BEREA, Ohio -- The goal of the Baldwin Wallace University baseball team is to win the 2015 Ohio Athletic Conference regular season and OAC Tournament titles and return to the NCAA Division III College Baseball World Series.
A year ago, the Yellow Jackets had a Cinderella season and advanced to the school's first-ever CWS and placed fifth of eight teams. BW finished 30-20 overall, placed fourth during the OAC regular season and second in the OAC Tournament to earn an At-Large berth to the Div. III national tournament. The Yellow Jackets won the Mid-Atlantic Region crown and advanced to the Appleton, Wisc. and its first-ever CWS.
Fifth-year Head Coach Brian Harrison (101-63 at BW/ 242-192 career) returns seven of his nine hitters in the batting lineup, three starting pitchers and a bevy of others who can start and/ or pitch in his bullpen. His hitters batted an aggressive .325 and scored a school-record 369 runs and stole 91 bases a year ago. The players in the field also fielded at a solid, .953. The pitching staff had a good, 4.50 earned run average (ERA) and struck out 211 opposing batters.
In the infield, Division III All-American senior Kyle Chontos (Pickerington/ North) returns at first base. He is one of the best in Division III. Two-time All-OAC junior Mark Zimmerman (Akron/ Green) is back at second base and also is utilized on the mound. He is capable of playing at the next level. Senior three-year starter Eric Murphy (Brook Park/Midpark), an OAC Tournament all-tourney team pick last spring, returns at shortstop. Look for sophomore Cole Nieto (Brunswick/ St. Ignatius) to take over at third base for graduated CAPITAL ONE Academic All-American Brad Gugliotta '14. In addition, junior All-OAC and All-Region player Hunter Handel (Akron/ Green) can contribute at either 1B or designated hitter.
Handel topped the team in hitting at .385 (62 of 161) with eight doubles, three triples, four home runs and 47 runs batted-in (RBI). Zimmerman batted .373 (81 of 217) with 52 runs scored, 15 doubles, three triples, three homers, 44 RBI and 11 stolen bases. Chontos hit .370(74 of 200) with 47 runs scored, a school-record 19 doubles, one triple, team-highs of five homers and 50 RBI and 13 steals. Murphy hit .309 (56 of 181) with 13 doubls, three triples, a homer, 42 RBI and five steals. Nieto, in limited at-bats, hit .471 (8 of 17) with two doubles and seven RBI.
Behind the plate, senior Anthony Eder (Cuyahoga Heights) and a host of underclassmen and freshmen will battle for the starting role. As last year's third-string backstop, he earned Academic All-OAC accolades. Sophomores Neal Downing (South Bend, Ind./ St. Joseph's) and Steve Montgomery (Canton/ Central Catholic) among others who will push for additional playing time.
In the outfield, look for seniors Alex Green (Pickerington/ North) and Zach Ferster (Olmsted Falls) and juniors Jerry Scholle (Hinckley/ Medina Highland) and John Taylor (Stow/Hudson) and others to all battle for the starting spots.
Scholle had his coming out party at the Mid-Atlantic Regional and has the power and talent to play at the next level. He hit .306 (26 of 85) with six doubles, 11 RBI and a team-leading 18 steals in 20 attempts. Green was second-team All-OAC as a junior and is playing his fourth season in the OF. He hit .296 (56 of 189) last season with 31 runs scored, 10 doubles, two triples, one homer, 27 RBI and six steals. Ferster earned All-OAC accolades as a sophomore and can play multiple positions and help the team in multiple ways. He batted .273 (21 of 77) last spring with 26 runs scored, six doubles, two triples, seven RBI and 12 steals. The speedy Taylor returns as an Academic All-OAC student-athlete. He batted .269 (32 of 119) with 16 runs scored, four doubles, 12 RBI and seven steals. The quartet may also alternate with Handel as the DH.
On the mound, senior Cory Waite (Willoughby/ South), sophomore Logan Heffernan (Lebanon) and junior Alex Albright (North Royalton) all return as starters. The trio each had a solid season. Overall, Harrison has a deep and talented group of hurlers returning.
Waite is both All-OAC and Academic All-OAC as well as All-Mideast Region. The ace of the staff made 20 total appearances, including 11 starts with two complete games. In a team-leading 84 and two-third innings pitched, he compiled 7-3 record with a 3.51 ERA with a team-leading 42 strikeouts. Heffernan peaked at the end of the season and earned both OAC and NCAA Mid-Atlantic Region all-tournament team honors. He had a 4-4 mark with a 3.89 ERA in 12 appearances, including seven starts. Heffernan walked just nine batters in 44 innings pitched. Albright was 5-2 with a 4.65 ERA in 13 appearances, including a school-record-tying 12 starts. He struck out 41 opposing hitters in 60 innings of work.
In addition, junior Brandon Chicocki (Walled Lake, Mich./Central) returns to anchor the bullpen after setting a school-record in saves (9) and appearances (26) last season. Zimmerman (2B), junior Tom Loeffler (Shaker Heights), senior Connor Murphy (Westford, Mass./ Northeast) and junior Matt Wittels (Lyndhurst/ Brush) all return with plenty of varsity experience.Both Zimmerman and Loeffler also each started a game but were utilized mostly in the bullpen.
In addition to his nine saves and 26 appearances, Cichocki had a team-leading 2.27 ERA with 32 whiffs in 35 and two-third innings pitched. Zimmerman was 1-0 with a 4.86 ERA and 18 whiffs in 16 and two-third innings. Loeffler was 0-1 with a 4.61 ERA in nine appearances, Murphy was 1-0 with a 3.55 ERA in seven relief stints and Wittels was 1-1 with a 4.15 ERA in 12 outings.
Overall, Harrison has the talent to make a run at the OAC regular season and tourney titles as well as another deep run in the NCAA Division III National Tournament. But, as we all know, the OAC is the toughest Division III baseball conference in the country from top-to-bottom, and anything could happen.
The Yellow Jackets open their season on Sunday, March 8 in the first of eight games at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida against Hampden-Syndey (Va.) College at 4 p.m. BW opens OAC play on Saturday, March 21 with a doubleheader at Heidelberg University at 1 p.m.