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UML, Stone looks to future

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By DAVID PEVEAR Sun Staff

The human resources department at UMass Lowell considers coach Jim Stone retired as of last Friday.

"Seeing as I was coaching at the national championship (tournament), they're giving me a little extra time to get my paper work in," said Stone, who in April accepted an early-retirement package.

Hold off on the retirement parties, though. The paper work will get done, but the lineup card has not been pried from Stoney's hands just yet.

In actuality, Stone will coach the River Hawks one more season (under a part-time classification). He is already working toward his 37th and final season, which he fully expects will end in Alabama with a bigger bang next June. His first week of state-recognized retirement is being spent at state tournament baseball games, scouring for future River Hawks to refuel his march-back-to-Montgomery machinery.

"I'm going to enjoy every moment of next season," said Stone, whose 35-18 team returned home Saturday night after finishing fourth at the Division 2 College World Series in Montgomery, Ala. "We're losing some good players. But we have a good nucleus, the majority of which has now been to Alabama twice."

The River Hawks on their second trip to Alabama were one victory better than their first trip last year. They went 2-2 in the tournament, losing twice to top-ranked Chico State, which lost 5-3 to Columbus (Ga.) State in the championship game Sunday.

Their highlight was eliminating Florida Southern, the New York Yankees of Division 2 college baseball. UMass Lowell's showing was the best by a Northeast Region school since Adelphi finished third in 1996.

The River Hawks were ranked sixth in the country in the final Division II poll released yesterday.

Even with a scorecard, though, Montgomery locals couldn't tell who these impressive River Hawks were. A mix-up resulted in the tournament program featuring a roster of last year's UMass Lowell team accompanying a picture of this year's team.

"Brian Eck was at bat, and all the kids in the stands kept yelling, 'C'mon Evan, get a hit,'" said Stone, noting that Eck wears No. 19, worn last year by departed second baseman Evan Greene. "They also thought Nate Liebenow was Jon Cahill (former wearer of No. 8). I wanted our freshmen to have a memento, to remember this experience for the rest of their lives, and their names aren't even in the program."

That slight was more than made up for when UMass Lowell was ranked sixth in the final Division 2 poll released yesterday. The River Hawks never before had been ranked in the top 10. Last year they finished 12th in the final poll.

"The Southern schools with their 50 wins have a thing about the Northern schools finishing too high," said Stone. "It's a blow to their ego. But they know we had a good ball club, and we did well in the tournament."

Though few in number, the River Hawks' personnel losses will be substantial as they look ahead to next season. Only three seniors were on the 2002 roster, and only one played in Alabama. But that one was pro-bound left-handed pitcher/center fielder David Williamson, expected to be drafted as a pitcher by Major League Baseball today.

Catcher Matt Tupman and third baseman Allen Mottram, both juniors and second-team All-Americans, are also expected to be lured into the pros. Tupman clubbed two homers in Alabama. He is projected as going in first ten rounds tomorrow. "He certainly didn't hurt himself in Alabama," said Stone.

Even so, led by shortstop and captain Adam McCusker, six of the River Hawks everyday position players will be back next year. The entire pitching staff except for Williamson will also be back, and pitching was the real strength of this team. Right-handers Steve Palazzolo (9-3, 2.71) and Patrick Shirley (5-1) and left-hander Brad Laurin of Dracut (5-2) are a top three to envy, and Montgomery is becoming habit-forming.

Should Tupman leave as expected, former Central Catholic star Mile Page of Dracut, redshirted as a sophomore this season, will finally get his chance behind the plate. Former Nashua High star Craig Carpenter, a catcher/first baseman, is also transferring in from the University of South Florida.

The River Hawks' usual impressive haul of local high school stars is expected to included Tyngsboro pitcher Dave LeCornec, Central Catholic shortstop/pitcher Kevin McCann, Billerica catcher Bryan Meuse, Dracut shortstop Mike Gariepy, Pelham pitcher Joe Johnson and Lowell first baseman Bob Theriault, as well as three Chelmsford Lions, outfielders Bryan Delaney and Dave Fretwell and pitcher Mike Upton.

Hudson High pitcher/first baseman Justin Leo is expected to reunite with his brother Shamus, a UMass Lowell freshman this season.

The big one who apparently got away from the River Hawks is Lawrence Academy pitcher Shawn Russell of Methuen, who will attend Bentley to play hockey.

Pitcher/infielder Russell played two years at Austin Prep before transferring to LA for his final two years.