Bluffton primed to build on record-setting 2011 campaign
February 17, 2012
By: Martin Kluk, sports information intern
James Grandey enters his ninth season as the head baseball coach at Bluffton University and he is excited to get the 2012 campaign underway. Coming off a 2011 season in which the Beavers set the school record for victories, he and the team expect to break that record again with a 2012 squad that returns almost completely intact. "I expect us to continue to build upon our record-setting numbers from last season, but it won't be easy as our schedule is very challenging and teams will be better prepared for us."
The team will be led by seven seniors who will all play significant roles this season. The experienced infield is anchored by pre-season All-American shortstop Nick Broyles (Toledo/Whitmer). Honorable mention All-HCAC honorees Tyler Stephenson (Springfield/Northwestern) and Kyle Trainer (Mechanicsburg) return to third base and second base, respectively. Fellow senior Matt McKinney (Columbus Grove/Bath) will also be in the rotation for playing time at first base.
Broyles returns as the team's top hitter with a .400 average, 18 doubles, five triples, and eight home runs a year ago. He set Bluffton single season records in runs (51) and total bases (114) as well as notching the career record for RBI's with 114 and he is closing in on a host of other career records heading into the season. Stephenson adds in his .331 average and will be in a competition with Broyles to break the all-time hits mark of 168 by Brad Buckingham and Tony Moore as he sits at 153 while Broyles has 149. Trainer also brings a solid .322 career batting average to the starting infield.
Senior outfielder Greg Bergstedt (Napoleon/Patrick Henry) will look to make an impact after hitting .455 with a .705 slugging percentage in the 2010 season. For the seniors on the pitching staff, honorable mention All-HCAC Ryan Leugers (Botkins) and Kelly Barnes (Toledo/Toledo Christian) will be counted on to head the rotation as Leugers led the team in starts (9), innings pitched (61.1), and strikeouts (42) while Barnes brought home the most victories with five in 2011.
Bluffton's outfield also returns with great experience, talent and depth. Junior Kyle Niermann (Napoleon), who had a 23-game hitting streak in 2010-11, will be in right field and he is ready to pick up where he left off last year when he earned first-team All-HCAC honors. For the season, he finished third on the team in average with .382 and set the single season hits record (68) by one knock after edging fellow teammate Stephenson who rapped 67 in 2010. Fellow junior Miles Richardson (Granville/Newark Catholic), sporting a .326 average, will be in center when he isn't on the hill. Veteran Kevin Martin (Bryan), who enters the 2012 season on an 11-game hitting streak, will look to add to that as he worked himself into the left field rotation with his late-season play. Sophomore Tyler Wright (Troy) will be in the outfield rotation as well as seeing time as the designated hitter.
To round out the infield, honorable mention All-HCAC sophomore Airic Stegall (Hillsboro) has the inside track at first base. Steagall came out ahead in the competition with McKinney for playing time at first a season ago and played extremely well as a freshman,batting .357. Behind the plate, fellow sophomore Tim Webb (Delaware/Worthington Christian) had a stellar first season and garnered second team All-HCAC honors while starting 31 of his 35 games. Coach Grandey also noted he is excited about the depth at catcher this year and that he looks for junior Greg Franks (Smithville) and freshman T.J. Devore (Grove City) to lighten Webb's load.
For the Bluffton Beaver hurlers, there will be tremendous competition for starts and innings out of the bullpen behind the experienced trio of Leugers, Barnes and Richardson. Roles are still being defined, but juniors Tyler Gibson (Sylvania/Southview) and Mark Hadaya (Beavercreek) as well as sophomore Ben Roeschley (Graymont Ill./ Flanagan) may see action as a starter or out of the pen. Coach Grandey has been impressed with freshman Halen Core (Reynoldsburg) and Brad Schlabach (Fredericksburg/Hiland) who are looking to earn innings as well.
In addition to having a tremendous amount of talent and experience back this year, Coach Grandey is extremely pleased with the depth of talent throughout the team and he is excited about the competition which will push the seniors at the top. Junior Anthony Cianci (Ravenna/Southeast), sophomore Doug Paullin (Jeromesville/Hillsdale) along with freshman Mike Alexander (Monroe), Mike Castro (Reynoldsburg), and Chris Busa (Rochester Hills MI/Adams) are expected to contribute for the Beavers in 2012.
Bluffton is scheduled to play its first baseball games of the season prior to March when the Beavers take on Ohio Wesleyan in a doubleheader at the Chillicothe VA on February 25. However, the Beavers are also readying themselves for their annual trip to Florida during Spring Break from March 3-9. Coach Grandey stated, "We believe in playing a challenging schedule. Our difficult non-conference schedule will prepare us for our conference schedule. Each year the Heartland Conference gets better and more challenging. It is a testament to the quality of baseball in our conference."
The Beavers home opener is a doubleheader against Albion College on Saturday, March 17, at Memorial Field (1 p.m.). The leadership and talent in this group of upperclassman, along with the depth throughout the team, have the Beavers expecting great things on the field for their 2012 season.