. The Sagehens had their best season in program history in 2009, when they went 37-7 overall, 19-2 in the SCIAC, were ranked No. 1 in the nation at one point, and eventually advanced to the regional finals of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

The 2009 Sagehens were loaded from top to bottom in the line-up, scoring 442 runs in 44 games (just over 10 per game). Eight of the nine regulars in the starting line-up hit .312 or higher with at least four home runs apiece, including three who batted over .400. An OPS of over 1.000 is considered excellent for a single player, but the 2009 Sagehens crossed that plateau as a team with a 1.007 (.570 slugging percentage, .437 on base percentage).

At one point, the Sagehens rattled off a 17-game winning streak before falling to Middlebury 7-5. The slump didn't last - the 2009 team followed up that loss with a 15-game winning streak.

"I think when you look at that team, you had three Conference Players of the Year on the same roster, which you never see," said Head Coach Frank Pericolosi. "We had guys who were drafted, we had a guy like Brandon Huerta, who was a four-year All-SCIAC player at shortstop, we had a dominant pitcher in David Colvin. But it wasn't just the talent, we also found a lot of ways to win games. We may have averaged 10 runs a game, but we'd also win a pitcher's duel, or we'd have five or six run comebacks in the late innings. It was a special team, no doubt about it."

The success of the 2009 team has since spread to the professional ranks, both in the United States and overseas, as eight of the players who were part of the 2009 team didn't put their bats and gloves away when their collegiate careers ended.

In fact, 2009 SCIAC Player of the Year Drew Hedman, a 50th round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox, and 2010 SCIAC Player of the Year James Kang, a 45th round pick of the Red Sox, got to play on the same team in Single-A ball, continuing as teammates with the Greenville Drive. Kang advanced as high as the Triple-A level in the Red Sox organization with the Pawtucket Red Sox last season, while Hedman has played for the Portland Sea Dogs in Double-A.

"Greenville was an awesome place," said Hedman, who was named the Division III National Player of the Year in 2009 after batting .489 with 24 home runs and 87 runs batted in. "Our stadium was among the best in minor league baseball with crowds typically being 4-7 thousand. I played most of the season with James, who was also my roommate and it made for the most enjoyable season I've had in pro ball."

Kang, who hit .404 with four homers and 37 RBI in 2009, had the opportunity to play with a handful of players who made it to Major League Baseball after he joined Pawtucket, and even played against Delmon Young (who finished tenth in the American League MVP vote in 2010), when he made a rehab start with the Rochester Red Wings. Kang hit over .400 again as a senior for Pomona-Pitzer in 2010, when he added 13 homers and 56 RBI to earn SCIAC Player of the Year honors.

The most recent addition to the Sagehen list of Major League Baseball draft choices was pitcher David Colvin, who graduated in 2011 with a remarkable career record of 35-7, along with program records in wins in a season (10) and career (35) and strikeouts in a season (107) and career (302). He was a perfect 8-0 on the mound during the magical 2009 season. Colvin was drafted in the 27th round by the Seattle Mariners, and spent his first professional season with the Pulaski (Va.) Mariners and the Everett (Wash.) Aqua Sox in the Northwest League (Class A).

The Sagehens influence isn't just in the United States, either. Several of the program's 2009 standouts have gone overseas to continue their professional careers.

Zach Mandelblatt was the 2007 SCIAC Player of the Year as a sophomore and contributed a .407 average, four homers and 31 RBI to the 2009 team. Mandelblatt traveled to Australia to continue playing as both a pitcher and a hitter and led his Malvern team in innings pitched, strikeouts, stolen bases and home runs. This past summer, he returned home to play for the McAllen Thunder (Texas) in the North American Baseball League and led his team in home runs (14) and stolen bases (22), while adding "I was finally healthy for the first time since my sophomore year in 2007."

Mike Silva, who batted .372 with nine home runs and 32 runs batted in during the 2009 season as the team's catcher, and who was one of the eight Sagehens named to the All-SCIAC team that season, embarked on a professional career in Sweden after graduation.

Three more recent 2009ers have also traveled to Belgium to play professionally, including 2010 graduate Lucas Fogarty, and 2011 graduates Nick Frederick and Teddy Bingham. Fogarty (0.75 ERA in 2009) and Bingham (.322, four homers, 36 RBI in 2009) both played for the Brussels Kangaroos, while Frederick (.348, 11 HR, 44 RBI in 2009), joined the Namur Angels and helped his team to a runner-up finish in the Belgian Series.

"In addition to playing, one of the other American imports and I coached the Angels B team to a national championship in their grade, which was a great overall experience," said Frederick. "The ball compares to decent D3 baseball, but the players and other people around the club were very welcoming making sure that all the imports became aware of Belgian culture and had the best time possible. There are several young members of the team that have aspirations of playing college baseball in the United States and it was great to share my experience with them. We still stay in touch and I hope the players who wish to come over will be able to find a place to play."

Two days after the Belgian Series ended, Frederick went to Perth, Australia to join the Perth Mets Baseball Club of the West Australia State League, where he is currently playing. "It is a high quality of ball," said Frederick. "Our club has three ex-minor leaguers and several other high quality players who have been around baseball their whole lives. The Australian Baseball League is extremely popular in Perth since everybody grew up playing with the guys on the Perth Heat, whose roster includes current Minnesota Twin Luke Hughes.

Bingham, meanwhile, started out his Belgium career with the Brussels Kangaroos, where he was teammates with Fogarty.

"When I joined, the team was riding a two game winning streak in Belgium's second division. Though my time was cut short, that winning streak had been extended to 9 (I believe) by the time I left, which put us in first place heading in to the playoffs. Personal highlights included hitting a home run in my last official at bat against the Ghent Knights, playing with P-P teammate Lucas Fogarty for the first time in over a year, and playing against P-P teammate Nick Frederick in an exhibition All-Star game shortly before I left. Unfortunately, Nick's squad got the best of mine and won by 3 runs. Nick managed to go 3 for 4 with a double and got the save on the mound (3 K's in the ninth). I was 1 for 3 with a double, RBI and run scored."

When Fogarty joined the Kangaroos in 2010, he joined a team that was 8-9 and led them to a 10-game winning streak, recording a 5-0 record and an 0.75 ERA in the pitching circle. He also batted .400 at the plate, and found a little time to play quarterback in the Belgium Football league, leading his team to an 11-4 record by throwing for 17 touchdowns and no interceptions.

"It's great for recruiting to have all these guys playing professionally," said Pericolosi. "We can talk to a kid who is a borderline Division I athlete and say that you'll still have the chance to get drafted or play overseas and get a great education in the process. It's also a great for all those guys to continue playing. They'll end up in the business world or other things when they're done, but in the meantime, they get to play a few more years of baseball."

While the Pomona-Pitzer Baseball program will likely continue its pattern of churning out strong teams every spring, it will be as tough to top the accomplishments of the 2009 squad, and its eight future professionals, as it was to top them on the field.

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