The Mansfield University baseball team will take to the outdoors for the first time this season when the Mountaineers travel to Greer, S.C. this weekend.

Mansfield will play Bluefield St. (W.Va.) and Saginaw Valley State (Mich.) on Saturday.

Head coach Harry Hillson kickoffs his 27th season at the helm of the Mountaineer program with a lot of questions along with loads of potential. Hillson welcomes back six position starters from last season including the top five hitters in 2012.

"We're a better team than we were last year," said Hillson. "We have a lot of key returners and brought in a bunch of talented JUCO players. Our pitching is already better and we're a much deeper team."

Hillson, who is expected to become just the third collegiate coach in Pennsylvania history to reach the 800 win milestone sometime this season, along with assistant coach Andy Chalot, went to great lengths to improve the pitching staff adding six JUCO transfers, three of whom will be at the top of the rotation. Senior Joe Candelmo returns as the staff ace.

The Mountaineers should also be improved defensively with the return of two-year starter Seth Tressler in the outfield after missing all of 2012. The addition of JUCO transfer Brandon Miller at shortstop allows Jon Taddeo, who started the last three years at short, to move to second.

"It's going to be a good year to be a Mountie," said Hillson. "And if everybody stays healthy and things work the way we expect them to it could be a great year."

Following the trip to South Carolina, Mansfield will travel to Ruther Glen, VA for games against Slippery Rock and St. Rose on Mar. 2-3 before heading to Florida for six games. The team opens the PSAC East season at Kutztown on March 23.

Pitchers

Senior Joe Candelmo returns as the ace of the pitching staff that, with an infusion of talented newcomers, is expected to show vast improvement over last season. Candelmo has been a mainstay on the mound for the past two seasons, leading the team in strikeouts last year after going 6-4 with a 3.90 ERA in 2011.

Newcomer Joey Andrews is also a lefty and is set to be the No. 2 starter in the rotation. Last season Andrews posted a 2.76 regular season ERA and a 6-2 overall record while leading Bluefield College to the Mid-East NCCAA Championship.

A pair of transfers from Frederick Community College are projected to emerge as conference starters in Joey Zuniga and Quin Taylor. Last season the duo helped FCC advance to the NJCAA Region XX playoffs. Zuniga is also a southpaw and went 6-1 for the Cougars in 2012 with a 2.24 ERA. He struck out 59 batters in 55 innings worked. Taylor earned all-regional honors as a reliever last season where he went 4-1 with a 2.97 ERA. He struck out 31 batters while walking just 13.

Righty Johnathan Earnest is penciled in as the closer and could also see time in the starting rotation. A transfer from Cumberland County College in New Jersey, Earnest went 7-4 last year and struck out 51 batters in 14 games worked. Daniel Harms is a transfer from Genesee Community College where he posted a 5-1 mark in 2012.

Sophomore Jeremy Mapstone heads up the reliever corps after a solid freshman season where he appeared in 13 games. Nick Keener, a standout at Williamsport HS, is a transfer from NCAA Division I Coastal Carolina. Keener went 4-2 with a 1.30 as a reliever for the Rockville Express of the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League this past summer.

Sophomore David Forbes also returns at middle relief along with his 90-mph fastball. Danny Brown is back for his senior year where he will move into relief role after starting 12 games last season. Joining the middle relief corps this season is Greg Dayhoff who pitched for Fredrick CC last year. Curtis Harpster returns in the middle after appearing in 15 games in 2012. Philip Bain also returns to the bullpen where he appeared in eight games as a freshman.

Veterans Craig Cymerman, Louis Sick and Joel Worthington are also expected to be back to 100% after being sidelined last season with injuries.

Catchers

Senior Conor Thompson returns behind the plate after a solid season last year when he started 46 games and belted a team-high four home runs. He will be joined behind the dish by hard-hitting senior Ernie Ruch when Ruch is not playing first base. Sophomore Dave Glueck has had a strong preseason and will be in the catching mix.

Infield

Joey Andrews is expected to start at first when he's not on the mound with senior Jon Taddeo moving over to second base after starting the last three seasons at shortstop. Taddeo started all 45 games last season batting .284 with 24 RBI's.

Junior Brandon Miller, a transfer from Allegany College, will start at shortstop. The strong armed Miller pitched and played short at Allegany where he batted .355 and drove in 42 runs in 47 games. John Pliego was an all-state selection and will serve a utility role after transferring from Concordia College.

The Mountaineers may be their strongest at third base with the return of senior Matt Fisher and sophomore Anthony Renz. Miller started all 49 games last season, hitting .287 and driving in a team-best 25 runs. 19 of his 47 hits were for extra bases.

Renz played in 42 games including 37 starts as a freshman while batting .283 with a team-best four home runs and 20 RBI's. Renz will start at the DH spot when not playing in the infield. Johnny LeClair, a transfer from Herkimer CC has had a strong preseason and will see time at backup.

If Renz or Fisher isn't in the DH slot, look for the Mountaineers to get some offensive pop from sophomore Bronze Luden who transferred from Allegany College.

Outfield

Expect the Mountaineers to be solid in the outfield with the return of last year's starters Dylan Woodworth and Stephen Stopper along with junior Seth Tressler who was a starter in 2010 and 2011.

Woodworth has started in each of his first three seasons with the Mountaineers and will patrol centerfield. Woodworth led the team in hitting last season with a .316 average along with a team-best seven stolen bases. Stopper started 41 games as a freshman last season batting .285. Tressler missed last season but was one of the Mountaineers tops players in 2011 hitting .338 and .326 on the 2010 team that advanced to the NCAA Regional playoffs.

Junior Mitch Iseneker has seen starting action in each of his first two seasons while newcomers Max Miller and Stanton Tentnowski, both junior college transfers, are also capable of starting