WINONA LAKE – Grace’s baseball team shocked the Crossroads League last season.
The Lancers, under interim coach Ryan Roth, shook up the postseason CL Tournament with a memorable run. Grace upset three straight teams to advance to the championship game, and the team was one game away from reaching NAIA Nationals for the first time in team history.
Now Roth, serving as the head coach after the interim tag was removed, is excited to see where the Lancers can grow in 2020.
Roth said the success of the 2019 postseason run boosted the Lancers’ confidence. It also provided assurance that the program was heading in the right direction.
“Last season was so unique because it served as a proving ground for many of our players and coaches, myself included,” Roth said. “I don’t believe we can replicate how special those moments were at the end of the season, but we can learn from last year’s experiences. And we can use those lessons to lay the foundation for what we are currently building.”
During the past two years under Roth, the Lancers have dedicated much time developing a culture for the program. Roth wants the Lancers to be defined by hard work, servanthood and humility, and he was pleased with how the team has embraced that belief system.
“I still believe we have room for growth, but our culture as a whole is healthy and aligned,” he added. “There is a sense of unity that has been felt. Many of our players have grown in their walk with Christ, improved academically and are working harder on their craft than ever before.”
Grace’s bats should prove to be dependable this spring. The Lancers averaged 5.9 runs per game in 2019, returning four starters who hit at least .300.
Xavier Harris was an All-Crossroads League performer last year, hitting .336 with eight doubles and 23 RBIs. Harris will likely finish his career in the program’s top 10 for multiple categories, including hits, RBIs and home runs among others.
“The most incredible thing about Xavier is who he is off the diamond. His humility, quiet leadership and great work ethic make him one of the most well-liked and respected players on the team before he even picks up a bat,” Roth added.
Chris Griffin was named the Crossroads League Newcomer of the Year after a stellar freshman campaign, batting .333 with 8 doubles, 5 triples and 5 home runs to go along with 27 RBIs.
Houston Haney led the squad with 32 RBIs in his sophomore season, David Anderson boasts a career batting average of .350, and Jacob Sapp (.302) was Grace’s fourth player to hit .300 in 2019.
The pitching rotation will feature several new arms. Grace lost seven pitchers from last year’s rotation, so Roth has focused heavily on developing the young pitchers. “There is no question about the talent on this staff; we are simply in a race to prepare them as well as possible for the grind ahead,” Roth said.
From the mound, Grace will lean heavily on two aces — Haney and Anderson. Haney led Grace’s rotation with a 3.64 ERA, throwing three complete games in a team-high 54.1 innings. Anderson struck out 49 batters in 44.2 innings and had an ERA of 5.64.
Two freshmen have flashed potential to earn starting jobs after Grace’s fall camp. Tanner Clark, a right-handed hurdler from Columbia City HS, and Kameron Koch, a leftie from Penn HS, have impressed from the mound during the preseason.
Two other position players have likely carved out starting roles in Roth’s estimation. Outfielder Patrick Danforth and first baseman Jeff Pawlik have the ability to impact the lineup immediately. Fellow freshmen Ryan Bertke (OF/RHP) and Alex Rich (OF) have also impressed with their development during the preseason.
The Lancers will travel south for the first month of the season. The first games of the year are scheduled for Feb. 14-15 in North Carolina against St. Andrews. Grace will also play a weekend series at Grand Park in Westfield, Ind., on Feb. 21-22.
The annual spring break trip this year will be to Florida, starting Feb. 28. The trip will include the first Crossroads League games of the year against Bethel.
Grace’s first home games are scheduled for March 17 against Madonna.