The Tigers resume the 2014 season behind the arm of senior Steven Beckham.
The 2013 season will be a tough one to follow. With 35 wins, a second straight CCAC South Championship and the most individual post-season awards in a decade, the Tigers continued a tradition of excellence on the diamond. The Tigers also advanced to the NCCAA World Series for a fifth straight year and finished as a semi-finalist, falling to two-time champion California Baptist.
The biggest struggle for the Tigers will be replacing the ten graduating seniors from last year’s club. “It was very special to coach that group of players, nine of them for four years. To see how much they accomplished as they developed and to be able to have been a part of it is something I can’t say enough about,” said, Head Coach Todd Reid.
Gone from 2013 are eight of nine opening day starters, including Justin Fahy, Dan Schneider, Adrian Perez, Matt Davenport, Ryan Kern, Nick Jones and Alex Cavender. Also gone are starting pitcher-Ben Heller, who was drafted in the 22nd round by the Cleveland Indians in June; part-time starter and reliever Paul Griffin; and NAIA All-American closer Kevin Lasowski. This was arguably the most talented class in Olivet history with seven all-conference selections, a draft pick in Heller, an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American in Lasowski, and an NCCAA All-American First Team selection in Dan Schneider.
With all that said, Coach Reid has refused to call 2014 a rebuilding year, telling his players that “the standard for excellence remains the same.” His goals are no different than in any previous season: “to advance to the CCAC conference tournament and opportunity to play for a berth in the NAIA national tournament.”
To accomplish this, the 2014 team will rely heavily on its two seniors: starting pitchers Steven Beckham and Jonathan Fightmaster. With experience as well as their talent, they will anchor the Tigers’ pitching rotation. Combined, the two hurlers have won 33 games for ONU, each contributing since their freshman year. Fightmaster took the early lead with four wins as a rookie. As sophomores, both were part of the rotation. Beckham set the mark a year ago with nine wins and a selection to the Capital One Academic All-America® College Division Baseball First Team, just ahead of Fightmaster and his eight victories.
“It’s a lot of fun to watch the two of them compete. They do so not just against opponents, but against each other — in practice, in games, and in the weight room. I am excited to see their hard work and dedication to excellence play out this year,” said Coach Reid.
Behind Beckham and Fightmaster is a solid group of pitchers whom Coach Reid is just as excited about.
“Madison Foster and Ryan Archer are returning with experience, as well as an outstanding group of young guys who will emerge this season,” said Reid.
In 2013, sophomore Madison Foster started seven games picking up four wins and a save. Junior Ryan Archer has started games in each of the past two seasons. But a big chunk of the innings will come from those without much experience. The staff includes junior Ken Decook; sophomores Joel Woodbridge, Matt Webber, Eric Douglass and Parker Shelton; and freshmen David Cericola, Jordan Wanner and Seth Gorman.
At least two starting roles are up for grabs, as well as the challenge of filling the shoes of all-time saves leader Kevin Lasowski. “We are definitely going to miss Kevin and that devastating breaking ball at the end of the game,” said Coach Reid. But we have some quality candidates, including Shelton and Cericola. Each has a dominant pitch of his own.”
In the field, although only two players return with quality playing experience, each could be considered one of the top players in the conference. As freshmen, Josh Altmann and Jordan Hayes hit .373 and .303 respectively. Altmann finished as a second team all-conference selection, while Hayes was named the Gold Glove award winner at third base. This duo is expected to hit the middle of the lineup and be counted on as the major run producers on the team.
Other returners with experience are led by junior outfielder Aaron King, who has been the Tigers’ best pinch-hitter over the past two seasons while playing part-time in the outfield. He has a .325 career batting average and is expected to have a break-out season in 2014. Other returners include catchers Stefan Sauder and Seth Tschetter; infielders Joel Yates and Travis Hill; and outfielders Trey Ballard and Caleb Gulledge.
The team is also stacked with a great rookie class that includes Illinois All-State award winners Bryan Klendworth, who started in left field on opening day in October; and Tyler Crater, who will join the Tigers after his season with the ONU men’s basketball team is complete. Joining them are Indiana natives Cole Keeley, Gabe Sevigny and Matt Warren, as well as Codey Houts and J.P. Batts, both from Michigan.
The Tigers opened their official 2014 season, oddly enough, in the fall of 2013. On October 19th, the Tigers played their first two official contests as a part of a new NAIA policy that allows baseball teams to play a limited number of games in the fall — a rule that the Tigers’ skipper says will lessen the advantage that southern schools have with respect to playing more games earlier in the season. ONU hosted Purdue University-Calumet (Ind.), a team that will be joining the CCAC baseball conference in 2015. The Tigers swept the doubleheader 5-3 and 13-7 with Beckham and Fightmaster picking up the wins, and Altmann and King pacing the offense with three hits apiece.
To continue the 2014 season, Olivet will play three weekend series on the road (at Bethel, Mid-Continent and Trevecca) in February. Then, the team will travel to Tucson, Ariz., for the annual spring trip before returning home to host Robert Morris University on March 22 in the first home action for the new year.