CSI's Richard Anderson is one of 13 returning faces on the CSI Baseball team this season.

The College of Staten Island men’s baseball team has never been shy about its intentions, and in 2013, the focus once again is on claiming a conference crown and making noise in time for the CUNYAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA National Tournament, which begins in 2014. For now, that means the building blocks continue to rise, and this season, the Dolphins are hoping to build on three-straight 20-win seasons which the team hopes will result in its fourth straight appearance in the Final by season’s end. The team takes its first steps this weekend, travelling to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, for the Cal Ripken Division III Experience, a three-day, four-game, set that begins Saturday morning against perennial regional powerhouse Cortland State, at 10:00am.

“We were getting some serious cabin fever practicing in the gym,” said CSI skipper Michael Mauro, who won a pair of CUNYAC titles in 2010 & 2011. “We are really going to get the baseball feel in Myrtle Beach. The players and coaches are just itching to get out there. It’s an awesome feeling.”

The Dolphins have reason to be giddy. The team is returning 13 players to its 2013 roster, a group that includes defending CUNYAC Rookie of the Year Will DiFede and All-CUNYAC selections Richard Anderson, Bryan Moreno, Dan Lynch, James Lewis and Mike Van Pelt. The team scored a 21-18 overall record a year ago, complete with an 8-4 conference mark and a trip to the conference final, a 5-3 loss to Baruch College.

Despite falling short in its attempt to win its third-straight conference crown, the Dolphins were consistently among the conference and regions best, both at the plate and on the hill. The team batted a crisp .280 last season, and what the team lacked in slugging (CSI garnered only 58 extra-base hits last year) they made up for on the base paths, stealing 133 bases, the most under current head coach Michael Mauro, whose 94 career wins over the last four seasons ranks third all-time at CSI.

Highlighting the returning bats is Will DiFede, whose stellar freshman campaign saw him hit .368, with a team high five triples and 25 stolen bags, adding a .975 fielding percentage as an outfielder. Senior Bryan Moreno was the team’s hit leader with 44 base hits, boasting a .346 average, and 15 stolen bases. James Lewis batted a crisp .309, while senior Lynch finished .243 with 22 stolen bases and 21 walks, both good for second on the team.

The bats will be bolstered in 2013 thanks to Queens College transfers Chris Ramanauskas and Robert Bernardo. The total collection expect to earn early season looks in the lineup, and Mauro has nothing but high expectations for the entire contingent, top-to-bottom.

“I feel like one through nine, everyone in our order has the potential to carry us,” he said. “We won’t depend on one or two hitters for production. We are a speed and gap hitting team, and this year we have even more speed than last, which makes things better for us and tougher for our opponents, because they will always have to keep an eye on what we are doing on the base paths.”

As good as the hitting at CSI can be the bedrock for the Dolphins will be its pitching, which boasts a solid foundation of returning talent. All-Star Richard Anderson is CSI’s most accomplished returner. The heavy-handed righty finished 4-2 with a 3.39 ERA, often facing the highest-caliber lineups. Van Pelt also impressed, scoring a 5-2 mark with a 3.51 ERA with 31 strikeouts in over 48 innings. Returning arms Kieran Monaghan, Jonathan Aponte, Mike Gillen, Christopher Matusiewicz, and Anthony Storz provide plenty more fuel for the Dolphins, giving the team the ability to lean on its experience on the mound.

That said the team is excited about the future of newcomers John Baggs and Michael Fitzpatrick, a pair of local pitchers who were aces on their competitive high school teams. They plan to see innings both in and out of conference play. Mauro says the unit will help carry the squad in 2013.

“We have some top notch guys coming back, and our younger guys are really feeding off of that and it’s really exciting to have that kind of production working for us,” Mauro noted. “Our pitching unit is very tight; they all want to help each other get better. It’s baseball over everything else.”

Of course, with the entire CUNYAC getting better, according to Mauro, CSI will have its work cut out for them. For one, the team must prove it belongs amongst the top of the class of conference teams, after that, says Mauro, he expects to vie for a crown.

“We love that the bar gets raised every year because it makes us better,” he said. “Our conference has teams that can hit well, pitch well, and really give you everything they got out there. We consistently have to work harder, coach harder, recruit harder, and that’s a good thing.”

After its South Carolina swing, the team will waste no time getting into its season. They will be on the road for a non-conference game next week before facing Stevens Tech, an affiliate member of the conference, on March 10 at 12 Noon in Hoboken, before opening up at the CSI Baseball Complex on March 13 against Old Westbury. The coach is excited about the quick start, weather permitting.

“Our early schedule is extremely difficult and we are excited about that,” the coach said enthusiastically. “Coming right out of the gate and facing the levels of opponents we face really gets us playing good baseball quickly, so that by the time the conference games come and we get to the middle and end of our season, we will be ready.”

The coach does not immediately know what the future will hold, but no matter what, he is excited about the potential, and it has just as much to do with the character of his team than the athleticism.

“We often talk about a chain being only as strong as its weakest link, and we don’t have any weak links right now,” the coach proudly exclaimed. “They are more committed than I have ever seen since I’ve been here. We have such really good ball players who can see the road ahead and understand the preparation it takes now to realize our potential. I am very excited.”

Tickets to all CSI home games are always free of charge and CLUE Certified for all students. One of the highlights every year will be CSI Baseball’s annual Grace Hillery Breast Cancer Awareness Night, which will be played on Tuesday, April 23, at 7pm against Drew University. For more information on the baseball games this weekend, keep up with the latest on www.csidolphins.com.