BRIDGEWATER, Va. - The Bridgewater baseball team is looking to show improvement as it gears up for the start of the 2019 season and the Eagles believe that improvement will translate into more victories.
The Eagles finished 2018 with a 19-20-1 record and lost in the opening round of the ODAC tournament to Randolph-Macon, the conference's regular season champion.
"I think the guys realize we are talented enough to play with any team in the conference," said Curt Kendall who is entering his 34th season as the Eagles' head coach. "But, it's not enough to realize you have talent, you have to believe that you can go out and get it done on the field. You have to have that belief."
The pitching staff returns its top two starters and its closer from a year ago. "We have guys who have been through the process and pitched in big games. They know what it takes to get hitters out," said Kendall.
A pair of senior lefties, Chad Lenz and Andrew Berry, return as the leading contenders to pitch on conference weekends. Lenz was a third-team All-ODAC pick a year ago while Berry ranked among the ODAC leaders in strikeouts per nine innings. Lenz was 2-4 with a 3.99 ERA. He struck out 51 batters in 47.1 innings. Berry posted a 3-5 record with a 5.43 ERA. He fanned 63 hitters in 53 innings pitched.
Tristan Daywalt, another senior with a lot of experience on the mound, and promising freshman Hunter Mohr should get looks in the starting rotation. Righthander Matt Pulliam and southpaw Tucker Garrison are also available to start and both will come out of the bullpen when needed. Daywalt finished with a 3-1 record and a 3.43 ERA in five starts. Pulliam saw limited action in four appearances while Garrison made 13 appearances out of the pen.
There is plenty of experience ready to pitch in a relief role. Kyle Hasforth, a righthander, and lefty Sam Imeson are two seniors who Kendall will count on to produce out of the pen. Hasforth was 2-0 in 14 appearances a year ago while Imeson was 1-1 in 10 appearances.
Several newcomers will also vie for innings. A pair of freshman lefties – Tucker Hrasky and Bryce Masters - show potential. Transfer RHP George Killian and junior RHP Keegan Oliver, out for the team for the first time, also show promise. Two more freshmen, Devin Page and Brett Tharpe, both drop down and present different arm angles to provide Kendall with more options.
The back-end of games will belong to sophomore closer Ryan Skadra. The hard-throwing righthander was 1-1 with four saves in 2018. He appeared in 17 games with a 2.81 ERA.
"We'll use the first couple of weeks along with our spring break trip to develop our rotation," said Kendall. "We'll use that time to find out who can get hitters out and start defining roles within the staff."
Offensively, Kendall is confident in his lineup's ability to produce runs. "We're going to swing it pretty well and we should be able to put some runs on the board. I thought we showed last year that we could compete against the best pitchers in the conference."
Brett Jones, who moved between the outfield and first base a year ago, will settle into right-field slot this season. The senior provides power in the middle of the order. As a junior he led the Eagles with seven homers and 35 RBIs.
Jones will be joined in the outfield by Garrison Wright in center and Jacob Grabeel in left. Wright struggled as a junior, but has all the tools to be productive, Grabeel had a solid first season with the Eagles, hitting for a .272 average.
Brett Lysohir, who has had a strong preseason, and Matthew LaPrade will also see time in the outfield. LaPrade is looking to regain his form after missing the 2018 season. Floyd and Tharpe will also be in the outfield mix. Kendall may also use Skadra in the outfield in order to get his bat in the lineup.
"In the outfield, and the infield as well, there may be some platoon situations," said Kendall. "It may come down to playing the guy with the hot bat."
Behind the dish, the Eagles return two experienced catchers in Cameron Stanley and Phillip Herber. Stanley hit .387 as a junior and was a third-team All-ODAC pick at DH. Herber is a strong defensive catcher with a good arm. Trenton Breeden, a sophomore, is also working hard behind the plate.
Junior shortstop Jacob Talley returns to anchor the infield. Talley has a .363 batting average over his first two seasons and will likely hit in the two-hole. Freshman Timothy Hopson, a strong defensive infielder, will back up Talley.
Playing first base will be Luke Paczewski along with Stanley and Skadra. Paczewski has a .284 average over his first two seasons. Kendall hopes to have Paczewski, Sladra and Stanley all in the lineup together as much as possible.
Sophomore Kevin Navedo will get the start at second. Navedo showed some pop with three homers as a freshman and has worked hard on his defense. Freshman Jarrett Biesecker will also see action at second. Biesecker adds a change of pace with his speed in the lineup.
JT Creed will get the nod at third base. Creed missed most of the 2018 season and has been swinging the bat well in the preseason. Tharpe could also see action at the hot corner.
The designated hitter slot could be manned by a number of players, including Stanley, Skadra, Paczewski, Lysohir and Berry. Mohr has not only impressed on the mound, but he's shown the ability to swing the bat during preseason and he could also be in the DH mix.
"We're going to have to do the little things well on offense," said Kendall. "We're going to have to mover runners over. We're going to have to get the bunt down when that's the right play. It's those little things that can make the difference between scoring runs or not scoring. I think our hitters are starting to understand that."
The conference once again looks to be strong with Randolph-Macon and Shenandoah both ranked in the Top 25 in the D3baseball.com Preseason Poll.
"There are good teams top to bottom in the ODAC," said Kendall. "You're going to find yourself in a lot of close games and you're going to have to play good baseball every time you take the field if you want to have an opportunity to win."