|Junior Jacob Fling, a two-time all-conference honoree, will look to continue to set the table for Wooster's high-scoring offense, having scored 110 runs already in his career.|
The College of Wooster baseball team peaked at the right time last season, winning 23 of its final 28 games, extending its league-lead in North Coast Athletic Conference championships to 16, and turning in a lengthy stay at the NCAA Div. III Mideast Regional. Now, led by a core returning group of highly-talented position players and pitchers mixed in with a rising cast of youth, the Fighting Scots have their sites set on extending their season deep into May.
"We're excited to say the least," said head coach Tim Pettorini, Div. III's winningest active coach, who enters 2017 with a 1,137-426-6 career record. "We like our group – the athleticism, the experience, and the youth. We think we have a really good mix of pitching, defense, speed, and power. We're hopeful for an exciting year."
Wooster welcomes back senior Jamie Lackner to its lineup, and the first baseman earned All-American certificates in each of the last two years, including a second-team one from the American Baseball Coaches Association last year. Lackner turned in a .430 average, while ranking 18th in the country with 74 hits to couple with the No. 3 spot in on-base percentage (.560).
At the top of the lineup, the Scots feature the talented Jake Fling to set the table. The two-time all-conference centerfield sports a career .333 average, and has amassed 130 hits and 110 runs scored in his first two years with the program.
Four other everyday starters from last year return for 2017 to join Fling and Lackner, including three who earned all-conference certificates in 2016 – Ryan Ostendorf, Drew Tornow, and Michael Wielansky – giving Pettorini high hopes once again for his offense.
"I don't think scoring runs is going to be a problem," commented the Scots' skipper. "We really like what the new starters – Drew, Michael, and Ryan – did last year, and with the improvements we expect out of those guys this year to go along with (what multi-year starters) Jamie and Jake have done during their careers, we're gong to have an offense that's going to generate a lot of runs and put a lot of pressure on other teams."
Ostendorf flourished in his first season as the regular catcher for the Scots. He ranked in the top 10 in the NCAC in hits (60), RBI (47), runs (41), walks (28), and steals (15), but was even more effective behind the plate, throwing out 20-of-41 would-be base-stealers.
Tornow, a second-team all-league pick in the outfield, tied for second in the NCAC with 52 RBI, and he developed into a big power hitter with 27 of his 57 hits going for extra bases. This year's he's projected to slide over to right field after spending last season in left.
Wielansky, a consensus second-team all-region selection, capped a banner year with a conference and program record 173 assists while batting .374 and ranking fifth in Div. III in runs (61) and 21st in hits (73) as a freshman.
Another returning starter in the infield is rising sophomore Chandler Dippman at third, and he really came on late in the season offensively with six hits in his final nine at bats at the regional. A sure-handed fielder, Dippman heavily factored into Wooster ranking second nationally with a .977 fielding percentage last year.
Sticking with the infield, Pettorini notes there's great competition between sophomores Jacob Stuursma and Jeremy Fernando for the starting second baseman spot, while veteran Jake Kail and highly-touted freshman Nick Strausbaugh are in the mix for time in left field.
The Scots' mentor also likes the depth among the position players with the likes of Garrett Crum and Tyler Schuch ready to take on key roles, plus Satchel Daleo, Tanner Kaplan, Ethan Myers, Sam Severance, Conner Thomson, and Harrison Walls. Crum, a sophomore, could factor into the mix for time at third base and at designated hitter, while Schuch was the team's third-leading hitter at .371 as a sophomore, and could see extended looks at designated hitter when not on the bump.
On the mound, Pettorini feels he has one of the top staffs in the region as Wooster's No. 1-3 starters are back in the fold, led by two-time all-region honoree Michael Houdek, who finished last year tied for fourth in Div. III with 10 wins.
"We think our pitching staff can be on par with what we can do offensively," summed up Pettorini.
The talented righty-lefty duo consisting of junior Nanak Saran and Schuch backs Houdek up, and the pair combined to go 13-4 last season. Saran earned second-team all-conference laurels and logged a 20-inning scoreless streak late in the regular season, while Schuch faced the minimum through seven innings against Denison University in an elimination game of the NCAC Tournament.
Wooster's rotation projects to be left-handed heavy as Houdek and Schuch are both southpaws, and fellow lefties Alec Hammond and Wyatt Linde are the early candidates to be the team's No. 4 starter, according to Pettorini.
Senior Michael Whitaker anchors a talented bullpen, and in fact is already the NCAC and program's all-time leader for appearances with 75. Of note, the righty has established himself as one of the most reliable arms in the country, ranking in the top 20 in appearances in Div. III for two years running.
"Those will be the initial guys," said Pettorini on his core quartet of bullpen arms. "We want to see an expanded role for Chandler and Michael, position players who might be able to help us pitching. We also like some of the freshmen arms. Jeremy Parton is probably the first one that jumps out. He has the ability to pitch in a lot of roles for us from starter to reliever."
Skilled freshmen who will probably use 2017 primarily as a developmental year including pitcher Joe Dudley, short stop/outfielder Ryan Farrell, first baseman/catcher Dan Gail, first baseman/pitcher Dan Harwood, third baseman Tyler Iversen, pitcher Max Lackner, pitcher/outfielder Mike Ridilla, outfielder Aaron Spidell, and third baseman Harry Witwer-Dukes.
Wooster, who begins the season ranked 14th in D3baseball.com's preseason top-25 poll, is slated to open its schedule on Tuesday, March 7 with a 4 p.m. home game against Capital University.