Senior first baseman Brian Hangbers and the BGSU baseball team began their annual fall workouts on Monday.
Sept. 9, 2008
BOWLING GREEN, Ohio (BGSUFalcons.com) - Though February and the start of the college baseball season is still months away, the Bowling Green State University baseball team and head coach Danny Schmitz began the preparations for defending the Mid-American Conference Regular-Season title on Monday when they opened up fall workouts. Coach Schmitz, now entering his 19th season at the helm of the Brown and Orange, welcomed 33 players to camp, including 23 players that saw playing time in 2008, two redshirts, two walk-ons and six newcomers.
The team will begin full-team practices immediately and will hold an intra-squad game this Saturday at Warren E. Steller Field. They will then conclude the fall with their annual Fall World Series in early October.
The anticipation and expectations for the 2009 season are sure to be high for the Falcons after a 32-20 season in 2008 that saw BG go 16-8 in Mid-American Conference play. That record tied them with Kent State for a share of both the MAC Regular-Season title and the MAC East Division title, as their .633 overall winning percentage was tops in the conference.
"We spoke to the guys the first week of school and told them that we don't want to live off of last year's success," said Schmitz. "What we did last year was great, but the key is you want to build on that success and use it as a stepping stone. As we say in the clubhouse, `The torch has been lit', and now who is going to carry that torch."
Trying to carry that torch will be a slew of talented and veteran players, who will make their return to the Falcon dugout in the spring, including All-MAC First Team selections Ryan Shay and Derek Spencer. Joining them in the infield will be senior first baseman Brian Hangbers and junior second baseman Logan Meisler, who along with returning sophomore catcher Ryan Schlater, should form one the best two-way infields in the MAC.
"We're definitely excited to have our whole infield back," said Schmitz. "We had some big-time performers in that infield last year when you look at guys like Ryan Shay and Derek Spencer, who were both first-team all-conference players. They had great years last year and we had guys like Brian Hangbers and Logan Meisler at second, who also had very productive years. Brian, in my opinion, was one of the best two-way first basemen we saw last year and was very deserving of all-conference honors. Then [Ryan] Schlater was thrown right into the fire behind the dish for us and did a great job. But as we said, they have to use that success from last year and find a way to continue to grow."
Last season as a junior, Shay hit .412 at the plate, setting school records in both batting average and hits (87), as his average ranked 22nd in the final NCAA Division I rankings. The Garden City, Mich. native hit safely in 46 of the Falcons' 52 games, as he helped the Falcons lead the MAC in hitting with a .321 team average. His .481 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot, generally put him in great scoring position for Spencer, who spent a majority of the 2008 season in the clean-up spot just behind Hangbers and graduated senior Andrew Foster.
Spencer would rarely miss the opportunity to drive Shay in, as he drove across a team-best 54 runs, which was tied for the eighth-best total for a season in school history. He was also third on the team with a .360 average and second on the squad with 10 homers, as he pounded-out 67 total hits.
A lot of Spencer's success however, came from being protected in the lineup by Hangbers in the three-hole, who had a career season, setting career-highs in eight major offensive categories. His 13 homers led the team, while his 47 RBI were second only to Spencer's 54. The Hamilton, Ohio native hit .331 and collected 24 total extra-base hits.
Hangbers, Spencer and Shay will anchor the infield, while returnees Mark Galvin, Dennis Vaughn and T.J. Blanton will be looked upon to hold down the outfield. Last year, Galvin hit .339 and collected 36 RBI, while Vaughn hit .286 and drove in 27 RBI. Blanton, who saw limited action due to injury, hit .341 in 25 games and drove in 12 runs.
That trio will round up a defensive unit that will be looking to support a pitching staff, that will return all, but one starter from the its' weekend rotation a year ago. Back is Friday starter Frank Berry, who went 7-1 in his first season at BG after transferring from Longwood University in Virginia. The right-hander finished the season with a 4.76 ERA in a team-best 70 innings of work.
Another big arm back in the weekend rotation will be senior right-hander Kevin Leady, who also had a breakout season in 2007. The Luckey, Ohio native had a 5.03 ERA and a 3-4 record, but also recorded three saves in the bullpen, as he was a vital part of the Falcons' success late in the season. Backing him and Berry up will be returning mid-week starters Dusty Hawk and Brennan Smith, while Kyle Atkinson, Marty Baird, Phil Hettlinger, Dan Parsons and Charles Wooten will once again anchor the Falcon bullpen.
"Pitching is a huge key to having success and that was always something that we had when we were at our best," said Schmitz. "When coach [Rick] Blanc was here and we were going to Regionals [1998-99], pitching was one our backbones and it was huge part of our success last season. Now we need kids like Brennan Smith and Charles Wooten, just to name a few, to come in this upcoming season and replace some of the innings that we got out of Nick Cantrell and Brett Browning who graduated."
Though there will be plenty of time off for the team between October and February, coach Schmitz doesn't take the fall lightly.
"The number one goal for the fall is always for us to get the freshmen acclimated the program," said Schmitz. "We like to work on getting the chemistry moving and finding out who our leaders are going to be for the spring."
"When it comes to the actual white lines then, our main focus for the fall is going to be finding some outfielders," Schmitz continued. "Right now we have three healthy bodies out there in Mark Galvin, Dennis Vaughn and T.J. Blanton. We need to find some guys who can go out there and make an impact. Guys like Clay Duncan, Chris Gacom and one our top freshmen recruits, Jon Berti, will be likely candidates to go out there."
TIDBITS RELATED TO THE 2008 FALCONS
First BGSU baseball team to win a MAC Regular-Season Championship since 2002 and just the fourth Falcon team to win a conference title in program history.
First BGSU baseball team to sweep three-consecutive MAC weekend series, sweeping Ohio University, Buffalo and Akron in three-straight weekend series to close the regular-season.
First 30-win Falcon team since 2005 and the 13th BGSU team to do so in program history.
Finished the regular-season with the fourth-best conference improvement in Division I baseball, improving their conference win total by nine games. Just two wins behind national-leader Missouri State, who improved by 11 games in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Had the second-best road win total in program history with a 16-8 road record, just one win shy of the school record of 17 road victories in 1999.
Only the second Falcon baseball team to ever win 11-consecutive games. Two games shy of the all-time record of 13 set by the 1976 squad.
The 2008 Falcons were the only BG baseball team to hit eight homers in one game, doing so on two occasions in games at Ball State (Apr. 12) and at Ohio University (May 3).