Saturday, February 20, 1999

XU pitching could fuel run to A-10 title




BY SCOTT MacGREGOR
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        There was a time, Xavier baseball coach John Morrey said, when a 27-25 season would not only have been acceptable to the Muskies, but considered a success.

        That time has passed — a good thing, Morrey believes, because it raises the bar for a program that views itself on the rise. But it also allows for regret and disappointment when 27-25, as the Musketeers were last season, is the outcome.

        Morrey wants no regret this season, which Xavier begins today at Austin Peay.

        “The expectations are very high,” Morrey said. “Our No. 1 pitcher is back; our closer throws the ball 88 mph; we have six senior starters. We know we're going to hit a rough spot early, but if we're healthy, hopefully we can make a run at the Atlantic 10 title.”

        Xavier had high expectations last season after winning the A-10 West two years ago. But the nucleus of the club — this year's seniors — faltered at big moments; key injuries beset the club; and consistency was nonexistent.

        This year, Morrey's optimism stems chiefly from the experience of his position players and what he calls the best starting rotation Xavier has had in his seven years there.

        The staff is headlined by senior right-hander Lou Witte, whose 25 career wins are a school record. He was 7-5 with a 3.89 ERA last year after going 12-3, 2.98 in 1997, and he throws in the 88 to 90 mph range with control (a school-record 253 career strikeouts).

        The rest of the staff is younger, but to fill the rotation Morrey can choose from three talented right-handers (sophomore Jeff Barger, from Hamilton, who threw 55 innings last year; sophomore Matt Raih, who was 6-0 last season; freshman Greg Wiggers, a power pitcher) and a lefty (junior James Siefker, who shut out Youngstown State).

        And the Muskies have the A-10's top closer, hard-throwing senior left-hander Mike Scuglik (also the starting center fielder), who led the conference with four saves.

        How Xavier will score is less clear. While experienced, the Muskies' lineup doesn't feature a wealth of speed or power. They hope to manufacture runs behind high-average hitters like Scuglik (.367 in A-10 play) and left-fielder Matt Watson (fifth in the A-10 with a .387 average). The defense is solid, especially up the middle with shortstop Chris Kirkby and second baseman Zach Swisher, who had only 19 errors in 403 chances.

        “We have good pitching and good defense, and that's nothing to glaze over,” Morrey said. “With aluminum bats, no matter how good the pitching is, we've still got to score. But if we can get that old cliche — timely hitting — I think we have a pretty good club.”

       



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