Graceffo and Kingsbury lead a Villanova club aiming for a BIG EAST pennant

Villanova eyes a 20-win season
Villanova had a good thing going last season before the COVID pandemic forced the cancellation of the season. The Wildcats were an impressive four-games over .500 and appeared primed to reach the 20-win plateau, a mark not seen since 2016. 

"Our guys have been great," said Villanova head coach Kevin Mulvey. "They continue to work hard, they have a great attitude, and are excited to get back on the field." 

Sophomore Lucas Latrenta led the Wildcats offense last season, hitting .333 over 12 games with three homers and 10 RBIs. His .595 slugging percentage was the best in the BIG EAST and helped him earn Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American honors. 

Can he carry that success into 2021? 

"Hitting is difficult, and you go through hot streaks and cold streaks," Mulvey said. "Then you have to make adjustments, and that's what great hitters do. I'm looking forward to seeing how Lucas is going to handle [frustration] when it comes his way, and if he can handle that, then the sky is the limit for him." 

Ryan Toohers returns as a graduate student for his fifth season with the program. He earned first-team All-BIG EAST honors as a sophomore in 2018 but struggled a bit as a junior. He appeared to have found himself last season, hitting .273 with 12 RBIs over 14 contests. 

Nick Lorusso is another player to watch on the Wildcats, coming off a rough 2020 season where he hit just .212 after earning BIG EAST Rooke of the Year honors a year prior. 

"Nick ran into a bit of bad luck last year," Mulvey said. "He was banged up a bit with a hamstring issue that hampered his performance. He still had a tremendous approach at the plate, he's got a great eye, he stays in the zone. I'm excited for him and we are confident he's going to have a great year." 

On the mound, the Wildcats will again be led by junior righty Gordon Graceffo (Cranford) and senior righty Jimmy Kingsbury (Malvern Prep). 

Graceffo was 4-0 in four starts last season with a 1.42 ERA. His four wins led the BIG EAST and were tied for second nationally. Kingsbury finished 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA over four starts. He led the pitching staff in innings pitched (26 1/3), strikeouts (20), and opponent batting average (.208). 

Sophomore righty Cole Vanderslice made his Villanova debut last year with three appearances, including one start, and surrendered just three runs over nine innings. He figures to also be a key contributor on the mound for the Wildcats. 

"We are definitely excited about a lot of our pitchers," Mulvey said. 

The Wildcats also have a pair of transfers to be excited about. Sophomore infielder Jack O'Reilly (Villanova, Episcopal Academy) is a newcomer to the program after spending last season in a utility role at Notre Dame. He was an honorable mention Perfect Game Preseason Underclassmen All-American in both 2017 and 2018 and was an All-Philly and All-Inter-Ac first-team honoree. 

Joining O'Reilly is Vance Anderson, a sophomore outfielder transfer from Stetson who brings a combination of power and speed to the plate. 

Villanova was scheduled to open the season on February 20 with a contest against Fordham, but that's already been canceled due to weather. The club remains scheduled though to host Hofstra on February 21 in the season opener. 

One major change in the BIG EAST this season is the addition of another conference game each weekend, meaning instead of the traditional three-game set, clubs will now play four games. The Wildcats open conference play on April 1 against Georgetown.
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor

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