16 Joe Sottolano
Ithaca College '90
Joe Sottolano has been very forthright regarding the lofty goals he's established for his Army baseball program, ever since taking the reins of his club. There's very little guess-work involved, because his sights remain fixed on the same target every year.
Capture a Patriot League championship and win in the NCAA Tournament.
"In my opinion, those should always be the goals for this program," Sottolano is quick to stress. "We should never aspire to anything less."
No one can debate the feasibility of that mission considering the consecutive record-setting seasons his Black Knights have authored. In addition to making their second straight postseason trip last spring as Patriot League champions, Sottolano's charges notched their first NCAA Regional win by defeating South Alabama. The victory came less than 24 hours after the Black Knights nearly shocked host and top-seeded Florida State. Army would lose to the highly regarded Seminoles by a slim 3-2 margin, but only after the game's winning run scored on an errant pickoff throw in the seventh inning.
Named Patriot League "Coach of the Year" for the second straight season, Sottolano guided the Black Knights to their fourth Patriot League championship and the school's third NCAA Regional appearance (all under Sottolano's watch).
In leading Army to its third postseason appearance in six years, the high-energy field boss presided over a team that set a new single season school record for victories (39) for the second consecutive year and established or tied 85 team and individual, school and league records. The Black Knights set the previous school record for wins only a year earlier when they posted 37 victories and established or tied 84 league and school standards.
For the second consecutive season, Army garnered votes in national polls and boasted a pair of All-America selections, this after featuring a pair of All-America selections, two freshman All-America choices and an Academic All-America honoree in 2004.
A national coach of the year candidate the past two years, Sottolano guided the Black Knights to a 39-14 overall record and their second consecutive Patriot League championship, only the second time Army has captured consecutive league titles of any kind.
Ripping off the most successful back-to-back seasons in school history, Army posted consecutive 30-win campaigns for the first time in school history. In fact, prior to the 2004 campaign, the Black Knights had never won more than 26 games in a season.
Army also registered 17 Patriot League victories last spring, a conference record the Black Knights first established in 1994 and equaled in 2004. The seventh-year mentor sports a 155-116-3 (.571) overall career coaching record and is 76-29 (.724) the past two years.
The Black Knights reeled off separate winning streaks of 10 and 15 games during the course of last season, and late in the year fell just one win shy of the school- and Patriot League-record 16-game winning streak established by the Black Knights the previous spring.
Outstanding pitching has been a staple of Army's teams the past two years with the Black Knights closing last season ranked eighth nationally in team earned run average (3.08) after listing 12th among national leaders in the category in 2004. Five of the seven pitchers named to the All-Patriot League teams last spring were members of Army's roster, including three of the four starters selected.
The Black Knights closed the year on a tear, capturing 21 of their last 26 games and 26 of 32 decisions overall. After opening the season with four consecutive losses, the Black Knights won 39 of 49 outings, including six straight during their spring trip to Florida, the first unbeaten southern swing in school history. At year's end, Army's overall winning percentage of .736 ranked eighth among national leaders.
The Black Knights posted a 19-4 record at West Point's Doubleday Field last spring and enter 2006 having prevailed in 40 of their last 46 home contests, dating back to the 2004 campaign.
Army has received votes in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association final poll each of the past two seasons, and was ranked tied for 34th nationally by SoutheasternBaseball.com at one point late last year, the Black Knights' first national listing of any kind. For the first time in school history, Army received votes in this year's NCBWA and Collegiate Baseball preseason polls.
Sottolano led the Black Knights to a Patriot League Tournament title and the school's second NCAA Tournament berth in 2004 after guiding Army to a conference crown and the school's first NCAA Regional appearance in 2000. Army captured the Patriot crown after entering as the tourney's No. 3 seed that season.
Sottolano has now earned Patriot League "Coach of the Year" honors twice. He is the first coach in the 15-year history of the conference to earn league coach of the year accolades in back-to-back seasons.
Despite registering early season victories over the likes of nationally ranked Florida and Iowa during its southern trip in 2004, Army began the season with a 10-9 record. Included in the mark was a disappointing 10-3 loss to Lehigh in the Black Knights' conference opener. No one could have envisioned what would follow as Army steamrolled to 27 victories over its next 31 games.
After dropping their conference debut to Lehigh, the Black Knights reeled off 16 consecutive victories. The winning streak, which spanned three weeks, marked the longest single season victory string in school history and the Black Knights' longest winning streak of the modern era. It also ranks as the longest winning streak in Patriot league history.
Late-game comebacks became commonplace during the record-setting run as Army registered six victories in its final plate appearance. In addition to boasting three walkoff wins, the Black Knights overcame a 10-0 deficit to defeat Pace in a non-league encounter.
Sweeping past Lafayette by the scores of 3-1 and 16-2 in the Patriot League Championship Series at Doubleday Field, the Black Knights continued their dominance at West Point. Army posted a gaudy 21-2 record on its home field, establishing new school records for home victories and home winning percentage, while enjoying a home field advantage rarely experienced in the Northeast.
"I can't say enough about the support we have received from our fans the past few years, both at home and on the road," Sottolano states. "The energy level for our games at Doubleday Field has been the highest that I've seen during all of my time at West Point."
