WINONA LAKE – The 2017 season for Grace College’s baseball team is brimming with hope and experience.
The Lancers, under interim head coach Cam Screeton, are transforming their collective mindset this year and are ready to start a new winning tradition this spring.
Screeton has preached the word “compete” to his team in preparation for the upcoming season. Grace has focused on developing a mindset to be unafraid in the big moments of games. As the Lancers have bought into the philosophy over the course of the offseason, Screeton has seen a new culture begin to take root.
“We want our guys to compete at a high level. Our guys need to want the ball hit to them, want to pitch and want to hit in the big spots,” Screeton said. “We are starting with a different mindset, changing from a negative approach into a positive approach to the game. We want to compete for Christ and for our teammates. When we fully grasp that, we’ll be really tough to beat.”
Grace returns a wealth of seasoned arms to the pitching staff. Blake Converset and Logan Grigsby provide a strong 1-2 punch at the top of Grace’s rotation. Converset led Grace with 77 innings last year, posting a 3.97 ERA, and Grigsby enjoyed a breakout season with a 3.00 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 63 innings.
Scottie Clark, Jason Stevens, Xavier Harris, Joe Dougherty, Aaron Voirol and Kyle Brunner all tossed meaningful innings last year to give Screeton impressive depth on the mound.
Assistant coach Wesley Gensch has made an impact on the pitching staff in his first season, according to Screeton. “[Gensch] has a wealth of knowledge from pitching in this league, and he’s brought a competitive mindset to our pitchers. We were really good on the mound last year, and he’s made us better,” Screeton said.
Screeton has made major changes to the team’s hitting approach as well, hoping to revamp a squad that batted .235 as a unit in 2016.
The entire batting approach and mechanics have adjusted in the offseason. Screeton wants the team to hit for more power and more extra-base hits this year thanks to a rigorous strength program. “We’ve seen a big increase in power and strength, and we’ve lifted more than we ever had this offseason,” Screeton said. “The guys have worked really hard, and it’s paying off.”
Shay Hepler hit .267 with a team-high .392 on-base percentage last year. The senior outfielder is slated to lead off.
Jamar Bray, Harris, Cameron Maxwell, Hunter Ackerman and Mitchell Enyart were consistent members of Grace’s lineup as freshmen, and all return with a year of Crossroads League experience under their belts. Additionally, Austin Baker and his brother Chase Baker have looked sharp at the plate in preseason.
Screeton was busy on the recruiting trail last year; 12 newcomers highlight Grace’s roster this year with a few primed to break into the starting lineup. Gavin Bussard is an impressive infielder and can anchor Grace’s defense from the shortstop position, and David Anderson figures to earn innings on the mound this year.
A key to Grace’s team lies in its senior leadership. Converset, Grigsby, Dougherty and Stevens give Grace senior arms, catcher Matthew Warren returns for his senior year behind the plate, and Hepler brings speed and a vocal presence to Grace’s outfield.
“It’s nice to have seniors at key positions this year. This group has bought into our new mindset and has set the tone for the rest of the team,” Screeton said. “Our upperclassman leadership has been very good. They know what it takes and are sick of the losing trend. I’m excited to see us break out of it this year.”
Grace won 20 games last year for just the third time in program history. The Lancers will look to repeat their 20-win season in 2017, beginning Friday and Saturday with a four-game series against Hiwassee (Tenn.).
Grace will also travel to Kentucky and Vero Beach, Fla., during the nonconference season. The Lancers’ home opener is scheduled for March 22 against Calumet St. Joseph’s.