Southwest Baptist University baseball looks to put a rough 2018 season behind in preparation for its season opener this weekend. The Bearcats finished 17-33 last spring. With 10 returning starters, the team is hoping for a rebound season.
SBU is directed by eighth-year coach Chris Martin. The Bearcats had struggled in weekend MIAA series last season, as they finished 11-25 in conference play. SBU is looking to go out with a flourish in their final year in the MIAA.
“We had high expectations coming off of a 30-win season in 2017,” Martin said. “At times we played really well, including winning a series at Missouri Southern, winning a series versus Northeastern State, who played in our postseason tournament, and defeating No. 2-ranked Central Missouri on the road. We went to Texas A&M-Kingsville and played them really well for four games, and they went on to the final four at the College World Series. We had three wins versus teams that played in the NCAA tournament. Thirty-five of our 50 games were against teams that finished above .500.”
Martin said his young team really struggled after losing multiple starting players to injury during the season.
“We just couldn’t get consistent play. The MIAA is unforgiving,” Martin said. “You have some injuries or some players have down years; it’s hard to accumulate wins in this league.”
SBU will only have to replace two seniors in all-conference infielder Clint Jack and all-conference outfielder/pitcher Andrew Meier.
Back for SBU are second-team all-region catcher Hunter Hisky, infielders Caleb Sneed and Tyler Mathys, outfielders Blake Hobbs, Carl Schwettmann and Trevor Lofstrom and pitchers Dalton Morrow, Drew Wagner, Adam White and Cory Dudley. Also back on the diamond are infielders Hayden Crabtree, Luke Winfrey and Aaron Head, along with catcher Noah Tucker.
Schwettmann and Mathys were both honorable mention all-MIAA last season, and Schwettmann won a Gold Glove award for his defense.
The new faces out for Martin’s Bearcats this spring include a number of transfers. They include outfielder Blake Lutgen from NCAA Division I Valparaiso, first baseman Jackson Soule from Butler Community College of El Dorado, Kansas, shortstop Sam Avila and pitcher David Tongue from Otero Community College of La Junta, Colorado, catcher Brett Mitchell from Coffeyville Community College, Kansas, pitcher Matt Elliott from Willard, pitcher Kyle Smith from Fort Scott Community College, Kansas, pitchers Parker Dent and Ty Lumley from Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff and pitcher Brett Wilbanks from State Fair Community College in Sedalia.
The Bearcats feature a roster of 33 players, including 16 juniors.
Martin said he has to go into each season with hope, and that is what he’s doing so far for the spring.
“That’s what is great about sports. You have a lot of hope,” Martin said. “We think our guys have worked hard. We have a few injuries but not as many as a year ago. I think offensively we can get back to where we were in 2017. Our defense should be as good as we have been in my time here. We recruited to be better defensively. I think we have more depth on the mound than we have had. We like our team.”
Martin is hoping to return to the level of that 30-win season of 2017.
“The 2017 and 2014 team had such a competitive spirit about them,” Martin added. “They won games that we would be sitting at the office afterward asking ourselves how we won that game. This group had a 3.30 GPA this fall. If they can capture that competitive spirit on the field, they have a chance to be good.”
The Bearcats opened the season last weekend at Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma, winning two of three games from the Crimson Storm. The Bearcats return home to Dodson Field Tuesday, Feb. 5, against Rogers State University. The Bearcats also host future conference opponent Maryville University of St. Louis for a three-game weekend set Feb. 16 and 17 in Bolivar.
The MIAA schedule starts Feb. 23 with a weekend series at Pittsburg State University, Kansas. Martin expects the conference to be a challenge as always.
“We know and understand our league,” he said. “We have finished in the top 5 two of the last four years in the MIAA. If you can get in the top 5 of this league, you are a player on the national level. It’s a great league with tremendous coaches. The coaches don’t leave. It’s a league everyone wants to be in to test yourself. So, you have a lot of programs with a solid identity. Everyone is good. There are no off weekends. Your goal is to win series. We are going to work hard to do that. We have some exciting home series. We host national powers Emporia State, Central Missouri, Northwest Missouri State, Central Oklahoma and Missouri Southern. This is probably the last time we will play some of these programs. This means a lot to our players, and they want to represent the university really well going through the league our last time.”