The reigning Central Regional Tournament champion Buena Vista baseball team gets set to begin its 2012 campaign this Sunday night when it plays a late-night doubleheader inside of the H.H. H. Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., against St. John’s University (Minn.) beginning at 9:45pm.
The Beavers, who are currently ranked 13th nationally by d3baseball.com, are coming off a magical season a year ago in which they finished second in the regular season Iowa Conference standings at 16-8, captured the Central Regional Tournament, and advanced all the way into the Final Four of the College World Series.
Now in his 12th season at the helm of the program, head coach Steve Eddie, who loses four All-Region performers to graduation, is excited for the season to get underway and feels this group of guys can do something special too.
“We have a wonderful group of intelligent baseball players to work with, as well as a fun group of individuals in general,” he says. “Everyone is ready to get things going. Our captains have done a tremendous job of leading the way and getting everyone focused and prepared.”
BVU will look to build its season, at least initially, around the strong pitching corps that it will put back out on the hill this season. Senior southpaw Michael Dirk (Carroll, Iowa/Carroll), the 2011 Elite 88 Award Winner, will look to lead the starting rotation after a junior campaign which saw him go 5-1 with a 3.70 ERA in over 65 innings. Two of those five wins came in postseason play when he topped defending national champion Illinois Wesleyan in the regional tournament and then Keystone College in the second round of the College World Series.
Junior Reggie Kock (Breda, Iowa/Ar-We-Va) will also join Dirkx in the starting rotation this year after posting three wins a season ago, and Eddie feels the top of his rotation will be again one of the best in the league.
“All they need to do is go out there and control what they can control and that is to make the hitters swing the bats,” he states. “The experience they gained last season was obviously beneficial. I have no doubt they’ll be real good this year.”
Jon Ringblom (Omaha, Neb./Millard North), who’s expected to start in the doubleheader this weekend, will also be in the front half of the rotation after a strong finish to his 2011 campaign. After having made only four previous appearances and throwing 14 total innings total, he nearly lifted the Beavers into the national championship game, after allowing only two runs in 6.2 innings against Chapman University. BVU would go onto lose that game in the final inning, 3-2.
Aside from a strong starting group, Eddie is probably more excited about the depth he can turn to in relief.
“Those guys in the ‘pen have been throwing the ball exceptionally well,” he adds. “Guys are really stepping up their games. If we can continue to play consistent defense behind all of them, things will really take shape nicely.”
Among the leaders of that group is Tyler Lefeber (Harlan, Iowa/Harlan), who picked up three wins and posted an ERA of 3.41 in 21 appearances, as well as senior James Stone (Des Moines, Iowa/Johnston), who saved a team-high eight games a year ago, while also posting five wins, will again look to shut the door on opponents this season.
Even with the strong pitching the team has had the last few years, it might at times have gotten a little overlooked due to the vicious offensive production from the rest of the line-up each time out.
Although Eddie, the reigning Central Region Coach of the Year, will have to fill the voids left behind by Second Team All-American shortstop Brad Blum, as well as two-time First Team All-Region catcher Kevin Kloewer and Third Team All-Region left fielder Michael Hoffman, he has been pleased with the work the returners are doing in their approaches so far this spring.
“We just need all of them to realize what they are good at and build off of that moving forward,” he says, “whether it is at the plate or on defense. We have a lot of talented guys on this roster, and they’ve all been working really hard.”
Eddie’s nephew, junior Neil Eddie (Owatonna, Minn./Owatonna) will assume the role of the starting catcher, and the elder has been impressed with his improvements with the bat.
“He’s always been a solid defensive catcher, but I’ve been really impressed in his improvement with the bat since the end of last season,” he says.
BVU will have a veteran corps to handle the corner positions as senior Brock Yossi (Dallas Center, Iowa/Dallas Center-Grimes) is back at third with All-Region Gold Glove winner, Ryan Scheetz (Omaha, Neb./Millard North) over at first. Yossi finished his junior campaign ranked third on the team in runs scored (37) and second in stolen bases (20), while also playing a solid defense. Scheetz was the second leader hitter behind Blum last season (.372) and finished with eight doubles, 34 RBI, and committed only five errors in over 450 chances with the glove.
The middle infield will have familiar faces, but in new spots. Sophomore Dylan Colo (Omaha, Neb./Millard North), who finished last season as the team’s starting second baseman, moves over to the left side to fill the void left by Blum. Colo started 37 of the 39 games in which he played and finished the year hitting .304. Weston Fox (Elkhorn, Neb./Elkhorn), who appeared in 13 games a year ago looks to get the starting nod at second base.
Sophomore Ryan Titman (Boone, Iowa/Boone) is also expected to see the field this year and has the ability to play either middle infield position. Junior transfer Jake Daniels (St. Charles, Iowa/I-35), who Eddie says has valuable experience already under his belt, will also give the team added depth to those spots as well.
Around the outfield, Eddie says he will have a rotation of about five or six guys to turn to who all are very good athletes with better than average speed.
Sophomore Chad Sibigtroth (Pueblo, Colo./Pueblo), who he says is one of the best defensive outfielders in the mix, will probably see time in right. Nick Schlecht (Omaha, Neb./Skutt), who was one of the team’s second basemen last season before an injury cut his season short, will look to anchor centerfield in 2012. Eric Croghan (Portsmouth, Iowa/Harlan) will also be in the mix, while Alex Davis (Webster City, Iowa/Webster City), Dillon Plath (Omaha, Neb./Burke) and Tyler Munsterman (St. Peter, Minn./St. Peter), are all expected to add depth.
Joe Paletta (Omaha, Neb./Millard South) is back and will again be used as the primary designated hitter for the team. As a freshman a year ago, Paletta appeared in 47 games and hit .283 with 10 doubles, six home runs and 34 RBI.
“We have great experience all over the field,” he adds. “We’ll have just as much depth as anyone else in the league.
From top-to-bottom, the small ball approach in which the team became known for throughout its postseason run from a year ago, is a method that Eddie says he looks to continue heading into the year.
“We need to get out and use our speed to our advantage,” he adds. So many of the guys handle the bat so well, and that gives us so many options with runners on base.”
The Beavers will get to put that all in motion this weekend when it steps foot on the field inside of the Metrodome against the Johnnies, who finished 19-14 overall a season ago (13-7 MIAC) and was one of four teams to qualify for the league tournament.
“They’re pitchers were among the best in their league last year, and offensively, they’ll be a lot like us with some new faces,” Eddie says. “They’ll be almost a mirror image of us this year, so it should prove to be a nice test for us.”
Following Sunday night’s twin bill, BVU will then take a trip south to St. Louis next weekend for a pair of games against both Washington University and the College of St. Scholastica before a trip to Jacksonville, Ill., to play two games each against UW-Platteville and North Central College the weekend after that.
The team will take the field on its home turf, a place it is 33-12 the last three years, on March 27 for a nine-inning non-conference contest against Bethany Lutheran College. Three days later it will remain at home to begin its quest for the program’s second league title in three years when it hosts defending Iowa Conference champion, Coe College, in a three-game weekend series. The final home games take place on April 27 and 28 when the team hosts Loras College in a weekend series before taking the road for a nine-inning contest against Central, followed by the regular season finale – a three-game series at Wartburg College.
“It’s going to be a battle for the top few spots,” Eddie says. “The league, I believe, is getting to be better than it ever has. If you do well in this league, you’re also bound to do well in the region.”
Check out photos of our student-athletes in action in the Beaver sports photo galleries.