Blue Jay Baseball Looks to Defend Conference Title
BY CARSON BUTTS
The Blue Jays finished the 2016 season with an overall record of 28-15 (.651) and went 16-6 (.727) in conference play, to earn the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. The tournament consisted of four teams playing in a double-elimination format.
The Blue Jays got off to a hot start in the tournament, outscoring their opponents by margins of 10 and 9 runs in their first two games. The two victories earned them a spot the championship round, where they would have two chances to beat Greenville and secure the SLIAC title. Westminster dropped the first game 9-6 on a Saturday morning, which set up a winner-take-all contest against the Panthers that afternoon.
Greenville carried over the momentum from the first game and built up a 5-1 lead through four innings, but the Blue Jays refused to throw in the towel. In the bottom of the 6th, Westminster took a 6-5 lead after exploding for 5 runs in the inning. Three of the runs came from Nick Bohlmann’s go-ahead home run. Two innings later, Nick Cessna put the championship on ice with a bases-clearing double. The Blue Jays led 9-5 with three defensive outs between them and a victory.
In the top of the 9th inning, Collin Brinker surrendered a one-out double but got the next two batters to fly out, sending Westminster to its first NCAA tournament in more than a decade.
The Blue Jays were eliminated after two straight losses in the NCAA Regionals, but 2016 was a truly a great season for the program.
In the 2017 season, the Blue Jays will have a new look in both the hitting and pitching departments. With pitching, the team is graduating Deion Hughes and Collin Brinker, who finished first and second in both wins and earned run average for the team in 2016.
“We lost 22 of our 28 wins from last year’s pitching staff due to graduation,” Coach Dennis Hughes said. “It’s not rocket science to conclude that multiple players will have to step up for us on the mound in order for us to be successful this season.”
They also graduated infielder Tyler Branneky, who hit 10 home runs while batting .301 in 43 games last year.
However, last year’s success gave the program some much-deserved attention that helped recruit a large freshman class and attracted several transfer players. The majority of these transfers came from Jefferson City’s Lincoln University, headlined by Mason Price, who hit .285 with 9 home runs and drove in 31 runs last season. Price will most likely be the Blue Jay’s starting left fielder. As for the freshman class, it appears that Sam Huesgen from Wentzville, Missouri, will be called upon to log a considerable amount of innings for the pitching staff.
With the additions that the Jays made via recruitment and a large percentage of their core returning for the 2017 season, the team looks poised to make a run at a second consecutive SLIAC championship.
Shortstop Adam Mundle said, “We graduated some big pieces, but we’ve still got a good core coming back with some nice pieces added via incoming transfers and freshmen.”
As for goals and expectations, Coach Hughes said he wanted the team to have fun, play with confidence and strive to learn throughout the season.
“We don’t believe in a ‘good loss’ or ‘moral victories,’” he stated. “A loss is a loss and we will fix what’s keeping us from winning When we win we will keep on working on things that will make us better. We will continue to learn.”
Mundle said that the Blue Jays are focused on defending their title and showing that they can be great consistently.
“We had a really great year last year, making it to regionals,” Mundle said. “This year, however, we want to get back to that stage, to show it wasn’t a fluke and [that] we can play with the best teams in the country.”