Butler baseball celebrates a walk-off win against Georgetown last year. Collegian file photo.
JOSH DOERING | STAFF REPORTER | email@example.com
Schrage has been a collegiate head coach for 28 years and spent the last five seasons at South Dakota State University, where he led the Jackrabbits to the first NCAA tournament appearance in school history in 2013. Schrage has coached at multiple schools in the Midwest and is a graduate of Creighton University.
The Bulldogs will return all but four position players, including the three players who recorded the most hits last season, senior infielder Michael Hartnagel, junior outfielder Tyler Houston and senior first baseman Jordan Lucio. The conference’s coaches voted Houston to the preseason All-Big East team, making him the only Butler player to get that honor.
Senior Jeff Schank will anchor a pitching staff that welcomes the return of redshirt senior Chris Myjak, who only threw three innings last year while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Schank posted a 3.16 ERA and tied for the team lead in strikeouts in 2016. Senior Danny Pobereyko is the only other returning pitcher who threw more than 50 innings last season.
“Right now I think one of our strengths is we seem like we have some pitching depth,” Schrage said. “A lot of guys who were hurt last year have gotten healthy, which has created that depth. To me, it always starts on the mound. If you can compete on the mound you’re gonna be in a lot of games.”
Butler compiled a 14-40 record in 2016, going 4-14 in Big East play. Of those 40 losses, 12 were by a single run.
“There was a bunch of games where we were leading in the seventh and eighth innings and then that lead disappeared,” junior outfielder Gehrig Parker said. “We just couldn’t close it out. I think it’s just on the defensive end, playing with that lead, taking care of the ball and taking the outs they give us and just making the plays for our pitchers.”
The program’s recruiting class consisted of seven players — three pitchers, one outfielder and three infielders — who will join the team for the 2017 season.
“It’s a great class,” Schrage said. “The previous coaching staff did a great job. It’s a very talented group, and you’ll see a lot of them on the field this year.”
Altering the mindset of the team, both on and off the field, has been one of the focuses for the new coaching staff. They aim to create a positive mentality within the program.
“We’ve got to try to change the culture from the standpoint of getting our guys to believe that when they step on the field they’re going to win today,” Schrage said. “You’ve gotta get your kids to believe in the system and believe in themselves.”
The Bulldogs hope Schrage’s history of creating successful programs will repeat itself, having taken two different schools to the NCAA tournament in his career. Butler has never qualified for the Big East tournament, falling one game short two seasons ago, a fact that is not lost on the players.
“Our goal is to qualify for the Big East tournament,” Parker said. “Last year, we were out of contention with like two weeks to go in the season, which was not fun at all. We’re working hard so when we get into Big East play, no game is going to be easy and we’re going to be there in all the games.”
There will be intense competition for playing time and the coaching staff is putting the pressure on the players to prove themselves each and every day.
“It’s very competitive right now,” Parker said. “We still don’t know who’s starting opening day, which is really good. There’s competition at every single position on the field. People are pushing each other to get better and that’s only going to serve us well.”
The team’s season starts with four games in three days against La Salle University and Ohio University. The first 12 games will be played in South Carolina, Mississippi and North Carolina, followed by the home opener on March 10 against Fort Wayne. Butler’s Big East conference schedule begins on April 7 with a trip to Seton Hall University.