Baseball Enters Season with New Head Coach

James Reilly ’21

Sports Writer

Six years ago, Rucker Taylor was a fresh face on Davidson’s campus, a newly-hired 28-year-old assistant baseball coach on Dick Cooke’s staff. Now, after helping to oversee one of the most successful stretches in Davidson baseball history, he has become a familiar presence –– and he’s taken on a new role. 

In July 2018, Cooke became an Associate Athletic Director, and Taylor was named Head Coach of the baseball team. Taylor acknowledges that the new role will be an adjustment, but he feels his time as an associate head coach prepared him for the challenges he now faces. 

“[ Cooke] did a wonderful job of allowing his assistants to have a lot of freedom and opportunity,” said Taylor. “So there’s not a whole lot that will change for me in terms of my role on the coaching staff.”

For the new coach, the team’s unquestionable talent should contribute to a seamless transition. Seniors Justin Lebek and Eric Jones led a power-hitting juggernaut last season, each launching eleven home runs under Taylor’s offensive instruction. But, as Taylor noted, the roster is not top-heavy. The Wildcats are returning six starters from a year ago, as well as numerous others who saw significant playing time. “I think this is definitely the deepest roster we’ve ever had,” Taylor added.

Taylor also credits the senior leadership on the team for making it an easy adjustment, as captains Eric Jones, Max Bazin, and Casey Sutherland have helped foster a great locker-room environment. While Taylor doesn’t question the talent of the team, he noted that “team chemistry is a tough thing to quantify, but from a lot of our guys and from recent alumni, we’ve heard the guys really get along; they really like each other.” He identified such camaraderie as an X-factor on any baseball team, and the Vanderbilt graduate feels very confident that the leadership of the upperclassmen will solidify team chemistry and equip the group to outperform national expectations.

While Taylor has already achieved positive results in his time with the Davidson program, his winning track record goes back much further; his career has been marked by a consistent knack for success, even with smaller programs. As a college player, he helped lead Vanderbilt to its first-ever super regional, and he did the same at Samford, where he spent six years as an assistant coach.

Most recently, Taylor was an integral part of Davidson’s coaching staff in 2017, when the ‘Cats upset top-seeded UNC to reach the first super regional in program history. Taylor hopes to build on the success of the past four seasons, which have each resulted in an A-10 tournament berth, but he’s more focused on accomplishing the little things than on lofty championship hopes: “Whether you’re coaching the Yankees or you’re coaching a little league team, [the goal is] reaching your potential. That starts with stretching the right way, having a good practice every day.”

Sophomore utility man Ruben Fontes credits this detail-oriented mentality as one of Taylor’s strongest assets. “He pays great attention to detail and is able to relay that information to us to better our understanding of the game,” Fontes explained. 

Taylor believes the team has limitless ability if they work hard on a daily basis. The players buy into this philosophy as well, and they aren’t shy about giving a more concrete goal. When asked about the expectations for the season, Fontes gave a simple answer: “Win the A-10.” 

The lofty objective is certainly a possibility under the tutelage of the new coach, who was ranked by Baseball America in their top 10 coaches under forty years old and has overseen 16 players drafted in the MLB, including Davidson’s Will Robertson ‘17.

Any head coach needs to feel confident in his staff, and Taylor conveyed his fortunate position of having a strong staff to support him and the players this season. He is particularly excited about the addition of pitching coach Parker Bangs. “[Bangs] helped some guys that have only been in spot roles the last couple of years to really take a step forward,” Taylor explained. 

Pitcher Luke Burton ‘21 feels the same way; he believes pitching will be one of the team’s biggest improvements this year, with the addition of Bangs and a number of talented first-year arms.

Asked about the motto for the upcoming season, Taylor offered the three simple tenets he’s been preaching since he took over: “Do the right thing, be your best, and compete.” If the team can do just that, it could be another historic season for Wildcat baseball.

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