Andrew Cossetti leads the Hawks offense
Cossetti will play a major role again for the Hawks. | Photo: Saint Joseph's Athletics
It didn't receive much mainstream press, but last year's final four-game series between La Salle and Saint Joseph's was worthy of your attention. 

It was that good. 

La Salle entered the week holding the final playoff spot with Saint Joseph's off the pace. The Hawks went to Rhode Island and knocked off a solid Rams club before returning to Philadelphia for a four-game set with the Explorers to close out the season. 

The Hawks trailed the Explorers in the standings by, you guessed it, four games. Throw in the fact that La Salle was eliminating its baseball program at the end of the season and you've got a pretty memorable situation. 

"I don't know many people that would have bet for us to win those four games the way we did," Saint Joseph's head coach Fritz Hamburg said with a laugh.

That's what happened though, as the Hawks won four straight and finished the year with the same record as the Explorers, advancing to the postseason via a head-to-head tiebreaker. Unfortunately, the magic faded one week later as losses to VCU and Dayton ended the Hawks' season. 

"It was a crazy end to the season, how it all unfolded," Hamburg said. "We had a big win up at Rhode Island and came here to face a tough La Salle team. I'm not sure it could have played out any better. That said, the ending didn't leave a good taste in our mouth; losing to Dayton." 

The Hawks return their entire starting lineup from a year ago, including Andrew Cossetti and Nate Thomas, a duo that combined to hit 25 homers while driving in 72 RBI's. Overall, the Hawks hit 44 homers as a club last year - their opponents hit just 24. 

Is that type of output sustainable? 

"Oh yeah," Hamburg said with confidence. "I absolutely do. I think the long ball is going to continue o be a big part of our offense. A lot of it comes down to how pitchers pitch to you and who you have around you in the lineup, but it's a big thing for us, for sure." 

Aside from Cossetti and Thomas, fifth-year outfielder Brendan Hueth returns to build on a career year last season where he hit .375 while posting a .986 OPS. Sophomore outfielder Brett Callahan is also back in the fold, looking to improve on his .315 average and 11 stolen bases. 

 As for pitching, the Hawks lost Hayden Seig and Lucas Rollins to graduation while Matt Kennedy transferred to Delaware. Otherwise, nearly the entire pitching staff returns intact. 

"I like where we are at the mound as far as experience goes," Hamburg said. "I don't think a definitive Friday guy has emerged, but I think we're going to be pretty solid." 

Right-hander Ian McCole finished 2-4 with a 4.55 ERA over 61 1/3 innings last year. Lefty Luke Zimmerman and righty Ryan Devine also appear to be in line to make some starts in the early going. Right-hander Luke Smith may also see some time in the rotation after pitching to a 1.31 ERA last year. 

"There were a lot of positives for us last year," Hamburg said. "The tournament didn't go the way we wanted, but these guys played well and are bringing that experience into this season." 

Saint Joseph's opens the regular season on Friday with a visit from Quinnipiac before traveling south for a three-game set with UMBC later this month. 

"This is an experienced group of guys we have here," Hamburg said. "This crew can certainly compete and that's what we expect to do."

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