In his 19 seasons as head coach of the Lyons, Eric Podbelski has achieved virtually every accolade a Division III coach can possibly attain. He’s been NEWMAC Coach-of-the-Year nine times and New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA) Division III Coach-of-the-Year five times.
These achievements are especially astounding given that the Lyons only began varsity play in 1997—when Podbelski was in his second year as a coach. Since then, the team has never finished below .500—clinching 15 NEWMAC regular season titles and 13 NEWMAC Tournament championships. In 2006, the school reached its first national championship game after finishing with a 42-10 record—good enough for the highest win total in Wheaton history.
During his time with the Lyons, Podbelski has produced 12 All-America selections and eight professional players. One such player, Chris Denorfia ’02, was selected by the Cincinnati Reds in the 2002 Major League Draft. Denorfia has enjoyed a successful 9-year Major League career with the Reds and Padres—and he attributes much of his success to his former coach.
“Two years before I went there, it was a JV program. When I left, it was a powerhouse,” Denorfia said. “What he’s able to do with no money … what he’s selling is very impressive. It’s very easy to buy into.”
Podbelski’s success for the Lyons shows no signs of slowing down. Last year’s team may have broken a streak of nine straight 30-win seasons, but the Lyons still finished with a 27-16-1 record. Then, in the NEWMAC tournament, Wheaton defeated Babson in the semi-finals before narrowly falling to MIT in the championship.
This spring, the Lyon’s opened their season in Auburndale, Florida for the annual RussMatt Central Florida Invitational—where they finished 6-4 over ten games. Offensively, the team has only produced 4.3 runs per game despite an impressive .764 on-base plus slugging percentage. Justin Silvestro ’16 and Apolinar De La Cruz ’15 have been the major run producers—hitting at .500 and .304 respectively. Silvestro has been an especially important part of Wheaton’s line-up—leading the team in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and RBIs.
Despite only having one senior, the Lyon’s pitching staff has been nothing but dominant, collecting 53 strikeouts to go along with a 1.89 ERA. One of the Lyon’s youngest pitchers, Joe Bongiovanni ’18, has stood out the most, notching a 0.93 ERA in his first three games. Jared Clement ’16 is also on pace for a dominating season—his 0.47 WHIP is nearly half that of any other Lyon pitcher.
Wheaton’s next home game will be March 27 against Bridgewater State. The contest opens a seven-game home stand in which the Lyons will face six different teams—including Clark and Babson.
“Our focus at the moment is to win the conference regular season championship,” Podbelski said. “With conference play just beginning, it would be unproductive to look any further down the road than that.”