Beavers have high expectations after record-setting 2013 season
By: Ryan Schadewald, sports information assistant
February 11, 2014
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton University baseball team is ready to improve on a record-breaking 2013 campaign with an even better 2014 season. Despite graduating two of the most prolific hitters in program history in Kyle Niermann and Miles Richardson, who sit at or near the top of nearly every offensive statistic in the record book, the Beavers return plenty of experience for the upcoming season. "It's hard to replace guys like Kyle and Miles, but at the same time we don't want someone else to try to be them," Head Coach James Grandey said when asked what it would take to replace the bats of Niermann and Richardson.
The big hole that needs to be replaced is in the outfield, following Niermann and Richardson's graduation. This leaves only one returning starter in David Ianiro (Highland Heights/Mayfield), who batted .260 with 14 runs scored and 10 RBI during the 2013 season. Coach Grandey looks for senior Christian Vail (Lucas) to take advantage of the experience he gained late last season. Vail played in 17 games and went 11-for-21 with eight RBI and six runs scored in a limited number of plate appearances.
The battle for a third starting spot is still up in the air between juniors T.J. Devore (Grove City), Tyler Spalding (Willis, Mich./Lincoln) and Michael Alexander (Monroe). All three lettermen have experience, but they will have to step into bigger roles this season. "We will rely on guys that have been in the program. They're not freshmen. They know what we expect," Coach Grandey replied when asked about those players looking for playing time in the outfield. Freshmen Clayton Siders (Delaware/Worthington Christian) and Cody Lehman (Hamilton) also look to compete for playing time this year.
The good news for the Beavers is that they return every position starter not named Kyle Niermann and Miles Richardson from last season. This includes the entire infield. Junior first baseman Jake Townley (Mansfield/Madison) started 35 games during the 2013 season, hitting .305 with a team-leading three homers, 24 RBI and 10 doubles. Look for Cade Randolph (Marengo/Highland) to also compete for playing time at first base. Randolph played in 13 games last season, showcasing his defensive skills at first. Freshman Blake Fox (Berne, Ind./South Adams) may also find himself in the mix at first base and possibly as a designated hitter this season.
The middle of the infield also returns intact with a wealth of starting experience. Senior captain Doug Paullin (Jeromesville/Hillsdale) hit .290 with 14 runs scored and nine RBI in just 62 at bats while playing 28 games a year ago. Junior third baseman Jeff Roth (Bellevue) looks to continue his excellence in the field where he showed off a slick glove and strong arm at the hot corner. He is coming off a year in which he hit .252 with 11 RBI in his 37 games started. Junior Mike Castro (Reynoldsburg) looks to get time in the middle infield after hitting .254 with 12 RBI in 2013. Junior Aaron Young (Shelby) gives the Beavers experience and depth in the infield while freshman Luke Hickey (Toledo/Whitmer) has worked himself into the mix which may result inplaying time at the varsity level as well.
A key to Bluffton's success this season will be behind the plate where four-year starter Tim Webb (Delaware/Worthington Christian) looks to finish his superb career with another stellar year for the Beavers. A three-time All-HCAC honoree, Webb sits tied for sixth all-time in doubles. However, he really shines on the defensive side where he has already caught more players attempting to steal (33) than any other backstop in school history. Junior T.J. Devore gives the Beavers a solid backup behind the plate when Webb needs a break.
On the mound, the Beavers return two of the three starters from their conference weekend rotation. Senior Nate Simonds (Ypsilanti, Mich./Lincoln) is ready for a stellar senior season following a campaign when he pitched more innings than anyone in Bluffton University history (74.1 IP). Simonds finished 2013 with a 3.03 ERA which was seventh in the HCAC. He also led the Beavers with 10 starts and 49 strikeouts last season while tossing three 9-inning complete games.
Also returning to the mound is senior Ben Roeschley (Graymont, Ill/Flanagan), who posted a 4-3 mark with a 4.06 ERA in 68.2 innings, good for fifth on the all-time list, and recorded 42 strikeouts. Other hurlers who will need to fill a larger role for the Beavers, whether it be starting or relieving, include Brad Schlabach (Fredericksburg/Hiland), Halen Core (Reynoldsburg) and Cole Page (Nappannee, Ind./Northwood). Freshmen Jaylen Von Sossan (Ottawa/Ottawa-Glandorf), G.W. Wallace (Washington Court House/Miami Trace) and Dyson Bowman (Coshocton) have the tools to earn valuable innings during their inaugural campaigns this season.
After setting a school-record with 21 wins in 2013, their first 20-win season in school history, Coach Grandey has lofty goals for the season, but also one simple mantra. He says the key is to just play "pitch-by-pitch" in order to be successful. They aspire to build off their first winning season since 1990 and the success of the last several seasons as they work to earn their first-ever HCAC tournament appearance.