Local baseball players safe at home in new Marymount program


Recent Potomac Falls graduate Brandon Orbe is one of several local players who will help start the Marymount baseball program. (Richard A. Lipski/For The Washington Post)

Recently graduated Potomac Falls shortstop Brandon Orbe will not only start a college baseball career next season, he’ll help start a team.

Orbe, a second-team All-Met, is one of several local players who have committed to Arlington school Marymount, which is launching a Division III baseball program. The Saints will compete in the Capital Athletic Conference next season, just as they do in other sports.

“That’s one of the main reasons I went there,” Orbe said this spring. “It’s a cool story. Five of us play on the same travel team, so once one committed it was, oh, we know someone there. It’s going to be more fun and we’ll be starting something new with people we already know.”

The Saints’ coach is Frank Leoni, a former head coach at William & Mary and Rhode Island. Marymount will play its home games at O’Connell‘s baseball field, about two miles from campus. The two schools have a long-standing relationship. Some O’Connell students take classes at Marymount for college credit.

Among the other Northern Virginia players who have committed to Marymount so far are W.T. Woodson outfielder Ryan Adamus, Patriot infielder Devon Annunzi, Heritage outfielder Lorenzo Calderon, Fairfax Homeschool player Robert Ciola, Stuart pitcher Jacob KniattIreton catcher Corey Phillips, Centreville infielder Danny Russell and Herndon catcher Austin Schnarrs. River Hill pitcher-infielder Jason Freishtat also is headed there. Other locals could be added to the inaugural roster.

Orbe, who also was considering Roanoke College, liked that Marymount was a new program that was close to home and had a coach with extensive Division I experience. Leoni went 266-343-3 in 13 seasons at alma mater Rhode Island, where he was twice named Atlantic 10 coach of the year, and he went 196-178 at William & Mary from 2006 to 2012.

“We get to start our own traditions and stuff like that,” Orbe said. “The team is going to be almost all freshmen and a few transfers from junior colleges. We get to start our own thing. I’m really excited.”

Leoni’s intention was to bring in about 15 to 20 high school players and 10 to 15 transfers, but he liked the available prospects in the Class of 2013, so he adjusted those numbers.

“There were a lot of quality kids we felt like we couldn’t pass up on,” said Leoni, who placed a premium on pitchers, particularly those who can play other positions. “We have some really talented guys.

“I do believe we’ve probably been able to convince a couple of borderline Division I players to come and play for us because we’re selling the opportunity to go to the Division III World Series someday. It’s not only playing in a start-up program. The plan is to build the thing quickly.”

Marymount President Matthew D. Shank is eager to field a team, and not only because the former pitcher at Tulsa and Wyoming universities will be welcome to throw batting practice for the Saints every once in awhile.

Shank believes that starting a baseball program will be a way to better attract and keep students. He said the students who play sports at Division III schools tend to have higher test scores and grade-point averages than non-athletes. The retention rate for athletes at Marymount is about 10 percent higher than the rest of the student population, he said, in part because athletes feel more connected to the school. Marymount also is adding men’s volleyball and triathlon teams for the coming school year.

Last month, 78 Marymount student-athletes, out of 205 at the school, were named to the CAC’s all-academic team, which recognizes athletes with at least a 3.2 grade-point average. The number of honorees makes up 38 percent of the school’s student-athlete population.

“For all of our athletics, we use the program in a sense as a recruitment and retention tool for Marymount,” said Shank, whose office is decorated with baseball memorabilia, including autographs from Nolan Ryan and Bruce Sutter as well as baseball cards and other mementoes. “It’s more about enrollment than love of sports, even though I love sports, in particular baseball.”

Marymount has gotten baseball commitments from Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Leoni not only wants to recruit locally but tap back into his connections in eastern Pennsylvania and New England, areas that helped supply him with players at Rhode Island.

Five of the six CAC teams finished with winning records this past spring. The league will expand to 10 teams next season, with the addition of Marymount (previously the only school in the league to not have baseball), Christopher Newport (the regular season champion in USA South Athletic Conference), Penn State Harrisburg (North Eastern Athletic Conference tournament champions) and Southern Virginia. The other members are Salisbury (winner of 10 of the last 14 league titles), Mary Washington, Frostburg State, Wesley, York and St. Mary’s. Southern Virginia is still transitioning to Division III athletic status, so its games will not count in the CAC standings next season.

The aim is for the Saints’ field to be a college-caliber facility that just happens to be on high school property. There is talk of installing in-ground dugouts, a press box and other flourishes. A recreation center on campus has two new retractable indoor batting cages that fold down from the ceiling.

“They really want the community to know that it’s not just that someone decided to slap together a baseball program,” said Leoni, who scouted eight of the other nine CAC teams this season. “They want to be a very good baseball program.

“I think the talent level we’re bringing in is comparable to what I’m seeing [around the league]. Not man for man, but in total.”

Speaking of men, this might be a selling point for some prospective Marymount players: Even though the former women’s college went fully co-ed in 1986, females still make up 70 percent of the 3,800-student (about 2,400 undergraduate) enrollment.

“I definitely use that one,” Shank said with a laugh.

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Eric Detweiler · July 3, 2013

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