12 letter-winners to lead 2000 BC baseball squad

By Tim Stried, SID

With one of the largest groups of returning letter-winners in recent years, the Bluffton College baseball team is looking forward to meeting the challenges of the 2000 season in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference. Five seniors, three juniors and four sophomores are all back in camp this winter as Head Coach Greg Brooks enters his twentieth season at BC.

The 1999 campaign was initially billed as a rebuilding year, but the Beavers exceeded expectations by winning 15 games, including an 11-7 HCAC Tournament victory over Anderson University, who was ranked eighth in the country at the time. HCAC Tournament champion Manchester College, as well as Anderson and several other schools in the league, all return considerable fire power, as well.

"The Heartland Conference will be very challenging," said Brooks as pre-season practices got underway. "But we think we'll be very competitive and we have a good group of returnees that we think will take us where we want to be. Several freshman will also make an immediate impact, as well."

Highlighting that group of returning players are Honorable Mention All-HCAC selections Eric Metz (Norwalk/St. Paul) and Brad Buckingham (Berne, Ind./South Adams).

Buckingham, a sophomore was voted the team's Most Valuable Offensive and Defensive Player as he led the squad with a .356 mark at the plate and added seven doubles and 18 RBI. He also recorded a team-high .493 on base percentage and a .969 fielding percentage as BC's center fielder. He was named to the Sarasota Spring Classic All-Tournament Team.

Metz, a senior and three-year starter in the Bluffton infield and an honorable mention All-American wide receiver for the BC football squad last fall, hit .330 with six doubles, three home runs, three triples and 24 RBI. His .518 slugging percentage led BC.

Gone from last year's team is 1999 BC graduate Paul Von Lehmden, a four year starting pitcher with 17 career victories who notched five wins last season. He fashioned a 5.88 earned run average and led the squad in innings pitched (72), batters faced (334) and strikeouts (43).

In addition to Buckingham and Metz, Coach Brooks returns six other position starters and three experienced pitchers. "We have a good group of seniors," said Brooks, "and their work ethic and leadership is having a big impact on our team."

Senior pitcher Joel Parrett (Oakwood/Paulding) returns with 17 career wins and 119 strikeouts. A three-year starter and an honorable mention All-American quarterback last fall, he was 5-6 in 1999 and his eight pitching wins as a freshman in 1997 stand as the BC record. Also back on the mound are senior Bob Sierer (Paulding) and junior Bill Bechtel (Wapakoneta). Sierer's opponents hit just .258 against him in 1999 as he fashioned a 1-4 record with 22 strikeouts. Bechtel was 2-5 with 31 K's.

Catcher Corey Smeltzer (Kunkle/North Central) and infielder Tony Vasko (Northwood) are back for their senior season with the Beavers. Smeltzer hit .161 last season with a .352 on base percentage, while Vasko hit .200 with a .342 on base percentage.

Five other returning regulars include junior outfielder Luke Habegger (Berne/South Adams), junior infielder Jeff Haulman (Troy/Miami East), sophomore catcher Ben Schwab (New Bavaria/Holgate), sophomore infielder Todd Pickthorn (Miamisburg) and sophomore outfielder Dustin Kreis (Richwood/North Union).

Habegger hit .297 last season with a team-high eight doubles. Haulman hit .176, while Schwab was .219 at the plate with a team-high four home runs. Pickthorn hit .297 and stole a team-high 12 bases, and Kreis hit .242 with a .354 on base percentage.

Freshmen on this year's team include infielder Tony Boenker (Parkway), pitcher/infielder Eric Humpal (Medina), pitcher Brian Ley (North Robinson/Colonel Crawford), pitcher/infielder Brad Moore (Norwalk) and pitcher/infielder David Snow (Columbus/Tree of Life).

Vasko, Habegger, Schwab, Boenker and Moore were also members of Bluffton's 7-3 football squad in 1999, in addition to Metz and Parrett.

Assisting Brooks will be Ken Von Lehmden, who has been with the BC baseball program for eight years.

BC will see their first action at the Sarasota Spring Classic on March 6. Teams participating in the event include Bluffton, Eastern Mennonite University (Harrisonburg, Virginia), Juniata College (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania), Kenyon College (Gambier, Ohio) and Moravian College (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania).