MBU baseball looks to capitalize on historic 2013 season
Just one season removed from a trip to the Avista-NAIA World Series, the MBU Spartan baseball team has learned a new definition of success. After the most prosperous season in team history in 2013, the team is hungry to not only repeat as a qualifier for the Spring Classic, but to claim the ultimate prize in the new season.
MBU will have a few more non-conference contests before opening conference play at home on March 14. The team will be looking to continue its 11-game winning streak and get started on a winning note. Although early in the season and with a fresh crop of pitchers, Coach Eddie Uschold believes the team is poised for success.
“The biggest difference between this year and last is that the pitching staff is basically all new, especially the starters,” said Head Baseball Coach Eddie Uschold. “I really like what we have on the mound, though! We have a lot of options.”
In 2013, the Spartans reached a new high in the program’s rich history. The team reached the Avista-NAIA World Series for the first time after one of the most thrilling Opening Round Championships in the history of the NAIA.
In 2014, the Spartans have filled starting staff roles with several pitchers that have high-end abilities.
Dave Mullins, a 5’11” junior is one of several players that have NCAA Division I ability. Mullins appeared in one game for Coastal Carolina in 2012 before transferring to St. Louis Community College. The Ballwin, Mo., native and DeSmet High School graduate finished last season with a record of 5-4 and a 3.63 ERA. Mullins posted 67 strikeouts with the Archers last season with just 17 walks allowed.
Also in the mix is crafty right-hander, Brandon Zywicki. The junior from Rochester, Minn., was a force for Central Arizona Community College a season ago. The junior college All-American posted an ERA of 1.18 to accompany his 8-1 record last year. Over the course of the season, he tossed 72 strikeouts and looks to be a major part of the rotation for the Spartans.
Perhaps one of the biggest additions to the pitching staff happened over Christmas break. Dane Gronewald represents another pitcher with Division I skill, in addition to being a former draftee by the Atlanta Braves in 2011. The lefty is an imposing figure on the mound, as he uses every bit of his 6’5″ frame to his advantage.
Gronewald was committed to University of Missouri last year, and will now have an opportunity to slide into a leadership role on the MBU starting staff. In 2012, the lefty recorded a 4-1 record with 29 strikeouts in 31.2 innings pitched. A season prior, he finished with a 6-3 overall record with a 3.16 ERA. While Gronewald has the ability to get drafted yet again, several pitchers will also be looking to impress heading into the season. In fact, the Spartans loaded-up with relievers that have experience both as closers and starters.
Ryan Stapp, a transfer from Bakersfield Community College, was 5-0 a season ago with a 3.66 ERA and will challenge for a spot on the starting staff. So too will Michael Yarborough. The transfer from Jefferson Davis Community College threw 63 innings with an impressive 71 strikeouts for the Warhawks.
Two right-handed pitchers will represent the core of the new talent in the bullpen. Carl Jameson and Cooper Johnson will join the Spartans this season and will bring talent and depth to compliment right-handed holdovers like Paul Hrvol, Ryan McClaran and Chris Kenney. Colby Duncan, who may also challenge for a starting role, will join lefty Curtis Sawchuck as key figures in several situations.
Spartan fans will want to keep an eye on two new additions in the back-end of the bullpen. Clinton Graham will be among the most exciting of the new crop of pitchers. Graham is a submarine pitcher, who features some of the best breaking pitches that the MBU staff has to offer. He may have the opportunity to set-up saves for Michael Murano, another new face in 2014.
Murano, a transfer from Cabrillo Community College looks to be the new closer for the Spartans. Last season, the 6’1″ California native posted eight saves and a 2.49 ERA. Early reports indicate that Murano may be a force in the final inning. The remaining enigma on the pitching staff is Chris Romano. The senior from Ontario was at Missouri Baptist a season ago, but is just now coming back from injury. Romano, when healthy, has the ability to hit low-to-mid 90 mph speeds with dominating pitches. If he gets back to 100 percent, Romano could be a third ace of the staff and represent a frightening trio of starters in American Midwest Conference play.
“As always I expect these young men to play hard every pitch of every game, all season long,” Uschold remarked about his goals and expectations. “We are in the process right now and I am excited to see the product, especially at the end of the season.”