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St. John's baseball preview: Expectations remain high for young team

Sean Winters

The St. John’s baseball team has started their new season in the revamped Big East Conference. And while the Red Storm don’t start conference play until April 4 against Villanova, expectations are already high for a program that has won the Big East regular season title seven times and are seven-time conference tournament champions. (Both are records that carry over from the old Big East.)

The conference coaches picked St. John’s to finish third in the new, seven-team conference. Creighton earned two first-place votes and 32 points in preseason voting while Seton Hall was close behind with two first-place votes and 31 points.

The Red Storm actually garnered three first-place votes, but came in third with 29 points - the league's coaches are split on what they think of the young squad, much as basketball coaches were split on what they thought of the basketball team in the preseason.

Predicted finish
First-place votes
Seton Hall
St. John’s

"Our expectations [for this season] are playing in the NCAA Regionals and winning a Big East championship. That never changes," Red Storm coach Ed Blankmeyer said in an interview with SJU-TV. "As these guys leave the locker room, our goals are posted and those goals never waver."

St. John’s is seeking their eighth NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years.

Leading the march to those goals are James Lomangino and Zach Lauricella, who the coaches selected for the preseason All-Big East team.

Lomangino’s season is already off to a good start as he helped St. John’s post their first Opening Day shutout since 1981 with a 2-0 win last Friday against Pepperdine. He pitched five scoreless innings with three strikeouts and one walk. Lomangino decided to return to St. John’s for his senior season despite the Oakland A’s drafting him last year in 14th round of the MLB Draft.

Lomangino leads a staff that last year saw big contributions from freshmen. Blankmeyer estimated some 60% of the innings tossed in 2013 came from freshmen.

Joey Graziano enters the starting rotation this year after spending 2013 in the bullpen. The sophomore will assume the No. 2 position in the Red Storm’s weekend rotation. He started this season on the wrong foot against Pepperdine in the second game of a three-game series, allowing five runs in just a third of an inning in an 8-4 loss.

Lauricella, a junior, led St. John’s with 31 walks and a .419 on-base percentage in 2013. The outfielder, who will probably see time at third base as well, also hit .320 with 21 doubles, one triple, four home runs and 40 RBI. He hit a three-run homer in Saturday’s loss.

Lauricella will lead offensive attack Blankmeyer believes is very balanced.

"Offensively, first the time in some years, we have balance from the left and right side of the plate," Blankmeyer said. "I like the fact we have a bunch of guys offensively who have good approaches. We have a little bit of power, we have some speed, but more importantly, the strength of this program is the balance we have in this lineup."

St. John’s sees nine junior-college transfers join the team and bolster their infield in the process.

Tyler Sanchez, a redshirt sophomore from Hillsborough Community College, is expected to be the starting catcher for St. John’s. Matt Harris, a junior first baseman from Brevard Community College, earned second team all-conference honors last season. He finished his junior college career with 59 RBI in 92 games.

Robert Wayman, a second baseman from Hartnell College, hit .329 with 24 stolen bases in 25 attempts in two all-conference seasons. He can also play shortstop and third base.

Jarred Mederos, a transfer from Santa Fe College, is expected to be the starting shortstop. He hit .333 with a .398 on-base percentage.

St. John’s continues its season tomorrow as they play Old Dominion in the first game of the ODU Baseball Tournament. The Red Storm then play St. Joseph’s Saturday before a game with Kentucky on Sunday.

The Red Storm’s first home game is March 12 against Fairleigh Dickinson.