Hamline baseball coach Jason Verdugo knows that encores are always tough things. But he admits to a certain excitement as the 2012 Pipers open defense of their first MIAC postseason baseball championship. “We’ve had a good program around here for a while now,” he said, referring to the fact the Pipers have won 20 games in five of the past six seasons. “But I don’t know if we’re superior to any of our opponents. Each year is different. For us to have a good season, we’ll have to pitch well and play good defense. That is always our emphasis.”
The Pipers get a first look at their new squad tonight at 7:00 p.m. when they play the University of Dubuque in a doubleheader at the Metrodome. In all, HU will play 11 games at the Metrodome (including a pair Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. against Bethany Lutheran) before heading off to Arizona for a week of games.
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This link is also on the baseball website.
Last year, Hamline recorded a pair of firsts en route to finishing with a 29-15 won-loss mark: a MIAC post-season title and a NCAA tournament victory.
Topping (or even matching) that won’t be easy. But Verdugo, who is starting his 11th season as head coach, has a team that returns six position starters and seven of their top eight pitchers. A rugged preseason schedule that includes a game against the University of Minnesota plus several top Division III opponents is intended to get Hamline ready for the MIAC season that kicks off against St. Thomas at the Metrodome on March 31.
“The MIAC season is short (six weeks),” Verdugo said. “You have to come prepared from the first day.”
Top among the Piper returnees is a pair of All-Conference choices, senior C Ben Richardson and DH Jordan Buck, a junior. Richardson hit .341 last year, leading the team in doubles (13) and On-Base Percentage (.451). Buck, who is also expected to see time in the outfield, hit .309 with a conference high 32 walks. Verdugo expects him to hit for more power this year. “When I say that, I mean more doubles,” he said. “I don’t expect a lot of home runs by any team in our league.” In 2011, Hamline led the MIAC In triples with 11 and was second in Doubles with 63.
HU also returns two senior outfielders who played 43 games each last year – Andy King in left field and Cory Miller, a member of the league’s All-Defensive team in right field. First year player Cam Smith is expected to make a serious run at a regular spot in the outfield.
On the infield, junior 3B Dan Ellefson and soph SS Ryan Hackel are back. Once his hockey season ends, first year player Joe Rubbelke and JC transfer Jordan Rubbelke are expected to be in the mix for playing time on the infield in the preseason. Mark Radmacher, a JC transfer, is also expected to get a long look at first base.
Verdugo, a former AAA pitcher and the current pitching coach for the independent St. Paul Saints, is anticipating a solid mound staff. 6-7 Dylan Olson is Verdugo’s kind of guy. He walked just eight batters in 43 innings last year. He may be in line for more work in 2012. Matt Mullendore, a senior righty who tossed a pair of shutouts last year in his 10 starts returns as does senior southpaw Brett Bugielski, who started six games last year and also saved three. He may be moving to the starting rotation on a regular basis. JC transfer Andy Weiss is also a solid candidate for the starting rotation. The staff will be strengthened by the return of soph Matt Eickman, who was the MIAC Rookie Of the Year in 2010 but missed most of last season with arm problems.
In the bullpen, sophomore righthander Rannon Arch, who led the staff with 17 appearances returns and will be complimented by junior lefty Rob Miller (4-0 in 2011).
Last year, Hamline was third in the MIAC’s regular season, finishing a game behind Macalester and St. Thomas. The Pipers then rose up and smote both teams to win the postseason tournament and make their first NCAA appearance.
Verdugo, who enters 2012 needing just two wins to reach 200 for his coaching career, anticipates a tight league race with St. Thomas, St. John’s (the fourth participant in last year’s tournament), St. Olaf and Bethel all angling for contention. He is looking for a tried and true formula to carry his team through. “We pitched well and played great defense in the postseason last year,” he said. “We focus on this a lot.”
How well the Pipers do it in 2012 may well tell if an encore is in the cards.