2012 Preview: Bulldog Baseball Unleashes Desire for Repeat Performance
The University of Redlands baseball team put together a masterful campaign in 2011, recording only the second 30-win season in program history en route to clinching a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) Championship and advancing to the NCAA West Regional. Despite all of last season's exciting accomplishments, the 2012 edition of Bulldog baseball brings the desire, ability and dedication to take the program onto the next level.
According to Head Coach Scott Laverty, who enters his 13th season as the U of R skipper, this crew will keep the same mentality and approach as years past.
"Year-in and year-out, our main goal is to capture the conference title and from that point go as deep as we can at the NCAA Championships," he explained. "Clearly, there are different expectations from past seasons, but we know what we want to accomplish."
Despite losing three instrumental seniors due to graduation, Redlands brings back a hefty portion of last year's crew and welcomes numerous newcomers who will have an immediate impact on the ball club.
"Even though we have seven starting position players returning and two starting throwers back in the rotation, this team is going to have a very different look. This is the deepest team we have put together and it is going to be interesting to see who steps up," Laverty stated.
While going up against some of the toughest NCAA Division III competition, Redlands faces a demanding 40-game schedule over its three-month regular season. Equipped with a preseason ranking of No. 15, the Bulldogs kick off the season on the weekend of Feb. 10 with four games at the friendly confines of The Yard, which includes a matchup against No. 2 Chapman University. Redlands opens up SCIAC action one week later when it takes on the Occidental College Tigers on Feb. 17.
"The SCIAC has become a very difficult conference to play against and this year is no exception," said Laverty. "On any given day, anyone can beat anyone."
Once spring break hits, the club battles it out with a variety of schools from all across the nation. During the California Invitational, Redlands faces off against a pair of East Coast powerhouses in No. 3 Kean University (NJ) and No. 12 Eastern Connecticut State University, as well as Southern Athletic Association Conference (SAAC) champion Berry College (GA) and traditional standout Ithaca College (NY).
"We want to play the best teams in the nation because we believe that we can play with anybody and our non-conference schedule displays that," stated Laverty.
After the Cal Invite, the Bulldogs jump back into SCIAC action before wrapping up regular-season play with a three-game set against regional rival Chapman in early May.
With a relentless desire to defend its SCIAC title, Redlands returns a passionate and skilled crew of contributors from last year's historical run. They combine efforts with viable newcomers in order to create a lucrative lineup that is chalk full of options.
The infielders are likely to be the most sound and core set of players for the Bulldogs. Each of the four starters from last season returns in 2012, headlined by D3baseball.com Preseason All-America senior shortstop Chase Tucker (Poway, CA). Tucker really burst onto the national scene in 2011, leading NCAA Division III and resetting the school record with 11 triples. As the team's primary No. 3 hitter, he sat first on the team in runs scored (53) and hits (64) while batting .381 with eight doubles, three home runs, and 35 RBI. Count on him to continue this trend of success as he caps off an impressive career with the Maroon and Gray.
Tucker's middle infield counterpart, senior second baseman Cameron Lowe (Olympia, WA), comes back as an All-Region selection with the ability to raise the bar on his own performance and that of those around him. Laverty credits Lowe's hard work and leadership as putting this two-bagger in great position for an outstanding senior campaign.
After enjoying a very successful first year with the Maroon and Gray that was highlighted by a school-record 21 doubles, senior Jason Henning (Redlands, CA) looks forward to holding down the hot corner in 2012. Expect big things from him as he came into camp in the best shape of his career, revealing his determination for a stellar season.
Securing first base, senior Jon Cavender (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) returns as an ABCA All-Region Rawlings® Gold Glove player with a .996 fielding percentage and a team-leading 442 putouts. Cavender is no slouch at the dish either, hitting .325 while collecting the second-most RBI on the team with 38.
