Joe Sottolano has been very forthright regarding the lofty goals he's established for his Army baseball program ever since taking the reins of the 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 that Army finds itself in the midst of the most successful nine-year stretch in school history. In addition to making four trips to the NCAA Regionals in that time, the Black Knights have registered at least 25 wins in eight of the last nine seasons, captured six Patriot League regular-season championships and made eight appearances in the Patriot League Tournament during that span. Army has posted five 30-win campaigns during the run.
Army is coming off a historic season in 2012 as the Black Knights set a program record with 41 victories en route to another Patriot League Championship and NCAA Regional appearance. Army set or tied 45 team, individual or freshman Academy records during a year that saw the Black Knights run away with the Patriot League regular-season title. Army went 18-2 in the conference, finishing five games in front of second-place Holy Cross to claim the program's sixth regular-season conference title over the past nine years. The Black Knights then knocked off the Crusaders in three games to win the Patriot League Championship Series and advance to the Charlottesville Regional.
Army finished the season ranked among the national leaders in several categories, including earned run average (31st, 3.25), stolen bases (10th, 109) and win-loss percentage (ninth, .732).
Army players dominated the Patriot League's postseason awards in 2012, placing five on the all-conference first team and sweeping the loop's major awards. Three Black Knights (Chris Rowley, Kevin McKague and Harold Earls) went on to win All-America honors, while Sottolano added a third Patriot League Coach of the Year award to his resume.
Army made run to the Patriot League Championship Series in 2011, before falling to Navy in three games. The Black Knights finished that season with a 22-26 mark, extending its streak of 20-win seasons to eight in a row. Clint Moore was selected in the MLB Draft after collecting a plethora of postseason plaudits.
The 2010 team posted a 28-17 overall record and won the Patriot League's regular-season title with a conference mark of 16-4. The Black Knights bowed out of the league tournament in the semifinal series, however, falling to Bucknell in three games. Matt Fouch was picked in the MLB Draft in June of 2010 after being named Patriot League Pitcher of the Year earlier that spring.
Following a slow start to its conference slate in 2009, the Black Knights caught fire down the stretch, sprinting to the top of the Patriot League standings by winning 12 of their final 14 conference tilts. The late-season run ensured Army a share of its second straight regular season Patriot League title and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Army captured its fifth Patriot League championship by beating Holy Cross in a Patriot League Tournament semifinal series before dispatching Lafayette in two consecutive games in the Patriot League Championship Series.
Army made its mark on the national scene four years ago when the Black Knights reached the finals of the Austin Regional. It marked the first time the Black Knights, or any Patriot League team for that matter, reached a regional final.
Seeded fourth at the Austin Regional, Army suffered a hard-fought 3-1 loss to No. 1 national seed Texas in an opening-round matchup before stunning both second-seeded Texas State and third-seeded Boston College en route to a rematch with Texas in the Austin Regional Final. The Black Knights carried a 10-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning of that contest and found themselves three outs away from a second "championship" clash with the Longhorns that would have sent the winner to the Super Regionals. But a weary Army pitching staff tired and Texas prevailed 14-10, ending the Black Knights' Cinderella run.
On its way to a third NCAA Regional appearance in six years and an overall record of 36-21, Army established or tied 67 school and Patriot League individual and team records. For the third time in six years, Army received votes in the final National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) national poll (2004, 2005, 2009).
Overall, the 14th-year mentor sports a 362-263-5 (.579) career coaching record and is 283-176-2 (.616) the past nine years along the banks of the Hudson. While directing Army to its most successful nine-year stretch in school history, Sottolano has also guided the Black Knights to unparalleled success against arch rival Navy.
Army captured a school-record ninth straight series "star" following last season's sweep in Annapolis. The Black Knights have captured 31 of the last 40 contests against the Midshipmen over the past nine years. Army won three of four games against Navy in 2009 and 2010, swept four games from Navy in 2008, took three of four regular-season meetings with the Mids in 2007, then dismissed Navy from the Patriot League Tournament with a 5-3 victory in the PLT Elimination Game. Navy's last series win dates back to 2003, when the Mids nabbed three of four verdicts from the Black Knights. Since that time, Army registered its first four-game sweep of Navy in 2005, a pair of four-game sweeps in Annapolis (2008, 2012), and captured three of four regular season series pairings in 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009 and 2010, while ending the Mids' season in the Patriot League tourney in 2007.
During the 2011 campaign, Sottolano accomplished another significant personal milestone when he picked up his 300th coaching victory of his career. He reached the figure following Army's 10-6 victory over Davidson on February 19, 2011. He notched his 250th career win against arch-rival Navy on April 12, 2009, in the back end of a doubleheader sweep of the Mids. Army accomplished the feat in style, posting a 6-0 shutout and securing the team's sixth consecutive "star" against Navy. Ironically, Sottolano registered his 200th career win against Navy as well, garnering that victory almost exactly two years to the day (April 21, 2007), in the third game of the teams' four-game series. Sottolano surpassed Dan Roberts (281 wins) as Army's all-time winningest coach two years ago, and begins his 14th season with a program-record 362 victories. Sottolano started his career as an assistant under Roberts.
