Hofstra’s baseball team is looking to reach new heights this spring with the return of veteran hitters.
The Pride went 15-37 in 2016, but bring back position players who combined for 29 home runs and 136 RBIs. Hofstra is looking to achieve the program’s first Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament bid since 2012.
“Our goal every year is to make the CAA Tournament,” said sixth-year Hofstra head coach John Russo. “I’m excited about the versatility of our offense.”
Hofstra’s experienced bats is anchored by red-shirt senior David Leiderman, who was a second team-All CAA selection at third base last year after leading the Pride in hits with 56. The Merrick native and Kennedy High School product smacked a walk-off two-run home run against CAA power College of Charleston last year as a junior.
“He is a big RBI guy for us,” said Russo of Leiderman. “He has a lot of confidence.”
Senior second baseman Brad Witkowski led Hofstra in hitting last year with a .289 average. Junior outfielder Steven Foster was next with a .278 average and earned Preseason All-CAA accolades.
Hofstra also brings back starting red-shirt junior outfielder Teddy Cillis, who hit nine home runs, eight doubles and 20 RBIs to go along with 15 appearances on the mound. Red-shirt sophomore first baseman Nick Bottari is another returning power hitter who hit six home runs with 23 RBS after transferring from the University of Miami.
The offense has gotten a jolt early on this season from freshman outfielder Sean Rausch, who earned CAA Co-Rookie of the Week honors on Feb. 28 after hitting .455 in a four-game stretch. The Middle Island native was a two-time All-Suffolk County player at Longwood High School.
“He is not intimidated by any moment,” said Russo of Rausch, who was also an All-Long Island football player and chose Hofstra over Harvard, Columbia, Lehigh and Navy. “We really like Sean’s toughness.”
Sophomore catcher Vito Friscia handles a relatively inexperienced pitching staff behind the plate after starting 47 of 51 games as a freshman. The Valley Stream Central High School graduate had a team-high .415 on-base percentage and he was second in runs scored with 32.
Hofstra returned four pitchers that tossed significant innings in junior Chris Weiss, Cillis and sophomores John Rooney and Andrew Mundy. Red-shirt junior Matt Weissheier, a Valley Stream native and Kellenberg alum, has earned innings in relief early this season. The Pride have also gotten production from freshman John Ryan, a Wheatley High School graduate who shines in the classroom and had a perfect 800 on the math portion of the SATs.
“I think our strong pitching can keep us in a lot of games,” Russo said.
Russo has seen progress from his young pitching staff thanks to the tutelage of second-year pitching coach John Hayban, who threw for 17 Major League Baseball seasons including four years with the New York Yankees in the early 1990s. Hayban was previously the head coach at St. John’s the Baptist High School in West Islip for 17 years before his arrival in Hempstead.
“He gets instant respect when he is in the room,” Russo said of the former major league pitcher. “Kids want to learn from him.”
Hofstra’s non-conference home schedule is highlighted by an April 1 matinee against longtime Big East power St. John’s at 1 p.m. The Pride hosts their first home CAA series from April 7 to 9 against Towson. The season closes with a double header against William & Mary on May 20 starting at noon.