WINONA LAKE – In their second full season under head coach Bill Barr, Grace’s baseball team has transformed its identity. The Lancers are characterized by hard work and fundamentals – two traits that Barr is hoping will translate to success in the 2014 season.
A long, snowy winter has only increased the team’s excitement for baseball season, and Grace is ready to prove itself on the diamond in March.
“I am excited about the culture that is now being formed within our program. The expectation for working hard has become a staple during our fall and preseason practices,” Barr said. “Even though we have had a long winter, our players have handled the demands exceptionally well. They have demonstrated a resolve regardless of the circumstances.”
The Lancers will be powered by a plethora of big bats. Grace returns 75 percent of its production from last season’s lineup and the team’s top four hitters. Jacob Bloom headlines the Lancers’ returners as he led the team in batting average (.389), hits (49), doubles (13), triples (2) and RBIs (37) among other categories.
Joey Hickerson, the leadoff hitter in 2013, scored 36 runs on 45 hits, including six doubles and six home runs. He drove in 25 runs and stole 15 bases in 17 attempts.
Additionally, CJ Swartz posted a .377 batting average and a .441 on-base percentage, and Tyler Weber hit .325 last season.
On the mound, Grace will lean heavily on Tim Weber and Hickerson in the starting rotation. The duo combined to hurl 53 innings last year and have each improved during the offseason. Hickerson held opponents’ batting average to .250 last spring.
Dellos Schabel returns as the steady arm in Grace’s bullpen. He posted a staff-low 2.61 ERA in 14 appearances. In league play he allowed just five earned runs in 21.1 innings. Other arms among Grace’s arsenal include freshmen Joe Dougherty, Austin Green, Logan Grigsby, Jason Stevens, Jared Mitzelfelt, Andy Kochel and Sammy Wilkerson as well as Swartz.
“Our pitchers have worked very hard, and they are ready to go this spring,” Barr said. “Our staff will be deeper than we were a year ago even though we had to replace half of our pitching wins.”
To do well as a team, Grace will need to play solid defensively. Barr noted outfielder Wyatt Clemens, shortstop Paul Blankley, first baseman Aaron Christenberry and catcher Jared Lemler among others as impressive defensive additions to the team.
They will be joined by seasoned veterans Brook Vosler, Frank Rocchio and Steven Hovermale to form a strong defensive core for the Lancers.
“We have a very fast team overall as a squad. I’m expecting us to hit the ball well this spring. To play to our potential, we will need to play well defensively to do damage in the Crossroads League,” Barr said. “Athletically we have good arms all over the field, and I expect that we will lead the conference defensively. Our players have taken this on as a challenge.”
After having their first three matchups cancelled due to weather, the Lancers will travel to Winterhaven, Fla., to kick off the season on their spring break trip. Grace’s home opener is scheduled for March 18 against Trinity International.