Expectations are at an all-time high for Missouri Western baseball after being picked to finish third in the MIAA preseason coaches poll.
“It’s a compliment from the league,” coach Buzz Verduzco said. “The league is tough regardless of where you start out. I think the little bit of experience that we have coming back, in addition to some new guys are going to make for a little better of a season.”
The Griffons finished last season with a record of 26-25 and went 24-19 in MIAA conference play. The Griffons are returning three starting pitchers and some key relief. Matt Bergin went 10-6 last season with a team-low 2.54 earned run average. Oliver Kadey went 4-5 after appearing in 13 games with 10 starts accumulating a 5.58 ERA and Nick Jarudo went 7-3 with a 5.94 ERA. Tyler Riddle had a 4.31 ERA in 19 relief appearances. All four players are returning this season.
“We are excited about the experience coming back, but you have to perform,” Verduzco said. “We have some guys who have been through it, and that sometimes helps.”
On offense, Western will have to make up for the loss of power hitter Isaac Rome, who led the team with nine home runs and was tied for the lead in runs batted in with 42.
“I feel like we lost a big power stick, but this year I feel like we are going to have more consistent power throughout the whole lineup,” Spencer Shockley said.
Shockley is the returning team-leader in home runs with five and RBIs with 42. He’s also the returning team-leader in average, hitting at .319 last season.
Outfielders Shawn Egge and Bubba Dotson, both JUCO transfers, are players that are expected to add power to the lineup.
According to Verdasco, the strength of the team is its overall balance on both sides of the ball.
“I think our offense is going to balance with some returning pitching that will be a little bit experienced,” Verduzco said. “Hopefully the run production will allow our pitching staff to pitch more freely and aggressively than in the past. Knowing that we could potentially score more runs than we did last year is going to boost their confidence as a staff.”
The team returns Honorable Mention All-MIAA catcher Tony Loeffler, who is confident that his senior season will be a good one.
“I think this team can be one of the best teams that Western has ever had and I’ve ever played on, so the expectations are really high,” Loeffler said. “We talk about how we expect to be good a lot. We try and stay humble, go out there with the right mentality and play as hard as we can.”
Western baseball starts its season at North Alabama, who went 37-14 last season with a NCAA Regional appearance. Its first home appearance is at 2 p.m. on Feb. 24 against Nebraska-Kearney.