Butler baseball team closing in on last year’s win total

Harrison Freed sprints towards home plate in a game earlier this year. Photo by Jimmy Lafakis.

JOSHUA DOERING | STAFF REPORTER | jdoering@butler.edu

After finishing last season with a 14-40 record, it only took the Butler University baseball team 16 games to record their 10th win this year, a 6-3 victory over Saint Louis University on March 17. The team now sits at 12-7, good for the second best record in the Big East.

The new coaching staff led by head coach Dave Schrage has engineered a quick turnaround.

“It’s an attitude and a belief that we started back in the fall,” Schrage said. “We have 13 seniors that have really bought in and really tried to turn things around. They want to leave this season being something special. They’ve done a tremendous job of leading us.”

Last weekend’s series against Saint Louis was a perfect example of just how far the team has come. The Billikens entered the series 14-2 on the season and winners of 10 out of their last 11 games. Butler trailed in the first two games of the series before taking the lead for good in the eighth inning both times.

“I think the biggest reason why we’re having success this year is we’re playing as a team,” freshman outfielder Kyle Niemiec said. “We’re picking each other up. We’re having fun and we’re playing well together right now.”

One of the major differences from last year to this year for the Bulldogs is close games. The team lost 12 games by a single run last year but are 4-1 in such games this season.

This year’s freshman class has played an important role in Butler’s success early in the season. Pitcher Ryan Pepiot has started five games while posting a 1-0 record and a 3.86 ERA. Second baseman Zach Jarosz has started all but one game, hitting .267 and scoring 12 runs. Catcher Duncan Hewitt is one of six players on the team to hit a home run and has seen action in 14 games.

Veteran players also continue to improve. Senior pitcher Jeff Schank, who led the team with a 3.16 ERA last year, is only 15 strikeouts from his total last season. Schank, with a 0.82 ERA in five starts this year, won Big East Pitcher of the Week on Feb. 27. Redshirt senior pitcher Chris Myjak has yet to give up a run in six innings and has recorded six saves.

Senior shortstop Michael Hartnagel is hitting .420, building on his .319 batting average in 2016, which was the best on the team. Junior outfielder Gehrig Parker has improved his batting average from .244 to .310 while playing in every game. Parker’s three home runs last year, which paced the Bulldogs, have already been matched by redshirt senior outfielder Chris Maranto.

“Coach Schrage has made us realize that we are a really talented team,” Hartnagel said. “For hitting, it’s more about just driving the ball this year and not trying to hit them out of the park. If you think doubles, those home runs will come.”

The team as a whole has a higher batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage than the 2016 Bulldogs and is only three home runs away from matching their total from last season. The team’s ERA has decreased from 5.51 to 3.33 as well.

Butler will have a chance to surpass last year’s win total when they travel to Athens, Ohio, for a three game series against Ohio University starting March 24.

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