Beavers ready to make waves in the Heartland Conference
By: Jordon Bruner, sports information assistant
January 26, 2007
The Bluffton University baseball team returns four All-HCAC performers to a team that finished second in the Heartland Conference last year. The Beavers 17-21 (10-11 HCAC) record last season marked the most wins for the Bluffton baseball program since 1988.
Coach James Grandey returns for his fourth season at the helm of the baseball program. His teams have consistently improved during his tenure at Bluffton, starting with an 11-win season in 2004 and culminating with the 17-win campaign a year ago.
This season, the Beavers look to make their mark in both the Heartland Conference and the Bluffton University record books as last year's young team has returned with a wealth of game experience. Despite the fact that Bluffton has no seniors on the roster, the Beavers do return twenty juniors and sophomores who saw significant playing time in 2006.
|Bluffton's infield remains largely intact as three starters return. Two All-HCAC performers from a year ago are back as junior Ryan Baightel (Wapakoneta/Wapakoneta) returns at shortstop and Greg Sigg (Maumee/Maumee) is expected to get the nod at first base. Corey Conn (London/London) also returns at the hot corner for the Beavers, while fellow sophomores David Betts (Bryan/Bryan) and Justin Penwell (Washington Court House/Washington Senior) are expected to compete for playing time at second base. Junior Jimmy McMonagle (Ida, Mich./Ida) also returns after spending time last year at first base and as a designated hitter.|
The outfield will have a new look this season as all three starters from last year's squad are gone. The Beavers do, however, return several players who saw action in the outfield last spring. Junior Chris Bauman (Milford/Milford) is back after providing Bluffton with some punch as a pinch-hitter a year ago. He will be joined by 2006 All-Mideast Region performer Tony Moore (Elida/Elida) who will make the move to centerfield, vacating his spot at second base that he occupied the last two seasons. Sophomores Tyler Williams (Lima/Lima Senior) and Allen Slabaugh (Dalton/Dalton), along with transfer Mike Ramthun (Springfield/Southeastern), will add experienced depth in the outfield while wreaking havoc on the basepaths.
Sophomore Curtis Schroeder (Shelby/Shelby), honorable mention All-HCAC a year ago, will start behind the plate for the Beavers.
Bluffton's pitching rotation will see some familiar faces on the hill as a very young squad from a year ago is much improved after a year of Heartland Conference experience. Junior Tim Kay (Alpharetta, Ga./Blessed Trinity), who earned first team All-HCAC honors in 2006, returns as Bluffton's ace, while also having spent time as the team's designated hitter. Sophomore Matt Perkins (Convoy/Crestview) also returns on the mound for the Beavers giving Bluffton a solid one-two combination in conference action.
"Kay and Perkins will be at the top of the rotation, but we need to fill out the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation," Grandey said. "The key for the pitching staff is for the older guys to pitch well and get people out consistently." Junior Will Gerber (Kidron/Central Christian), along with newcomers Cody McPherson (Northwood/Millbury Lake), Cody Holp (Arcanum/Tri-County North) and Zach Arend (Oakwood/Paulding) will compete for a spot in the rotation.
Juniors Gerber and Tyler Sprunger (Berne, Ind./South Adams) both return for Bluffton, bringing with them a wealth of experience to Bluffton's bullpen. Also looking to solidify the relieving corps for the Beavers are sophomores Steve Roberts (West Salem/Mapleton) and Tyler Hill (London/London).
Another talented recruiting class adds even more depth to an already deep roster for Bluffton. This depth should create intense competition and it will help the Beavers make a push for the Heartland Conference tournament as well as the record for most victories in a season.
"We are a team that is still young, but with the experience we have there is a good chance to build momentum for the program," Grandey said. "Our first goal is to set the school record for victories which will lead to a winning season and hopefully put us in the conference tournament."
Although the addition of national power Rose-Hulman to the Heartland Conference improves an already deep and talented HCAC, the Beavers are confident that their non-league schedule, which includes a matchup at Division I Wright State, will prepare them as they make a run at the Heartland Conference tournament.