February 19, 2016
By: Colton Steiner, sports information assistant
The Bluffton University baseball team is preparing for the 2016 season with its sights set on making the conference tournament after missing out by just one game last year. The Beavers are also looking to surpass last year’s record-breaking season of 22 team wins.
“We have to continue to be consistent,” said Head Coach James Grandey. “We have to throw strikes and be solid defensively. All the cliché baseball things you have to do, are what we have to do. I don’t think we have to redesign everything or try to recreate or invent anything. We just need to do what we do even better.”
Last season, the Beavers dropped six of the last 10 games, including a three-game sweep at the hands of Rose-Hulman with a chance to clinch a post-season berth in their grasp. Grandey knows that this squad has to finish out the season if they want to make the conference tournament.
“We had a great start to the conference season, continued to compete in the middle, and then hit a rough patch the last 10 days of the season to just miss out on the conference tournament,” stated Grandey. “Completing the last two weeks of the season will be very important for us.”
Something that the team will have to overcome is the loss of 11 seniors, who all played crucial roles in last year’s success. However, Bluffton has a solid group of 2016 seniors stepping up to the plate this year to lead the team. The six players that make up this year’s senior class are LANDON BROWN (Lebanon), TRAVIS CLARK (Lima/Central Catholic), JASON COLLIVER (Beavercreek), ALEX NIBERT (Arlington, VA/Yorktown), TOMMY NOBLE (Reynoldsburg/Reynoldsburg) and DREW SMITH (Cridersville/Perry). The juniors, a class that consists of 16 experienced veterans, have the talent and leadership to help the Beavers continue their recent success.
“Even though we lost a vast amount of experience, we have formidable players coming back,” said Grandey. “Our junior class is deep, and also has a tremendous amount of experience. When you look at the guys that were selected captains by our team, we have two seniors and two juniors. I think the team looks up to not just the senior class, but also the group of juniors that have been around for three years.”
Despite not making it to the tournament last year, the team had a solid year at the plate. Last year’s team ranked third in school history in total hits with 434, equaling the number of hits they had in 2014. Along with that mark, they also ranked second in school history in RBI’s with 246. The Beavers notched the most double-plays turned in a season in school history with 43. Due to the loss of seniors, fielding is front and center with new starters at three infield positions.
“The biggest thing for us is finding out how we’re going to play defensively on the left side,” said Grandey. “Mike Castro and Jeff Roth were both outstanding at shortstop and third base. Even difficult plays on that side of the field looked routine with Castro and Roth. So that is going to be the biggest challenge for us, figuring out who are going to be the guys that take over for them.”
The Bluffton baseball team kicks off their season when they travel down to Fort Myers, Fla. to face the Wilmington College Quakers on March 5 at 9 a.m., the first of nine contests in the Sunshine State. When they return home, they will face the Ohio Northern Polar Bears in their home opener on March 15 at 4:15 P.M. Heartland Conference action takes center stage with a three-game series at Anderson, starting at 4:15 p.m. on Good Friday, March 25.