The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team starts the 2018 season as the defending NCAA East Region Champs, after finishing 3rd in the Elite Eight a year ago. Much of the team is returning from the squad that finished with a school record 44-17 season, won the East Coast Conference Regular Season Championship, and captured its second regional title in four years.
Preseason projections have anticipated the Spartans picking up where they left off, as the Spartans were selected to the top slot in the ECC Coaches' poll, ranked #3 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball, and took the #6 slot nationally from the National College Baseball Writers' Association.
Leading the stellar selection of returnees is senior Scott Moscatiello, who anchored the rotation last year with a 9-2 record and a 2.00 ERA and was named ECC Preseason Pitcher of the Year. Junior Chris Cepeda (7-3, 2.82 ERA, no-hitter at Mercy on 5-6-17) combines to give STAC one of the best tandems in the region, while Chris Pennell, Alex Mack, and Scott Hannon are expected to continue their solid contributions.
Pacing the high-powered offense is senior outfielder Giovanni Dingcong (20 HR, 52 RBI, .302 avg), and senior second baseman Joseph Pena (.378 avg, 60 runs, 24 SB), who along with Moscatiello earned All-American honors. Adding to the impressive core of returnees are the following players, each of whom appeared in 50 or more games a year ago: Anthony Shkrelja (Sr., IF/P), twin brother Mark Shkrelja (Sr., OF), Chris Ruiz (Jr., C), Mike Morgan (Jr., CF), and Nicholas Lucchese (So., 2B). Others receiving significant playing time included Juan Adorno (RSr., OF), Bobby Morse (Sr., 1B/DH), and Anthony Maisano (So., OF).
Cracking the formidable lineup will be no easy task, but the team's depth is boosted by newcomers such as Jason Salva (So., P), Kyle Lagrutta (Fr., C), Raymon Sarza (Fr. P/IF), Peter Romano (Fr., P), John Rodriguez (Fr., P), and Christian Allegretti (Fr., P).
The Spartans, who have won either the ECC Regular-Season or Tournament Championship in each of the past six seasons, will also be looking for their sixth consecutive bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Their 2018 campaign kicks off with trips to Virginia and North Carolina, with the opener slated for Friday, February 23 against Indiana (Pa) in Dinwiddie, VA. They open the home slate with a big regional weekend series against Southern New Hampshire University on March 16-18 at Palisades Credit Union Park.
Other top foes include West Chester University, Franklin Pierce, and Catawba, while the ECC schedule includes defending Tournament Champs LIU Post, university of Bridgeport and rival Molloy College, along with conference newcomers New York Institute of Technology.