William Jewell College baseball is coming off of arguably their most accomplished season ever. In 2015, the Cardinals finished with an overall record of 38-19 and 24-12 within the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC). They achieved a third place finish in a tough GLVC conference. And, for the first time since joining the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), WJC Baseball earned a berth in the NCAA Division II National Championship Baseball Tournament.
The Cardinals did their part to surprise the rest of the GLVC last season and look to build on that success. The team will try to continue their progress under the guidance of Coach Mike Stockton.
Recently, the Cardinals were picked to finish fourth in a tough GLVC conference that includes competitors such as Drury and Quincy. A fourth place finish would be enough to ensure the Cardinals another bid to the GLVC tournament, but WJC baseball have their sights set on something beyond that.
The team seems to be optimistic about the prospects of this season. Jewell is returning several key players. Coleman Walheed, senior and business administration, economics and ACT-in major who has started since his freshman year, will return after batting .303 and driving in 26 runs last season. Dane Erbst, senior recreation and sport major, is another great asset at the plate for WJC, having batted .292 and driven in 28 runs last season. WJC lost some key offensive players due to graduation coming into this season, and it will be important that they are able to make up for these losses this season.
WJC baseball had a great deal of strength on the mound last season and a good deal of their pitching staff will be returning for the 2016 season. Senior business administration major Austin Kretchmar and communications and business administration major Billy Kirkpatrick will lead the charge.
Last season, Kretchmar was dominant. He led the Cardinals by pitching 98 innings and recording 53 strikeouts. He had a 9-3 record while maintaining an Earned Average Run (ERA) of 2.66.
Kirkpatrick was also impressive last season, throwing 39 strikeouts throughout 68.1 innings. He went 4-4 while recording a 4.61 ERA.
The Cardinals also have a great asset in their bullpen, led by senior recreation and sport major Chris Mancha, who went 7-2 with a 1.95 ERA. He saw regular work, making 18 appearances and throwing 50.2 innings during the 2015 season.
The team is very confident and motivated going into this season. The players have expressed that they are eager to get started.
“This is a very special team. We are ready to make some noise,” said Kretchmar.
“While last year was an amazing team to be a part of, we are a whole new unit this year ready to build,” said Erbst.
There is much speculation this season as to whether the Cardinals will go as far again this year as they did in 2015. WJC baseball players, however, are intent on focusing on first things first.
2016 is indeed a much different year than 2015. In 2015, the Cardinals were picked to finish last in the GLVC. The team greatly exceeded these expectations. The pre-season perception by outsiders of 2016 is nearly opposite to that of 2015.
WJC baseball will begin their season Friday, Feb. 19 in a three game series vs. Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. The WJC home opener will be March 5 vs. Bemidji State University.
Photo courtesy of Kyle Rivas.