SEASON PREVIEW: Royals Carry Momentum Into New Season

Zach Roberts returns after missing more than half of the 2018 season. (photo by Scott Eyre)
Zach Roberts returns after missing more than half of the 2018 season. (photo by Scott Eyre)

The Diamond Royals begin a new season with experience under the belts of last year's new faces. This team looks to continue the successful offense production the program has produced in previous seasons returning experienced upperclassmen hitters and a group of seven sophomores that each had over 40 at-bats last season.

To make the ODAC tournament for the first time since 2015, the baseball men will need to look for players to step up on a pitching staff that loses more than a third of the innings pitched from last year.

Record in 2018: 15-24 (6-14 ODAC)
Coach: Ben Spotts (101-126 overall, 40-80 ODAC in 6 seasons) – Spotts enters his seventh season as the second longest tenured coach in program history winning 101 games and earning ODAC Coach of the Year in 2015.

Season opener in 2019:
- travel to North Carolina Wesleyan to play three games in two days starting with a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 9 beginning at 11:00am then one game Sunday, Feb. 10 at 1:00pm.

Other season highlights:
- home opener against Penn St.-Altoona (DH 7-inn.) on Saturday, Feb. 16
- play 13 of first 18 games at home
- host ODAC newcomer Ferrum in conference opener Saturday, March 9
- host conference opponent #5 Randolph-Macon (2018 national semifinalist) Saturday, April 6
- celebrate Senior Recognition against Roanoke on Saturday, April 20
- host local rival Bridgewater in a Rowdy Royals Game on Tuesday, April 23
- top 8 of the 12 ODAC teams make the conference tournament, which begins May 3-5


SID: How would you recap 2018 in a couple of sentences, and how does that play into your team for this fall?

BS: 2018 was an exciting year for our program. Having graduated a large senior class in 2017, I knew that 2018 would be a new look for the EMU Baseball program.  We were very young last season as we played several freshmen and had a few players who had been in our program but not had much opportunity to contribute on the field.  Our team had great energy every day, was very coachable and played hard.  So while we had young players who learned a lot about college baseball on the fly, it was a fun season.  I know with how the last week of our season ended with three walk-off wins and playing for a chance to go to the conference tournament on the last weekend of the season, that really spring boarded us into 2019.

SID: Last year's senior class included your most productive player in Damon Frazier, along with some solid "team" guys.  How will you replace them?

BS: It will certainly be tough to replace the seniors we lost last year.  They all contributed greatly to our program in their time at EMU and Left Their Mark in a positive way.  Damon was a special player who did it on the mound, at the plate, and was very versatile in the field. We will miss his production in all three of those phases as well as his veteran presence; however, he also did a great job last year of really working with and mentoring the young players in our program to help them understand what it takes to compete at the college level. 

SID: Last year's team featured a lot of young players learning the college game, but that also means you have a lot of returning position experience this year.  What does that mean for your team?

BS: We had a lot of young players get valuable experience last season that has already shown in their play this fall and in our preseason.  The game has slowed down for those players and now they are able to relax and let their experience from last season as well as their athletic ability and skill set begin to take over. 

SID: Your pitching staff was more affected by losses from last year.  What will this year's staff look like?

BS: We have a pitching staff that has a mix of veterans with college experience and some talented arms that I believe are ready to impact our program. Our starters will be Ryan Brewer, Bailey Hall and John Judy. Our veteran relievers will be Michael Wilhite, Riley Wesp, Ethan Mathews, Paul Wilson, Austin Carroll, Spencer Laitinen, Riley Wesp, DJ Williams and Jonathan Nagle. These guys have put in the work and time and are ready to get significant innings and contribute to our program. We are excited as well to get John Dudley back after missing last season due to an injury, as he has some experience from his freshman and sophomore years.

SID: Who are your key returners and what roles do you expect them to play this year?

BS: Several Key players return with experience gained last season. Zach Roberts is back after missing most of last season to injury.  He is a proven hitter in our lineup and has veteran experience as he has played since he was a freshman.  He will be moving to first base this season. Daniel Scott is back in right field and will provide a veteran presence after having played a big role in our lineup as a junior. Other key returners include infielders Brett Lindsay (2B), Billy Quinn (SS), Corey Willis (3B), Tyler McFadden (Utility) and Matt Curry (Utility); catchers John Judy, Ray Tricarico and Jordan Brake; and outfielders Jaylon Lee and Jacob Merica. Most of these players were able to gain a lot of experience in their first year in our program and will be leaned upon heavily this season

SID: Tell me a bit about your incoming recruiting class.  First an over-arching comment on the group as a whole, and then mention a few individuals and what roles they might play in their first year?

BS: This year's class is a solid class, we were able to address the needs we had in our program and gain some depth and athleticism.  Gage Riddick is an impactful player on the mound this season and can also play 1B and the OF.  Jordan Jones is a speedy, athletic OF who has had a good fall season as well as a good preseason as he continues to adjust to the college game.

SID: With the ODAC Tournament field expanding to 8 teams this year, what will it take for the Royals to get to the postseason?

BS: We will have to do two things to give us a chance: 1) To get consistent performances from our pitching staff as we continue to define what roles are best for our players.  2) The other is to be solid defensively and limit the opportunities our opponents get. This will give us the best chance to be in position to win games. Offensively we need to have an identity of being tough outs and have a competitive lineup that is tough to pitch to. 

SID: What will the strengths of your team be this season?

BS: I believe our athleticism and speed is a strength for our team.  I also believe that we have a pitching staff that has worked very hard to develop defined roles and our staff is ready to compete in those roles. 

SID: Overall general feeling of what 2019 will be for your team?

BS: First I must say that our players in our program are some of the hardest working and most coachable guys I have been around.  They have bought into the vision and direction of our program and come to the field every day ready to play hard and compete at a high level.  I know the experience gained from last season with so many young players will continue to have great payoffs this season as we move our program forward.  In my opinion the ODAC is the best Division III baseball conference in the country and playing in this league will force you to prepare and compete at a high level.  I know our coaching staff and players look forward to the competition and challenges our league holds. It is our goal every season to make the conference tournament and that remains our number one priority.  I have always felt that if you can be playing your best baseball at the end of the season and get to the conference tournament then you have put yourself in position to win a conference championship.