2018 IN REVIEW: After missing the postseason altogether in 2017, the Ashland University baseball program had a bounce-back year, returning to the NCAA Tournament as the No. 5 seed in the Midwest Region with a 33-22 overall record. The Eagles also were the No. 3 seed in the GLIAC Tournament with a 16-12 mark.
RUN IT BACK: The Eagles bring back a large majority of their squad from a season ago, including seven everyday position players and the full four-man conference rotation. Head coach John Schaly will need to find replacements for All-GLIAC standouts, first baseman Greg Ludwig and outfielder Connor Barleben, and relievers Zack Whitehead and Pat Carlozzi, but five all-conference players are returning in 2019.
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: The Eagles will look to build on their 33-win campaign from a season ago in which they won four of their seven regular season conference series and split another.
"Overall it was a good season to get back to the NCAA playoffs, which is always our goal," said Schaly, who is entering his 22nd season as Ashland's head coach. "We did it with a lot of young guys still in the lineup. The future is bright with all those guys getting another year of experience under their belts. We're excited."
The return to the NCAA Tournament marked the 16th appearance in program history and the third in the last four years.
"It was great for our first and second-year players because that was the first postseason experience they've gotten, which will pay off next year," said Schaly. "Just seeing that atmosphere, what you have to do, that's what our program has been used to. Now we have to get better and build from it."
A solid core comes back after gaining quality postseason experience, a group led by junior designated hitter Carson Mittermaier, who was fifth in the GLIAC in on-base percentage and sixth in RBI last year.
Much of the pitching staff returns as well, led by senior Devin Peters and junior Chance Hitchcock, who ranked first and third in the GLIAC in innings pitched last season, respectively.
With the full squad returning to campus in a few weeks and fall ball around the corner, Schaly and his staff will have the opportunity to see the work his players put in during the summer months.
"We have a number out playing in summer collegiate leagues, having good summers," said Schaly. "They continue to get that experience by playing every day. We want all our guys to use this summer to improve."
With a fresh recruiting class joining a list of accomplished returners, Schaly is confident his squad will have more depth this upcoming season as the Eagles compete for a GLIAC title and another bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last season is still far from the ceiling for the program.
Ashland was sixth in the GLIAC in ERA (5.51) and fielding percentage (.953). Those are both areas the Eagles will need to improve if they want to reach their full potential, and ultimately, claim a regional title.
"We have to improve our infield defense and we need to improve on the mound. We need to have guys be more consistent," said Schaly. "We'd have good outings, but just couldn't put it together as often as we'd like. We need more consistency on the mound and infield defense. Pitching and defense wins ballgames."
But with veterans like Mittermaier, Peters, Hitchcock, junior outfielder Vince Vanata, senior pitcher Chris Slavik, senior catcher Sam Hawley, senior infielder Matt Littrell and senior relievers Sam Rice and Ryan Curtis, the talent and experience are there for continued improvement and more NCAA Tournament wins.