Men’s baseball looks to ride pitching staff to national stage
If there’s something the players of Western’s baseball team know all too well, it’s the consequence of losing a game at the wrong time.
One lost game at the regional championships in three of the last four years is all that’s been stopping Western men’s baseball team from playing in the national championships.
But the veteran squad looks to capitalize on the combined skills of its returning players this season, player-coach Ethan Weller said.
“Three quarters of the team is back this year and have been to regionals,” Weller said. “So we have the experience.”
Fifteen of the 21 players on the roster are returning from last year’s team. They all know what it takes to get to regionals and are ready to take the next step that will place them in North Carolina for the national championships, Weller said.
The last time Western made it to the national championships was in 2013, one year before Weller and the team’s seniors joined. However, four years of playing on a team with the expectation to move on to nationals and play for a title has left them hungry for this season.
“Going to nationals would be a huge feat, and I would be perfectly happy with that,” Weller said. “But to win nationals is definitely the dream.”
Making it to nationals means playing four nine-inning games in three days. This is almost twice as much as they play in regular season tournaments, and only happens at regionals.
“We [have] a shortage of pitchers and usually lose a little bit of energy in the last game,” Weller said.
This year, the team has extra help in the bullpen with 11 capable pitchers, opposed to the seven they had last year.
“We have a very deep pitching staff with three senior starters with more guys ready to fill in behind them,” pitching coach Caleb Wallen said.
Good pitching is a key aspect of a successful team, but pitching has to be combined with consistent fielding to stop opposing offenses, Wallen said.
“Our defense last year was sometimes a little off. If we can fine-tune some of those defensive things we should be good, because I know we can pitch and we can hit,” player coach Michael Heath said.
The team is still sorting out where everyone will be positioned for the upcoming season after losing some key components in the field.
“Kyle Pegram was our shortstop last year, he was a fifth-year guy, so now we’re looking for someone to fill in the shortstop role,” Wallen said. “But we’re loaded with seniors at first, second and third base.”
Having a deep pitching group should help the team in the second half of a season that consists of 20-25 games, with some long road trips to Idaho and Oregon.
Long road trips are tough on teams because the players typically have to miss a day of school for travel and then play three seven-inning games, Weller said. Luckily, the team’s leaders don’t worry too much about this team’s attitude toward playing.
“My favorite part of this team is the whole environment,” Heath said. “I know we’re a good group of guys. We have a relaxed environment, but we all still get in to practice and like to put up [wins].”