GRAEME WRIGHT | STAFF REPORTER | email@example.com
The Butler baseball team is coming off its best season since 2003. They nabbed 31 games under the guidance of newly acquired head coach, Dave Schrage. The Bulldogs finished the season with a 7-10 record in the Big East, which was good enough for fifth in the conference.
“I don’t want people questioning last year and thinking it was a fluke,” Schrage said. “There are some things we haven’t accomplished in our program, like competing in the Big East Conference tournament.”
In 2016, the Bulldogs won four road games, hit 11 home runs, and made a whopping 89 errors. Insert Schrage and the 2017 Bulldogs become road warriors, winning 16 road games. They smashed 35 home runs and tightened things up in the field, only committing 51 errors.
The Bulldogs look to continue that upward trend this season.
“Right now we’re worried about getting better tomorrow, getting better as a team,” Schrage said. “We haven’t even mentioned or talked about the conference tournament as team.”
The first chapter of that story begins Feb. 16 against Lehigh. Their home opener is March 2 against Fort Wayne, and Big East play begins April 2 as the Bulldogs take on Creighton.
The Bulldogs graduated 12 seniors last season that were instrumental in the program’s revival.
“We had a great senior class that wanted to leave the program with establishing something,” Schrage said. “They did a great job of leading our team and changing the culture.”
Pitching and catching
Ryan Pepiot, who is coming off a rocky freshman season, will join them on the weekend rotation this season. Pepiot had a 4.39 ERA with a 4-4 record. Sam Hubbe, Joe Graziano and Connor Schultz round off the rest of the starters. Hubbe had a solid 3.16 ERA with a 2-0 record to go with it. Graziano and Schultz are freshmen that could be wildcards for the pitching staff.
Schultz said he believes the pitching staff is filled with talent.
“The pitching staff this year is filled with a great young core.” Schultz said. “We still have a lot to prove, but experienced veterans and an outstanding coaching staff have already led us to improve in the short amount of time that we have been here.”
The bullpen is the biggest question mark. The Bulldogs graduated their two jam-stoppers, Chris Mijak, who posted a 2.35 ERA, and Ottavio Dattilo, who recorded a 1.55 ERA with a 4-0 record. The two managed to hurl the Bulldogs to 19 of their 31 wins.
“Replacing them is a big part of our team this year,” Schrage said. “Who’s going to step up?”
Hartnagel led the team with 63 hits and a batting average of .328. Dall started 38 games and hit .240 his freshman year.
Jarosz played in 46 games, hit .240, and saw some time at the leadoff spot in the Bulldogs lineup. Christman hit .268 and drove in 18 runs in addition to his pitching.
This year, the Bulldogs added three freshmen to the mix: James Gargano, Andy Bennett and Jake Margrov. Gargano hit the most home runs on the team in the fall, and Margrov is considered the team’s fastest player, according to Schrage.
The Bulldogs outfield will supply a lot of pop and speed. Senior center fielder Tyler Houston was named preseason player of the year in the Big East and will start alongside senior right fielder Gehrig Parker and sophomore left fielder Harrison Freed.
Houston was a leader in nearly every offensive category last season. He started all 51 games, belted 12 home runs and led the team is stolen bases with 18. He also had a perfect fielding percentage and is a potential draft pick in the upcoming 2018 MLB draft. Parker nearly hit .300 with five home runs, 33 runs batted in, and 32 runs scored.
“I think we returned a good core of our lineup, highlighted by Tyler Houston and Michael Hartnagel.” Parker said. “We have started to make some big strides once we started seeing live pitching.”