By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor baseball will start its 2016 season schedule with six non-conference games in a four-day stretch, starting with an 11 a.m. game this Friday against D3Baseball.com’s No. 11 Rhodes College (Tenn.).
This weekend’s schedule not only includes the Lynx, but also Pomona-Pitzer (Friday at 6 p.m.), Whitworth (Saturday at 2:30 p.m.), Piedmont College (Saturday at 6 p.m.), Pacific (Sunday at 1 p.m.) and D3Baseball.com’s No. 7 Trinity (Texas) on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
The 2016 Crusaders are a mix of solid pitching, defense, speed and hitting. They are looking to improve from their 19-22 finish last season.
Two starters from a year ago returning for the Crusaders are Chase Burrow and Will Stafford. Solid contributors in their three years at UMHB, the pair believes that the team chemistry with this season’s team is far improved from when they arrived on campus and playing in their first season in 2013.
“The team chemistry right now is in mid-season former,” Burrow said. “There’s no groups or separation between everybody. We are all on the same page and looking forward to get going this weekend. Everybody is excited.”
Burrow hit .328 with 2 homers, 29 runs batted in, 43 hits and had an on-base percentage of .355.
“Rhodes is ranked high with an All-American pitcher, Burrow said. “As a hitter, it’s exciting to see. The task at hand will be challenging, especially with teams from California and Washington coming in.”
Stafford hit .346 with 17 runs batted in, 47 hits and an on-base percentage of .373.
“I’m getting nervous, honestly,” Stafford said. “I’m excited and getting ready to play my last season. We’re trying to set a great example for the young guys…me, (Aaron) Barteau, guys that have been here all four years. We’ve seen how it’s changed in the last four years. They have really gotten control of it and turned it around. The team chemistry is significantly better.”
One of the talented members of the pitching staff returning is senior 6’8 starter Aaron Barteau. He is another player who concurs that the team chemistry is far improved from when he arrived on campus.
“I’ve had a good spring so far, pitching intra squad scrimmages,” Barteau said. “I’m getting my arm in shape and getting everything ready. The team chemistry is far better than when I got here in 2013. The guys on the team were great guys, but had been through two or three coaching staffs and were ready to move on. Over the past three seasons, we’ve filled some pieces. This is a really great team that have been recruited by Ben and Nate. Everybody is excited and wants to win.”
Barteau was 4-3 with a 2.53 earned run average and allowed just 18 earned runs in 11 starts for the Crusaders in 2015. He struck out 89 batters and only walked 12 hitters in 64 innings pitched, some of the best stats in Division III.
“I had a little tendonitis late last season, I got over that quickly,” Barteau said. “I played Jayhawk League last summer and my shoulder held up fine. I pitched in the fall and my shoulder held up great. This spring, I have felt the best I have ever felt. So I am encouraged and excited for how my shoulder feels now and hope that it keeps that way all season.”
A familiar face in his first year in a Crusader uniform is former Belton Tiger catcher Joey Hogan. Having redshirted at Texas Wesleyan, Hogan returned to Belton to study at UMHB and play baseball for school he watched growing up.
“I’m glad to be home around family and friends,” Hogan said. “The seniors and upperclassmen have been accepting of me and have been really friendly. We had a really good fall season, have worked out great in the weight room and can’t wait to get the season underway.”
The players are working hard for head coach Ben Shipp and assistant coaches Nate Shipp and Zach Lynch everyday, looking to bring an American Southwest Conference Championship to Belton this season.