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Revitalized Red Storm ready to roll on ’04

With solid defense up the middle, veteran Big East pitchers and one of the deepest lineups in recent years, the St. John’s baseball team has the potential to make the Big East tournament for the first time since 1999.

“We could be a pretty good club,” said St. John’s coach Ed Blankmeyer. “I think we can challenge.”

The Red Storm showed a glimpse of that potential in February, beating then No. 24 Lamar twice in Texas. It was the first time Lamar lost a home series in more than a year.

After losing five of the next six games, St. John’s (7-8) won four straight heading into this weekend’s opening Big East series against Georgetown.

The Red Storm was picked to finish seventh in the 11-team Big East in the preseason coaches’ poll. Led by preseason Player of the Year Steve Sollmann, Notre Dame was picked to win the Big East this season followed by Rutgers, Boston College, West Virginia, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.

After St. John’s, Connecticut, Seton Hall, Villanova and Georgetown round out the preseason poll.

Leading the returnees for the Red Storm is senior shortstop Mike Rozema, the lone St. John’s player on the preseason All-Big East team. Last year Rozema batted .408 with 33 RBIs.

Rozema will be joined in the middle infield by junior second baseman PJ Antoniato, a transfer from Briarcliffe Junior College. Junior Joe Burke, a transfer from Nassau Community College, will catch while sophomore Greg Thomson returns as the starting centerfielder to give the Red Storm stellar defense up the middle.

Anthony DeRosa will start in left field while Blake Hershelman, who saw time behind the plate last year, will move to right field. The junior leads the Red Storm in hitting, batting .446 in the early season.

Chris Joachim and Eddie Schultz will share duties at first while Jim Martin will start at third base.

As a team, St. John’s is batting .309 heading into the conference opener.

“We have some balance. We have some power slotted into a couple spots and we also have a little speed mixed in,” Blankmeyer said. “We can score runs a lot of different ways.”

Also back for the Red Storm is a trio of righty pitchers in Joe Reid, Jim Wladyka and Anthony Varvaro who have Big East experience. Hard-throwing sophomore Craig Hansen will come out of the pen as the club’s closer while redshirt freshman Rob Delaney, one of only two lefties on the staff, has been a pleasant surprise.

“I don’t think there’s one guy who’s going to shut a team out every weekend like a Lambert,” Blankmeyer said, referring to Chris Lambert of Boston College, picked as the preseason Pitcher of the Year. “But we have solid pitching that every game they should give us a pretty good start.”

The Red Storm opens its conference schedule against Georgetown Saturday. First pitch of the doubleheader at The Ballpark at St. John’s is slated for noon. The third game of the series will be Sunday at noon.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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