Despite losing a large group of starters to graduation following its World Series run in 2011, the Buena Vista baseball team still made it within two wins of a third straight NCAA Regional berth last season, and the Beavers will have the majority of that line-up back as it looks to make another deep postseason run in 2013.
“This year’s team is very, very together,” says head coach Steve Eddie, who’s entering his 13th year at the helm. “They love each other, get along great and are in great physical shape.”
Eddie will have the luxury of having at least six regular position-player starters back from a year ago when his squad finished 24-19 (13-11 IIAC). He also loses just one starting pitcher and one relief pitcher to graduation.
“Depth is certainly going to be a big positive for us,” says Eddie, who has been named the State of Iowa’s College Baseball Coach of the Year in two of the last three years. “We’ll have some nice competition at a few spots, especially within our pitching staff. Having a great deal of versatile and experienced players back to take the field will hopefully allow us to blend together well and be nice and explosive.”
Senior Ryan Scheetz (Omaha, Neb./Millard North) highlights the list of returning position players for the Beavers after a solid junior campaign which saw him land Second Team All-IIAC honors. He led the team and ranked sixth among the Iowa Conference leaders with a .352 overall batting average and was fourth in the IIAC in RBI (33) and total bases (79). He has made over 70 starts the last two years.
“He’s such a consistent player,” adds Eddie. “We know what we’ll get out of him each time he steps onto the field.”
Scheetz has been just as automatic on the defensive side of things as well, committing just five errors in over 350 total chances at first base last year after earning a Rawlings Gold Glove award as a sophomore.
Junior Weston Foxx (Elkhorn, Neb./Elkhorn), along with sophomores Dillon Plath (Omaha, Neb./Burke) and Jesse Munsterman (St. Peter, Minn./St. Peter), and senior Neil Eddie (Owatonna, Minn./Owatonna), started at least 30 games for BVU last season, with all four of them hitting at least .295. Foxx was second on the team behind Scheetz in hits (46), doubles (8) and RBI (27). He tied for the lead with 21 walks and was tied for third with six stolen bases. He ranked ninth in the IIAC in on-base percentage. Plath tied for second in the league with four triples.
Nick Schlecht (Omaha, Neb./Skutt) is also back and will add depth and his valuable speed in the outfield. He scored a team-high 31 runs a year ago and stole eight bases. Junior Ryan Titman (Boone, Iowa/Boone) started 30 games and is a versatile utility player for the Beavers. Junior Joe Paletta (Omaha, Neb./Millard South), who hit over .500 during the IIAC Tournament last year as a designated hitter and hit six home runs and drove in 34 runs as a freshman two years ago, is also back and looks to provide stability in the middle of the line-up.
“We’re going to have nice speed around the outfield as well as several options with personnel,” says Eddie. “Munsterman has done a nice job transitioning from right field to shortstop, and he, along with Weston and Titman, will add a nice deal of depth up the middle.”
The Beavers will have to replace four-year starting third baseman Brock Yossi, who also earned Second Team All-IIAC accolades a year ago, and Eddie will probably turn to junior college transfer Jeremy Lambert (Alta, Iowa/Alta-Aurelia) to fill the void.
“He’s a big, strong kid who has been a part of success at the junior college level with Iowa Central Community College,” Eddie says.
Freshman Brandon Wessels (Palmer, Iowa/Manson NW Webster), who sat out last season with an injury, is also expected to provide a great deal of depth both at catcher and in the outfield.
The only other two voids left behind by starters come on the mound with starting lefthander Michael Dirkx and right-handed closer, James Stone. The duo joined Yossi and Scheetz as Second Team All-IIAC selections. Dirkx tied for the team lead with 12 starts and finished with three wins, including a pair of shutouts. Stone led the way with 16 appearances and held a 1.37 ERA over 26.1 innings pitched, to go along with five saves. He finished his career as the program’s all-time career saves leader with 17.
Despite losing those two arms, depth should not be a problem for Eddie on the hill with several veterans back looking to fill those voids, along with a number of fresh, young newcomers.
