February 21, 2018
By: Cameron Rife, sports information intern
BLUFFTON, Ohio - The Bluffton baseball team is looking to return to the form it displayed when the Beavers posted three consecutive 20+ win seasons from 2013-15, the first 20-win seasons in school history. The Beavers graduated the largest senior class in Bluffton history, including four-time All-Heartland Conference honoree Luke Hickey but they look forward to the challenge of getting to the top of the HCAC.
Bluffton will look to senior catcher Reid Maus (Hamilton/Badin) to handle the pitching staff and the defense. Maus has been a mainstay behind the plate for the Beavers and he put together an excellent junior year which saw him hit .308 in 65 plate appearances. Maus did not commit an error in 21 starts behind the plate in 2017. During conference play is when Maus really stepped up his offensive output, hitting .321 which was the second highest on the team behind Luke Hickey.
The Beavers will also be looking for contributions from junior Colin Gregory (Fremont/Clyde). Gregory had an excellent sophomore campaign, hitting .307 in his 127 plate appearances. The standout sophomore was second on the team with 39 hits, including five doubles, a triple and a home run. Gregory also drove in 19 runs last year. The Beavers will need Gregory to increase his run production from the middle of the lineup in 2018.
Bluffton will also be looking for senior Ryan Golden (Findlay) and sophomore Chase Lawniczak (Toledo/Whitmer) to grow in their roles in 2018. Golden had a batting average of .269 in 33 games. He rapped 29 hits with four doubles, two triples and a home run. Golden will have the opportunity to move in to DH role. Like Gregory, Golden is expected to use the experience gained from last season as a catalyst for increased production. As a true freshman Lawniczak started in 30 games in 2017, mostly at third base. He will slide over to short stop for 2018 where he will be expected to be a mainstay. He has excellent hands, range, and lateral quickness and can be one of the best in the HCAC.
The 2017 squad was competitive, dropping 13 games by three runs or less. Picking up those close-game wins with a younger squad will prove challenging. Several freshmen and sophomores are expected to make an impact on the field in 2018. Lenny Winiarski (LaSalle) will compete for time behind the plate with Maus and sophomore Parker Reynolds (Avon), as well as at first base. Freshmen infielders Jacob Latkofsky (Ida/Ida, MI), Jaxon Rogan (Marysville/Marysville) look to challenge sophomores Bryce Fink (Medina) and Alex Lemanski (Miamisburg) for roles vacated by last year’s large graduating class. Freshman Reid Ruhl (Hamilton/Hamilton) will compete for innings in what could be a crowded outfield if juniors Denny Szalai (LaGrange/Keystone), Jeff Arnett (Tecumseh, MI/Tecumseh) and Gregory perform as expected.
Perhaps the biggest area hit by graduation is on the mound. The Beavers will look to replace seven hurlers from 2017. Leading the way this year will be a pair of juniors in Dante D’Andrea (Westerville/North) and Brantley Curnutte (Hilliard/Davidson). D’Andrea had an outstanding sophomore season, posting a 2.28 earned run average in 27.2 innings pitched. He fanned 15 batters, finishing with a record of 2-0. D’Andrea was almost unhittable during conference play, posting a microscopic ERA of 0.92, giving up only three runs on nine hits in his eight appearances.
Curnutte also had an outstanding sophomore campaign, putting together an earned run average of 4.17 in 45.1 innings pitched. The righty made 10 appearances with six of them being starts. He fanned 35 batters which was the second-highest on the team. During conference play Curnutte was even better with a 3.37 ERA in 34.2 innings pitched while striking out 23.
Moving into the mix for innings is junior Jack Bondy (Avon) and sophomores Cam Clark (Cairo/Bath), Colby Clifton (Ohio City/Crestview), Mike Aman (Dublin/Coffman) and Tommy Siemer (Liberty Township/Lakota East). Expect freshmen Garrett O’Reilly (Galena/Olentangy Orange) and Hunter Mills (Etna/Watkins Memorial) to contribute right away on the mound as well.
Bluffton will open its season on February 28 when the Beavers travel to Chillicothe to take on Ohio Wesleyan. Heartland Conference action starts on March 30 with a trip to Earlham College for a Friday night doubleheader with the Quakers. The schedule will be vastly different this season with the three-game Heartland Conference series a thing of the past. A conference doubleheader will now be the extent of each HCAC series opening up nine games for local and regional rivals each year. The HCAC tournament has also changed formats. The top five will now qualify for the conference tournament with the winner earning the NCAA Automatic Qualifier to the NCAA Regionals.