Rounding out the infield options, a trio of competitors offers depth and versatility. Senior Ben Saunders (New River, AZ) offers flexibility as a spot-starter as well as one of the team's primary designated hitters. He serves as a key component for the Bulldogs with his clutch pinch-hitting ability, boasting the poise and determination to step up when called upon. Both junior Petter Overton-Harris (Beaverton, OR) and freshman Sam Johnson (Apple Valley, CA) provide a left-handed bat off the bench, making them valuable options within the order. Overton-Harris delivered on several occasions in 2011 and Johnson possesses the tools to contribute right away.
Traditionally one of the strongest and deepest groups on the roster, the Redlands outfielders remain true to that trait in 2012.
"This group of guys is extremely talented, and it's going to be exciting to see who can step up and be a force day-in and day-out".
Senior Trenton Lively (La Verne, CA) looks to hold down one of the corner outfield spots after posting a solid first season with the Maroon and Gray.
In addition, junior Marcus Himelhoch (Portland, OR) returns to action with a newfound zest for competition, adding depth and versatility to the outfield.
After gaining solid experience during 2011's exciting run, the sophomore tandem of Alex Scheiwe (Encinitas, CA) and Max Hardman (Encinitas, CA) eyes a strong second year with the Bulldogs. With speed and tenacity, Scheiwe boasts the ability to run down nearly every ball in center field. Hardman offers strong power throughout his game, which was highlighted by one of the most electrifying homeruns in the program's history with a walk-off grand slam against No. 13 Pomona-Pitzer Colleges back on April 9.
Laverty expects to see big things from two of his newcomers in freshmen Connor Hancock (Burbank, CA) and Nathaniel Acosta (Chino Hills, CA). Hancock fits the prototypical five-tool model and Acosta has already shown that he has some serious long-ball power.
"These three have to be the hardest working group of the bunch. These guys get after it each day, and even though they are in competition with one another, they support one another," stated Laverty. "It's going to be difficult to sit any of these players."
As the Bulldogs' defensive leader, McMath takes over the team's starting gig. He does an excellent job of working with the pitching staff as well exhibiting great control and feel of the game.
In his freshman season, Bell gained valuable experience by stepping in for Redlands in many different scenarios. Look for him to vie for time on the field as a formidable defender and as someone with a knack for getting on base.
One of the biggest guys on the club at six-foot-three, McMillan strives for opportunities to really show off his batting skills.
Working closely with the catchers, the Redlands pitchers combine talents to create a versatile battery.
For the first time in four seasons, the Bulldogs will be without former All-American Derek Johnson but look forward to his role as an assistant coach. Stepping into the ace's role, junior Kyle Hart (Burbank, CA) looks to capitalize on his 2011 All-Region performance while leading the team to the next level with his power fastball and sick slider.
Slotting into the remaining starter spots, senior Adam Byrd (Bullhead City, AZ), junior Paul Dippel (East Granby, CT), junior transfer Eliot Smith (West Linn, OR), and freshmen Josh Makler (Portland, OR) and Mark Harris (Tucson, AZ) bring various looks to the Bulldog mound.
Byrd served as the U of R's No. 3 for the majority of 2011 and brings the ability to spot the ball with the best of them. Appearing in 18 contests, Dippel saw significant action in his first season at Redlands. Count on these two to the set the tone for the Bulldogs as the team's top returning starters.
After transferring from the Northwest Conference, Smith brings a reliable lefty arm and the ability to throw all of his pitches for a strike at any time. Makler is another southpaw who will earn innings right away. One pitcher who could open eyes is the power-armed Harris who isn't afraid to attack and go after hitters.
Redlands also looks to a versatile crew of relievers to seal the deal from the mound.
As the club's closer, senior Brock Jacobo (Yuma, AZ) strives to put his big-inning experience to work by shutting the door on the opponents.
Following an injury-plagued season, junior Mike Massari (Palmdale, CA) takes on a new role in 2012 by contributing as a set-up type of reliever.
In addition, look for Lively to possibly jump from his traditional outfielder position to face the left-handed batters late in the game.
Overall, the team returns a talented and dedicated crew of contributors from last season's memorable campaign and welcomes new faces to the lineup. With Laverty at the helm, the Bulldogs hold high expectations for a repeat performance of a year ago while maintaining its position among the top programs in the country.