BEREA, Ohio -- The 19th-nationally ranked Baldwin Wallace University baseball team enters the 2016 season looking to win the prestigious Ohio Athletic Conference title and its third straight berth in the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
Sixth-year Head Coach Brian Harrison has led the Yellow Jackets to a school-record number of victories each of the past four years, including a 31-12 mark a year ago. That came on the heels of a 30-20 mark two years ago and BW's first-ever trip to the Division III World Series.
Gone is All-American first baseman Kyle Chontos, four-year starting shortstop Eric Murphy, four-year outfielders Alex Green and Zach Ferster and backup catcher Anthony Eder. On the mound, Harrison lost four-year starter Cory Waite, who was injured much of last season and hard-throwing reliever Chuck Jones.
But as that outstanding class of graduates left campus with a 115-58 record with one NCAA Regional title, two NCAA tourney berths and a World Series appearance, Harrison was already planning for 2016.
New this year will be the naming of the field to Fisher Field to honor legendary BW professor and football and baseball coach Bob Fisher (700 career wins in 42 seasons) and a new turf infield.
This season's team features 12 veterans who saw action in the field a year ago and 13 pitchers who took the mound in varsity games. Overall, Harrison has a strong veteran cast back. The "wild card" is a very talented freshman class that is expected to push the veterans at almost every position, including shortstop and two possible starters.
Leading the offense are the top four hitters from 2015 in junior All-OAC and All-Mideast Region player Cole Nieto (Brunswick/St. Ignatius) and senior All-OAC and All-Region standouts Mark Zimmerman (Akron/Green) and Hunter Handel (Akron/Green) and senior two-time Academic All-AC outfielder John Taylor (Stow/ Hudson). Handel was tabbed by D3baseball.com as a Division III pre-season All-American.
The pitching staff will be led by All-OAC left-hander and sophomore Evan Lovick (Mentor), seniors Alex Albright (North Royalton), Zimmerman, who made 10 starts, and Connor Murphy (Westford, Mass./Northeast) and junior Logan Heffernan (Lebanon). All five have starting experience. The relief corps will be led by career save-leader Brandon Cichocki (Walled Lake, Mich./ Central), senior veterans Tom Loeffler (Shaker Heights) and Matt Wittels (Lyndhurst/Brush) and sophomore Nick Patrone (Bellaire).
Nieto hit .383 with five homers and 41 RBI. Zimmerman, who is a pro prospect, hit .379 with four homers and 42 RBI. On the mound, he compiled a 5-3 record with a 3.74 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 65 innings pitched. Handel, also a prospect, hit .353 with six homers and 49 RBI. The speedy Taylor hit .347 with 19 RBI and 15 steals.
In addition, the catching combo of junior Alex Marcum (Granville), who .313, and sophomore Trent Kaltenbach (Plain City/Kettering Alter), who hit .299, are solid behind the plate. Add sophomores Spencer Badia (Bellaire), who hit .291 with two homers and 15 RBI, and Chase Knodle (Poland/ Seminary), who batted .263; juniors Heffernan and Steve Montgomery (Canton/Canton Central Catholic); and senior Jerry Scholle (Hinckley/Medina Highland) as players who all saw plenty of action last spring. Scholle has started on-and-off for three years and may be the best athlete on the team. He can pitch too!
Lovick had a strong freshman year with a 5-1 record and 3.74 ERA. Albright is a four-year varsity contributor who was 6-1 with a 4.58 ERA in 20 total appearances (three starts) and 42 whiffs in 39+ innings. Murphy had 17 appearances/ 2 starts and was 2-0 with a save and a 3.72 ERA. Heffernan, who was All-OAC as a freshman, was 4-3 last season with a 5.16 ERA.
Cichocki is one of the top relievers in Division III and has a BW career-record 15 saves and a 3.06 career ERA with 76 strikeouts in 70_ innings of work. Loeffler and Patrone combined for a 5-0 mark out of the bullpen. Loeffler was 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA and Patrone was 3-0 with a 3.54 ERA and got increasingly better as his freshman season progressed. Wittels is a four-year member of the staff and made seven appearances last season.
The Yellow Jackets open the season on February 20 when they travel to Washington, Pennsylvania to play a doubleheader against LaRoche (Pa.) College BW then heads to Danville, Kentucky for games against Wheaton (Ill.) and Spalding (Ky.) The Yellow Jackets then embark on their annual spring break trip with a new twist. BW plays Anderson (Ind.) University in a twinbill at Spalding (Ky.) on March 7 en route to Texas where the Jackets play six games from March 7-12.