Leading the way at the front of the rotation will be sophomore Ian Grigsby (Gretna, Neb./Gretna), junior Jon Ringblom (Omaha, Neb./Milalrd North) and senior Reggie Kock (Breda, Iowa/Ar-We-Va). That trio combined for 11 wins in 2012, with Ringblom leading the team and ranking ninth among IIAC hurlers in innings pitched (71.0) and tying with Dirkx for fifth in the league with 56 strikeouts. Grigsby, meanwhile, posted a stellar 1.10 ERA in 32.2 innings of work, while walking only 10. Kock’s nine starts were second on the staff and his 45 innings were third. Both he and Ringblom were also starters during the team’s World Series run in 2011.
Eddie will have plenty of other arms to choose from to complete his rotation and says it makes for a lot of nice hard practices.
“There are several guys vying for open spots and it makes for a lot of competitive practices,” he states. “It gives us so many options and also gives us the opportunity to give some guys added time off. We know with more depth on the mound, it gives us a better chance to succeed when it comes tournament time.”
Other potential starters include junior Andrew Marshall (Sheldon, Iowa/Sheldon), sophomore Lucas Hadaway (Sheldahl, Iowa/North Polk) and freshman Kendall Hazel (Sergeant Bluff, Iowa/Sergeant Bluff-Luton). Marshall made his only appearance of the year in 2012 against Coe College in the IIAC Tournament Championship game, allowing just two earned runs in four innings. Hadaway went 2-0 in seven appearances, to go along with one save. He struck out 21 batters in 25 innings of work. Hazel is in his first collegiate season after earning First Team All-State accolades three times during his prep career with the Warriors.
Not only are pitchers vying to fill roles in the rotation, the bullpen will also be a strong asset for the Beavers. Eddie says he’s counting on big seasons from guys like senior relievers Griffin Hatten (Bancroft, Iowa/North Sentral Kossuth), Tyler Lefeber (Harlan, Iowa/Harlan) and Brennan Holm (Fairmont, Minn./South Central). Sophomore Jake Bjorkgren (Urbandale, Iowa/Urbandale), who played only basketball for BVU last season, has been impressive throughout the fall season and now at the start of the spring campaign. Eddie thinks he has the potential to be a nice power arm at the back-end of the bullpen.
Additional arms that saw valuable experience a year ago also include sophomores Scott Harris (Grimes, Iowa/Dallas Center-Grimes) and Cam Beatty (Omaha, Neb./Millard North), who combined for 13 innings of work in 13 relief appearances.
That depth will be a key factor as the team moves into the Iowa Conference schedule. The league coaches have adapted a new format to the schedule beginning this year and will play four-game series with doubleheaders being played on both Friday and Saturday.
“It’ll be hard to sweep someone, but with the depth we have, we’re hoping we can take three-out-of-four more often than not,” Eddie says. “We need to stay away from the bad weekends.”
The team will get a taste of where it is in all phases of its game right out of the gate. It will play four games in three days in St. Louis, Mo., with three of the four opponents either ranked or receiving votes in this year’s d3baseball.com preseason poll.
The season kicks-off on Friday, March 1 against Webster University, a team that made its first-ever trip into the World Series last year and is ranked 10th in the d3baseball.com preseason poll. Later that day will be a match-up with Washington University (Mo.), who is receiving votes in the poll. After facing North Central College (Ill.) on Saturday, BVU turns around and faces North Park on Sunday afternoon; a team that went 31-14 a year ago and is also receiving a number of votes in the poll.
“Our goal is to see the best pitching we possibly can and be able to hit and score runs against good teams,” says Eddie. “We’re going to need to be ready for that type of competition as we move into the league schedule.”
With the larger number of conference games this season, there is only the need for 12 non-conference games. Following that first four-game trip, the team will stay on the road to play a three-game weekend series at Nebraska Wesleyan on March 16 and 17 before heading to Tucson, Arizona for five varsity and two reserve games to wrap up the non-conference slate.
Upon returning from that trip, the Beavers look to make a charge in conference play right out of the gate with eight straight home games, beginning with four against Luther College on March 29 and 30. First pitch on both days is scheduled for 1:00pm. The team then plays a four-game set at home with Wartburg College on April 5 and 6.
Then comes the first IIAC road trip of the year at defending IIAC Tournament champion, Coe College, for a doubleheader on April 9. Later in the year, it will also play a four-game series at defending IIAC regular season champion, Central College, on April 26 and 27. The home finale comes against the Kohawks on Tuesday, April 30, with a 1:00pm doubleheader.
“It’ll be a grind through the schedule,” Eddie adds, “but having the depth we have and quality bench guys will help us out tremendously.”