February 24, 2015
By: Ryan Schadewald, sports information assistant
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton University baseball team has its sights set on another breakthrough season as they open their 2015 campaign in Florida next week. With a team that returns its entire starting infield, as well as three of the four Heartland Conference rotation pitchers from a 2014 squad that tied the school record for victories (21), the Beavers are primed for the opportunity to take it to the next level.
A key cog in Bluffton’s stout infield, reigning HCAC Freshman of the Year Luke Hickey (Toledo/Whitmer) was the first Beaver to earn that honor a season ago. Hickey batted .394 with 56 hits in his opening campaign, the 12th-highest hit total for a season in Bluffton history. Hickey also finished third in the HCAC a year ago, batting .429 against conference opponents in 2014.
Bluffton also returns senior first baseman Jake Townley (Mansfield/Madison) who earned Second-Team All-HCAC honors a season ago. Townley, who battled through injuries the first half of 2014, came back to hit .345 with 10 doubles, 17 RBI, and 15 runs in just 21 games, and committed just one error in the field. The Beavers also return a slick fielder at the hot corner, a two-year starter that Coach Grandey dubbed “One of the best defensive third basemen in the region,” in senior Jeff Roth (Bellevue). Middle infielder Mike Castro (Reynoldsburg), who started 37 of the team’s 39 games a season ago, hit .270 with 17 RBI and four stolen bases in 2014. The Beavers bring back a wealth of experienced depth, including seniors Cade Randolph (Marengo/Highland) and Aaron Young (Shelby), along with junior Jason Colliver (Beavercreek).
Behind the plate is where the Beavers have formidable shoes to fill. Tim Webb was a four-year starter, earning All-HCAC honors each season. The Beavers will look to senior T.J. Devore (Grove City), who started five games last year, to play a more prominent role this season. Bluffton will also count on freshman Reid Maus (Hamilton/Badin) in his first year with the purple and white.
In the outfield, Bluffton must replace two Second Team All-HCAC honorees from a season ago. Senior Michael Alexander (Monroe) started 34 games in 2014, batting .287 with 24 RBI, third on the team. Alexander will be joined by fellow senior Tyler Spalding (Willis, Mich./Lincoln) who started 16 games and appeared in six more, giving him crucial experience going into his senior season. Sophomore Clayton Siders (Delaware/Worthington Christian), who also started 14 games for Bluffton a year ago, looks to round out the starting outfield. Coach Grandey also pointed out sophomore Cody Lehman (Hamilton) as having the opportunity to earn playing time this season.
The rotation has a familiar look for the Beavers, despite losing Ben Roeschley who led the team in ERA and posted a 4-2 record a season ago. Bluffton returns Friday night starter Nate Simonds (Ypsilanti, Mich./Lincoln) for his final campaign, coming off a tough luck 3-6 campaign last year when he was the victim of little run support. Simonds has the tools to improve on his 3.78 ERA after tossing 64.1 innings in 10 starts a season ago. “We’re going to look for him to pitch in a number of crucial games,” Coach Grandey said of Simonds. Coach Grandey also described Nate as a “workhorse” with his 64.1 innings, many times gutting the innings out deep into games while allowing Bluffton to keep its bullpen fresh for Saturdays.
Bluffton also brings back sophomore Jaylen Von Sossan (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf) who worked his way into the weekend rotation with eight starts, finishing the year with a 2-1 record in 36.1 innings. The Beavers return versatile senior Brad Schlabach (Fredericksburg/Hiland), coming off of a year that he finished 3-0 in 12 appearances (three starts) and 24.2 innings. Following a season that David Ianiro helped the team break the record for saves in a season (11), the Beavers have a pair of southpaws in sophomores Corey Johnson (Waverly) and Taylor Gambrell (Bowling Green) who can eat up innings out of the bullpen. Coach Grandey also sees Kevin Every (Zanesville/West Muskingum) and Austin Every (Zanesville/West Muskingum) as a couple hard-throwing right-handers at the back end of the pen in 2015.
Bluffton is coming off back-to-back seasons with 21 wins, tying the school record for wins in a season and the first two teams at Bluffton to finish with a winning record since 1990. The Beavers look to continue the success of the past seasons as they hit the diamond this spring. A berth in the Heartland Conference is one of the goals for Coach Grandey’s squad after two years of coming within one victory of that elusive milestone.
The Beavers open the season on Sunday, March 1, as they play their first of seven games in Fort Myers, Fla., when they take on Newbury College at 9 a.m. Bluffton returns to Ohio for a game at Lourdes University on Friday, March 13, before the home opener at Memorial Field on Saturday, March 14, with a doubleheader against Goshen College at 1 p.m. The Beavers kick off the HCAC portion of the season with a three-game home series against the Franklin College Grizzlies on March 20 and 21. Come support your Beavers!