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Navy’s Florida duo has Midshipmen
thinking Patriot repeat
By Tom Gresham
Navy coach Paul Kostacopoulos decided to juggle his lineup on
the verge of the postseason last spring, shifting cleanup hitter
Greg Dupell (left) across the diamond from first base to third
base, he did not hold a sit-down conference with Dupell. Nor did
he worry about how his player would manage the change
emotionally so late into the season.
had to do was say, ‘Get over there,’” Kostacopoulos said.
Teaching sacrifice and the supremacy of the team does not worry
Kostacopoulos nor does his players’ mental toughness. The Naval
Academy takes care of that for him.
“At Navy, everything that we do is a team
concept,” Kostacopoulos said. “We’re just a piece of the puzzle
and we learn right away that we can do far more as a group than
as individuals. It is instilled from the first day of the plebe
summer. They’re taught, ‘We’re going to do this thing
lineup shift was one of a number of moves that went right in
2011 as Navy enjoyed its most successful season in nearly a
decade. The Midshipmen swept the Patriot League regular-season
and conference titles and played in an NCAA regional for the
first time since 2002.
the keys to the team’s success were Dupell, who hit .327 with a
team-high seven home runs and .531 slugging percentage, and Alex
Azor, a savvy centerfielder, who hit .329 with a team-high 15
doubles and a conference-high 77 hits. The duo tied for the most
runs in the conference with 49. Dupell and Azor, who are both
Florida natives, return this year, spearheading the Midshipmen’s
bid to repeat as conference champions.
are huge catalysts for us,” Kostacopoulos said.
(left), a senior captain, will take on a new role in his final
season. Kostacopoulos has shifted the 5’11, 190-pounder, from
the No. 3 spot to the leadoff position in the Midshipmen lineup.
Azor does not provide blazing speed setting the table, but he
does have a heady approach – “he’s one of the smartest players
I’ve coached in 23 years,” Kostacopoulos said – that fits the
said he read “Moneyball” in the offseason and digested the value
the Oakland A’s front office found in walks and on-base
percentage. A focus of Azor’s workouts in the interim has been
on improving his patience and pitch selection at the plate as he
looks to find more ways of getting on base for his teammates.
is approaching his senior season with keen focus, knowing that
this will mark the end of his career.
been poking at me,” he said.
offensive approach emphasizes various aspects of small ball.
Last spring, it worked. Kostacopoulos noted that the team’s
national ranking in runs scored (84th at 6.1 runs per game) far
outpaced its ranking in batting average (209th at .272). Azor
said the team’s rigorous attention to such aspects of the game
as bunting, baserunning and hitting behind runners emerged as
particularly critical when the postseason arrived and every
development on the field was magnified.
don’t realize why you do those things in practice until you’ve
reached that point,” Azor (left) said.
small ball approach is sufficient for the Midshipmen because
bats such as Dupell and junior catcher/designated hitter Dave
Milanes (.295, team-high 48 RBI) wait in the middle of the
lineup, ready to clear the bases.
who had just two starts as a freshman, said his strong sophomore
season stemmed partially from the simple learning process of
settling into a starting role and the rhythm of regular playing
time. In particular, he improved as the season progressed at
making adjustments at the plate during the course of at-bats.
also made swift adjustments in the field. Kostacopoulos raves
about the strides Dupell has made at third base since it became
his full-time position. For his part, Dupell shrugs off any
suggestion that switching positions shortly before the playoffs
last year might have created any awkwardness for him.
“It happened during our most important games of
the year, so I knew that I couldn’t let something like that
affect my play,” said Dupell, who was a second-team All-Patriot
League selection. “I was just focused on winning games.”
Neither Azor nor Dupell initially considered attending Navy when
they were playing high school ball in Florida. Dupell was more
focused on other college prospects, and Azor was familiar with
the school only from the Army-Navy football games.
Dupell (right) knew the Navy experience was for him after an
eye-opening visit to campus, and Azor warmed to the idea soon
after the program’s coaches first showed interest in him. Azor,
whose family emigrated from Cuba, felt a call to duty when he
country has provided this great opportunity for my family and I
felt like I should repay it,” said Azor, who will join the U.S.
Marine Corps following graduation.
and Dupell said last season’s experience inspires this year’s
roster. In addition to its returning bats, Navy brings back
several of its top pitchers, including starters Johnny Schoberl
and Ben Nelson and relievers Joel Rinehart and Preston Gainey.
The team did not lack confidence in the past, but its recent
accomplishments have sharpened its vision for this spring.
know what we’re capable of doing,” Azor said.
Dupell said, “We want to
repeat what we did last year. We know we’re going to have to
play hard every day to do that.”
(photos courtesy of Navy Sports