New skipper Kevin Burdick relying on returning talent to lead Widener in MAC

Widener baseball preview
Veteran managers and coaches have openly spoken about the difficulties COVID has presented to their programs, so Kevin Burdick finds himself in a challenging position as a first-year head coach with an interim tag at Widener. 

Mike LaRosa, who served as head coach at Widener for nine seasons, left for the head coaching vacancy at West Chester in January. 

"Really fortunate going into your first head coaching experience - in the middle of a pandemic - with a whole bunch of returners," Burdick said with a laugh. "They've made this a bit easier for me. I was lucky to have so many quality returners; it's like having a dozen or so assistant coaches." 

Though he hasn't been at the helm, Burdick has experienced success over his five seasons as an assistant at Widener. During his time, the program has been to five conference tournaments and one NCAA regional by capturing the MAC Commonwealth Championship in 2016. 

"We are very lucky to have Kevin already on staff to be able to assume the duties as interim head coach," said Jack Shafer, Director of Athletics. "His knowledge of the team and familiarity with the program allows us to not miss a beat as we move into this season." 

The Pride had a 6-5 record before the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Middle Atlantic Conference season last year. The club finished 20-24-1 the year before, reaching the MAC Commonwealth Championship game. 

Dylan Peiffer, a right-handed graduate student out of Allentown, sits atop the starting rotation. He finished 2-1 last year over three starts, posting a 2.84 ERA. He also collected 16 strikeouts over 12 1/3 innings. He tossed 72 2/3 innings in 2019, tying him for the most innings pitched in the conference.  

"He's our workhorse, a big 6-foot-4 righty that can run it inside up to 93-mph," Burdick said. "He's a special talent, for sure." 

Another arm to watch is sophomore Liam Nihill. A left-hander out of Cardinal O'Hara, he struggled last year in three appearances but is expected to be a significant contributor on the mound. 

"He's taken some huge strides over the last year," Burdick said. "He looks good." 

Offensively, the club is going to rely heavily on sophomore Justin Costanzo. He hit .348 last season in nine games, picking up a double and a homer while collecting six RBIs. 

"He was a walk-on for us last year," Burdick said. "We were worried about having room for another outfielder, and then we saw him at batting practice and knew there was no way we could cut this kid. 

"My favorite story with Justin is that his first-ever swing in a college game was a home run; his very first swing was a 350-foot bomb down in Florida [against Purchase St.]. 

"He'll be in the middle of our order this year. He's a leader in his own right. He's a silent giant; he doesn't say much, but when he does, people listen." 

Another vital piece for Widener is senior outfielder Brandon Reis. A graduate of La Salle, he hit .297 last season and swiped four bags in ten games, but it's his leadership skills that impress Burdick the most. 

"He's done such an outstanding job with the team, helping in so many ways," Burdick said. "He'll take on teaching things like baserunning and other things we can't get to. Having that type of foundation is great." 

The schedule for the Pride consists almost entirely of conference-only games with doubleheaders on Saturdays and Sundays. The season opens this weekend with twin-bills against Stevenson on Saturday and Eastern on Sunday.
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Follow Patrick on Twitter: @PGordonPBR

BY PATRICK GORDON
Managing Editor
pgordon@philadelphiabaseballreview.com

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