Sottolano added to his long list of honors in the summer of 2009 when he was named the ABCA/Diamond Sports Company NCAA Division I Regional Coach of the Year.
Outstanding pitching has been a hallmark of the Black Knights' recent run of success. Army has ranked among national leaders in earned run average during four of the past eight seasons. The Black Knights ranked seventh nationally in ERA (3.28) in 2006, improving from the No. 8 spot (3.08) they held in the national rankings the previous year. Army also ranked 12th nationally (3.44) in ERA in 2004 and finished 27th in the category in 2008 (3.77). Army was the only Division I team to list in the top 12 nationally in ERA from 2004 through 2006 and one of two clubs to stand in the top eight nationally during the 2005 and 2006 campaigns.
Additionally, Army was one of just seven Division I squads to rank among the top 27 teams nationally in earned run average from 2004 through 2007. During that time, the Black Knights' pitching staff combined to fire 22 shutouts. Army paced the Patriot League in ERA in 2009, ranking 73rd nationally at 5.04. In 2010, the Black Knights topped the conference and ranked 30th in the country with an earned run average of 4.34. Last season, Army led the Patriot League in ERA (conference games only) at 4.30.
A native of Middletown, N.Y., Sottolano 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 is in his 14th season presiding over the Black Knights' diamond program.
Following a successful eight-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 forecasted for a third-place finish in the Patriot League standings in 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 fire and determination that characterized their season, the Black Knights rode a pair of comeback victories to stun the favored Midshipmen on their home field.
There were seven emotionally charged "walk-off" 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 rife with freshmen and sophomores in 2003, Army closed at 17-25-1 overall, narrowly missing the Patriot League Tournament on the final day of the season.
That promising performance set the stage for the Black Knights' magical two-year run that followed, a tear through the Patriot League that culminated in their third conference title in six years in 2005.
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.
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 "walk-off" wins, the Black Knights overcame a 10-0 deficit to defeat Pace in one 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 school records for home victories and home winning percentage, while enjoying a tremendous home-field advantage.
A national coach of the year candidate in both 2004 and 2005, Sottolano guided the Black Knights to a 39-14 record in 2005 and their second consecutive Patriot League championship, only the second time Army had won consecutive league titles of any kind.
The Black Knights also registered 17 Patriot League victories that year, a conference record the Black Knights first established in 1994 and equaled in 2004.
Named Patriot League Coach of the Year for the second straight season in 2005, 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 single season school record for victories (39) for the second consecutive year and established or tied 85 individual and team, school and Patriot 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 two All-America selections, two Freshman All-America choices and an Academic All-America honoree in 2004.
Army closed 2005 on a tear, capturing 21 of its 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 in 2005 at West Point's Doubleday Field and enter 2012 having prevailed in 122 of their last 171 home contests (122-47-2) dating back to 2004. That translates into a flashy .719 winning percentage. Army received votes in the NCBWA final poll in both 2004, 2005, and again in 2009. The Black Knights also received votes in the NCBWA preseason poll in 2005, 2006 and 2010, and in Colleigate Baseball's preseason ranking in 2005 and 2006.
Army continued its winning ways under Sottolano in 2006, posting a 30-20-1 record. That marked the first time in school history that the Black Knights notched 30 wins during three consecutive seasons; quite an accomplishment when considering that Army had never won more than 26 games in a season prior to 2004. The Black Knights registered 25 victories in both 2007 and 2008.
Featuring a youthful team that had been forecasted for a third place conference finish prior to 2008, Sottolano led the Black Knights to a record fifth consecutive 25-victory season and the program's fourth regular season Patriot League title. Three members of that squad were selected in the 2008 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, the highest single-season total in school history. Despite those graduation losses, Army posted its most successful showing the following year.
Prior to assuming the role as Army's head coach, Sottolano served as an assistant to former head coach Dan Roberts for eight years. Sottolano, who added the title of instructor in the Military Academy's Department of Physical Education in the fall of 1994, shouldered primary responsibilities as Army's pitching coach, while tending to all other facets of the program during that period.
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 that 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 and guided the Bombers to a Division III national title.
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 nine 20-victory seasons, five 30-win showings and nine winning records during his 13 years in charge. He has also instituted an aggressive recruiting plan that has injected a bounty of talent into West Point's program.
During his 21-year association with the Army baseball program, the Black Knights have captured six Patriot League championships (1997, 2000, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2012), seven regular season league titles (1997, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2012), one conference divisional crown (1994) and made the only five NCAA Regional trips in school history (2000, 2004, 2005, 2009, 2012).
Additionally, 10 Army players have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft during his 13-year head coaching tenure, including nine since 2005. Two players -- Nick Hill and Milan Dinga -- were chosen in the top 10 rounds of the 2007 draft. Army has featured 66 first team All-Patriot League selections since 1993. Since 2004, 14 different Army players have garnered 44 All-America certificates. The list includes those selected to preseason, postseason, freshman and academic All-America squads.
Sottolano has earned Patriot League Coach of the Year honors three times and remains the only individual in the 22-year history of the conference to earn league coach of the year accolades in back-to-back seasons (2004-05).
Sottolano and his wife, Lori, reside at West Point with their two sons, Nicholas (10), and Tyler (7).