By BENJAMIN GAVLIK TOWER staff writer
Despite their lack of success last season, Bethany enters the season with high hopes. The Bison were in prime playoff position in 2017 but lost 10 of their last 14 games to end the season. With eight seniors leading the way, the team looks to build off their improvements last year and make the conference playoffs for the first time since 2014.
Although the Bison finished a disappointing 8th in the conference, the 14 wins were the most in a single-season since the team won 19 in 2014. Some key players for the team include Neil Woods, Nick Gross, and Ryan Nickerson, all of whom were named to All-Presidents’ Athletic Conference (PAC) baseball teams announced by the league office last spring.
Woods was named All-PAC First Team utility, serving as the team’s starting first baseman and closer. Woods dominated as the team’s closer, ranking second in the league in saves along with a 1.13 ERA in over 16 innings of work. He also ranked fourth on the team in batting average, posting a career-high .315 including a team-best 41 hits.
Woods enters his junior year with high expectations, although he is recovering from a torn labrum suffered towards the end of last season. “I’ve recently been cleared for all baseball activity since late November, but it’s still been a challenge getting back into the groove of things,” said Woods. Woods is not expected to miss any time this year and is projected to start at first base and remain the team’s closer.
Fellow junior Nick Gross was named to the All-PAC Second Team, easily ranking as the Bison’s best starting pitcher. Gross ranked third in the PAC with a 2.54 ERA in over 67 innings of work. In the past, Gross has struggled to earn wins due to the lack of offense from the Bison.
However, on April 5th 2017, Gross finally earned his first-career collegiate win, throwing seven scoreless innings against PAC Tournament finalist Grove City. “It’s been frustrating at times, but I’ve learned all I can do is control what I can control. I think that’s definitely helped me focus and ultimately be more effective,” said Gross.
While Gross remains confident coming into his junior season, he did not participate in practices this fall. In the offseason, sophomore starting pitcher Tyler Alworth torn his labrum and will not be available this upcoming season. Therefore, due to the lack of depth in the starting rotation, the Bison coaching staff elected to rest Gross in order to reduce injury concerns.
Senior Ryan Nickerson is also coming off a career year, collecting an all-conference award and was named to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-District team. Nickerson ranked second on the team with a .336 batting average and led the team with 14 two-out runs batted in on the season.
One reason the Bison struggled to win last season was due to the absence of Kevin Marthinsen. The former starting third basemen in 2016 had a stellar freshman campaign, hitting .316 with a .412 on-base percentage. However, due to an elbow injury, Marthinsen missed the entire 2017 season. “It was obviously frustrating not being able to play. But, I’m proud of the way the team competed last season and I have a lot of confidence in this group entering the 2018 season.”
Despite Marthinsen’s unavailability, production at third base was still exceptional last season led by Tyler Frazee. Frazee batted just under .300 for the season and ranked 4th on the team in runs batted in with 14. Both Frazee and Marthinsen are likely to either earn time at third base or designed hitter. When asked about the situation, Frazee said, “I just want to help the team win. Obviously, when Kev (Marthinsen) is in the lineup we have a better chance of doing that. It’ll be fun having him back and I know everyone on the team is excited about his return.”
While most seniors on the team haven’t played a significant amount throughout their careers, their play will be vital to the team’s success. As a result of starting shortstop Zack Miller graduating the spring of 2017, Jake Miller is likely to take over the shortstop duties. Miller experienced success as a transfer junior last season, hitting .268 and coming up clutch in pinch-hit situations.
When asked about his expectations for the season, Miller said, “It’s obviously going to be tough replacing a guy as talented as Zack Miller. But my focus is just on playing my game and doing whatever I can to help the team win.”
Senior Saige Micomonaco and Matt Cavanagh are also important pieces for the Bison this season. Both players are candidates to replace former starting catcher Alex Martin. When asked about the playing time situation, Cavanagh said, “Besides Martin last season, the catching position has usually rotated depending on everyone’s performance. As long as we win, that’s all that really matters.”
Another key member for the Bison this year is senior Kelean Welch. Serving as one of the team’s vocal leaders, Welch hopes to build off his success last season. “I think guys definitely listen more when leaders are on the field producing. Team success comes first, but ultimately that success will be easier when leaders on the team are playing well.”
Although the Bison are optimistic about their playoff hopes, it will be a challenge replacing the loss of assistant coach Nick Calhoun. Calhoun was vital to the development of Bethany’s running game, as Bethany stole 34 bases last season.
New assistant coach Stephen Stanley takes over Calhoun’s role as the defensive and base running coach. Stanley is a former Bethany alumnus and was hired this offseason after winning a state championship last season.
Due to Chatham entering the conference this season, conference play will include two 9-inning games compared to three-game series last season. This will definitely have a positive impact for the Bison, considering their starting pitching depth after Tyler Alworth’s injury