In 2017, with a 23-13 record in PacWest Conference play, and a 32-17 record overall, it seemed as if Joe Schaefer’s tenth season as head coach of the men’s baseball team would conclude with the team’s third postseason berth in five years. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be, as the selection committee left the team out despite improving upon its conference record for the third consecutive season.
“We all got together to watch the selection show… and we didn’t make it,” said senior starting pitcher Stephen Young, who was recently voted to the All-PacWest team.
While last year’s ending was a disappointment given the team’s success throughout the entire season, coach Schaefer, who has posted a winning percentage above .600 since the beginning of his tenure in 2008, is optimistic about the team’s direction.
“We did a lot of things well last year,” said Schaefer. “We’ve brought in a really large class of new players… The guys that we brought in are very talented; they come from good programs, and they gelled really well and really quickly, which gives us a lot of optimism for this year.”
This past offseason saw the departure of a dozen senior players, including star first baseman Ryan Garcia, who was drafted in the 32nd round by the Seattle Mariners and had 44 RBIs for the organization’s Minor League team. A large recruitment class to compensate for the losses included eight freshmen and several transfers, highlighted by junior second basemen Darian Sylvester from El Camino Junior College.
“We’re a much different team with the personnel that we have this year,” said Schaefer. “We probably won’t hit as many home runs as we hit last year, but we will probably be a little bit faster and a bit more athletic. We’ll probably be able to some things that last year’s team wasn’t able to do.”
Despite acknowledging that it will be difficult to makeup for the offensive production that was likely lost, the defensive side is seen as one of the team’s key strengths entering the 2018 season, suggesting that reliance on good pitching could be a major story this year.
“I feel really, really good about our pitching staff this year. Who we brought back and who we brought in, I feel like that should be one of our strengths. Replacing those types of innings should be a lot more manageable than trying to replace offensive numbers from the guys that we lost.”
According to the NCAA’s website, the men’s baseball team is ranked No. 24 in the nation among Division II baseball clubs as of Dec. 20, 2017. While the recognition is appreciated, its impact is hardly significant to the team.
“I think preseason rankings are kind of hokey to begin with,” said Schaefer. “There’s not much to them. Nobody really knows what they have until you start playing. It’s nice to be recognized and it definitely helps in the recruiting process, but where you are in February is meaningless. It’s about where you are come May.”
Given the recent success and current rankings, there is no doubt that the expectations are high. After being left out of the postseason two seasons in a row despite a stellar performance in PacWest play, the team is determined to not let it happen for the third straight year.
“Our goal is to make the playoffs this year and prove to the committee that we deserve to be in the playoffs,” said Young. “I think our team will have a good experience and can do better than last year.”
The regular season begins with a three-game series at home against North Alabama, starting Friday, Feb. 2 and concluding with a doubleheader on Saturday.