With Chad Fitzgerald in his first year with head coaching duties for the Heidelberg University baseball program, the expectations remain high entering 2015. The Student Princes return a bevy of starters from last season's squad that went 31-13 and earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, their sixth appearance in the last 11 seasons.
Leading the way for the Berg returnees is reigning OAC Player of the Year Derek Hug. He batted an even .400 a year ago while driving in 48 runs, also tying a school-record with seven triples on the year. His outstanding season earned him 3rd team All American honors by d3baseball.com and the bar has been set high entering 2015 as he has been named a preseason 2nd team All-American.
Joining Hug in the outfield will be junior T.J. Harkness, who is coming off a solid 2014 season where he hit .349 in 86 at-bats. He will be looked at to fill the center field spot while Austin Fleming will also look to contribute in the outfield, returning after a junior campaign where he batted .345 on the year with four triples and 13 RBI. Senior Christian Verde, sophomore Alex Manner, and freshman Darrin Shirk will all be competing for playing time as well.
"I think we have a lot of talent. We return the majority of our lineup back from a team that led the country in runs per game" said Fitzgerald, who is in his eighth year on the staff at Heidelberg, spending the last four seasons as associate head coach.. "Offensively we're going to be solid. We have to fill some key positions from last year as far as role guys, but the core run producers are back."
Eric Monroe and Adam Hershberger each look to build off of a 2014 year where they were named 2nd team All-OAC. Monroe led the team with seven home runs while driving in 43, batting .338 on the season at 1st base. Hershberger had a solid freshman campaign at 3rd base, batting .313 on the year while hitting 10 doubles and driving in 35. Steven Morse, who drove in 25 runs a year ago, will add some depth at 1st base while sophomore Cory Jacobs will also compete for time. All of the first baseman, as well as Fleming, will also see some time in the designated hitter spot. Junior Clayton Wielinski will look to compete for some playing time at 3rd base as well.
Heidelberg will have to replace a pair of talented infielders in Andrew Zenczak and Joe Staab up the middle due to graduation, but there is a solid group that will battle to step up and contribute. Sophomore Derek Hendrixson and senior Doug Miller will see some of that time along with sophomore Evan Long and freshman Joey Rydzewski.
On the mound, Heidelberg returns four pitchers that threw 59 or more innings a year ago, led by 2014 1st team All-OAC performer Derek Hendrixson. In his freshman campaign a year ago, Hendrixson recorded a 3.51 ERA on the year in 19 appearances, striking out 57 batters while picking up six saves, earning him 1st team All-Mideast Region honors by d3baseball.com.
Juniors Steve Huber and Kyle Fluharty both return after earning honorable mention All-OAC status in 2014 and are expected to help anchor down the rotation. Huber threw 60 innings last year, striking out 48 en route to a 4-1 record. Fluharty had a solid 3.61 ERA on the year, throwing one complete game during his 62.1 innings. Senior Adam Manner will also fill a spot in the rotation, coming off a year where he logged 64.2 innings of work, including one complete game. Senior Travis Gray, junior Ben Sniezek and freshman Sam Ankrom will also look to compete for innings for the Student Princes.
With a large group back from last year's team, Fitzgerald is ready to take the reins and continue the success that was built and sustained under Matt Palm, who was the winningest baseball coach in Heidelberg University history.
"I'm excited, obviously with it being my first year, but we return a lot of guys and have high expectations for what we're trying to do," said Fitzgerald. "We're ready to just take it one game at a time."
Heidelberg opens their season in Florida with 11 games from March 8-17 in the Snowbird Classic and the Gene Cusic Classic. Their first contest will have them slated against Hampden-Sydney College on Sunday, March 8th, with the first pitch scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in Port Charlotte. The first OAC contest for the Berg will be on March 21st when they battle Baldwin Wallace at Peaceful Valley in Tiffin.