And Sottolano has seen a lot of baseball during that tenure. The Middletown, N.Y., native arrived at the Academy in 1992, serving as an assistant on Army's baseball staff until his promotion to head coach in 2000.
In the midst of his second decade as a member of Army's baseball staff, Sottolano begins his seventh season presiding over the Black Knights' diamond program.
Following a successful nine-year stint as an assistant on the West Point coaching staff, he was named Army's interim head coach during the early portion of the 2000 season.
Sottolano inherited a team that had captured just one of its first seven games and had been forecast for a third-place finish in the Patriot League standings during a preseason poll of the conference's head coaches.
He proceeded to instill a quiet sense of confidence in his gritty group of Black Knights. Sottolano quickly imparted his aggressive style of play and relentless attitude on the group, taking charge of the club just three days prior to the beginning of Army's spring trip to Florida. And the Black Knights responded well to his teachings, winning five of seven games during the venture south to post the school's finest spring-trip record in more than a decade.
The "Cardiac Cadets" would register 18 come-from-behind victories during the season, with an amazing 12 of those wins coming during Army's last at-bat. Included in the group was a riveting comeback victory over Bucknell in the elimination game of the Patriot League Tournament, a triumph that propelled the Black Knights into the conference's championship series against regular-season titlist and top seed Navy.
Displaying the same type of grit and determination that characterized their season, the Black Knights rode a pair of comeback victories to stun the favored Midshipmen on their home field. After battling back from an early 3-0 deficit to post a 13-4 victory in the opening game of the championship series, Army employed similar dramatics to complete the two-game series sweep the next day.
There were seven emotionally charged walkoff wins in all that season, an incredible number considering that Army notched just 15 victories overall the previous year.
Shortly after leading the Black Knights to their first NCAA Regional appearance, Sottolano was rewarded for his marvelous efforts by having the "interim" label lifted from his title.
The Black Knights lost several key players from that championship squad and slumped to a 17-27-1 overall record in 2001. After a slow start the following season, Sottolano's club closed the year with a flourish, winning 14 of its last 16 contests. A dominant pitching staff was key to that success, accounting for five shutouts in the last 10 games. In fact, Army's talented young staff yielded more than two runs in just two of the Black Knights' final 11 outings. With a squad dominated by freshmen and sophomores in 2003, Army closed at 17-25-1 overall, narrowly missing the Patriot League Tournament on the final day of the conference season.
That performance set the stage for the Black Knights' magical two-year run that has led to their second and third conference titles in the last six years.
Prior to assuming the role as Army's head coach, Sottolano served as an assistant to former head coach Dan Roberts for nine years, arriving at the Academy in January 1992. Sottolano, who added the title of instructor in the Military Academy's Department of Physical Education in the fall of 1994, assumed primary responsibilities as Army's pitching coach, while attending to all other facets of the program during that period.
Off the field, his duties rested with coordinating the recruiting and admission support activities, as well as maintaining the team's conditioning programs.
"I feel extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to serve as head baseball coach at the U.S. Military Academy," Sottolano says. "The young men that we see at practice every day are special people. I would not trade the chance to work with these types of individuals on a daily basis for anything in the world."
Sottolano, who graduated from Ithaca College in 1990 with a bachelor's degree in physical education, was a four-year varsity letterwinner as a left-handed pitcher and a member of Bomber squads which made four consecutive appearances at the NCAA Division III Regionals. Voted "Most Outstanding Player" in the 1988 College World Series, he registered a 21-9 career record, posting a 3.26 earned run average. He guided the Bombers to a national title during that 1988 campaign.
Though his collegiate career ended that spring, Sottolano continued hurling. He was one of 36 players nation-wide invited to try out for Team USA that summer and remained one of the premier pitchers in the Hudson Valley Rookie League.
Highly respected among Eastern baseball circles, Sottolano served as pitching coach at Drexel University in the spring of 1991, before returning to Ithaca as the Bombers' graduate assistant coach that fall. He completed work on a master's degree in physical education and teaching from Ithaca in 1993.
In 1997, Sottolano oversaw a pitching staff that helped Army to a Patriot League championship, the school's first outright conference title since 1966. He was also chiefly responsible for recruiting that league-winning squad.
During the summer of 1999, he served as head coach for the New York Generals of the American Collegiate Baseball League. In his first season at the Generals' helm, Sottolano guided the team to a 28-12 record and a regular season league championship; this after the team finished with a losing record the previous year.
Since assuming control of Army's program, Sottolano has continued to shape the mindset of his club in the form of his own winning persona. He has directed the Black Knights to four 20-victory seasons, two 30-win showings and winning records in four of his six years at the Army helm. He has also instituted an aggressive recruiting plan that has injected a bounty of young talent into the Black Knights' program, insuring future successes for years to come.
During his 15-year association with the Army baseball program, the Black Knights have captured four Patriot League championships (1997, 2000, 2004, 2005), one conference divisional crown (1994) and made the only three NCAA Regional trips in school history (2000, 2004, 2005).
Sottolano and his wife, Lori, reside at West Point with their sons, Nicholas (3), and Tyler, born last September.