James Reilly ‘21
Rucker Taylor’s first season as Davidson baseball’s head coach in 2019 was, by all accounts, a success. He led the Wildcats to a 29-22 record despite a tough non-conference schedule that included numerous Top-20 opponents, including top-ranked Vanderbilt and an always-talented UNC Tarheels team.
Coach Taylor’s club was most impressive in conference play. Davidson ranked second in the Atlantic 10, entering 2019 tournament play after compiling an impressive 14-6 record during its conference slate. The ‘Cats managed 3 victories in the A10 tournament before ultimately falling to Dayton in the semi-final round of the double-elimination competition.
Despite all of the team’s successes last season, Coach Taylor and his players feel there is plenty to improve upon in order to achieve their lofty goals for 2020. Naturally, the team has its eyes on winning the A10, but they know that they need to focus on the little things before that can be accomplished. Captain and two-way player Walker Imwalle ‘20 said that means tightening things up in all facets of the game. “We want to set the tone on the mound,” Imwalle stated . “Offensively, we want to cut down on the amount of strikeouts as a team and apply as much pressure to opposing defenses as possible,” he continued.
The ‘Cats should certainly target strikeouts as an area of improvement this season. The powerful Wildcat lineup led the A-10 in home runs in 2019, but it proved to be a costly trade-off at times, as they finished the year with the 4th-most strikeouts in the conference.
One of the team’s most impressive –– and most improved –– players last season was Ruben Fontes ‘21. The utility infielder was used mostly as a designated hitter, and he provided the Wildcats with fantastic pop from the clean-up spot. He led the Atlantic 10 with 14 home runs, tying for fifth all-time in the college’s history. However, he’s still not satisfied. “Although I hit for a lot of power last year, my goal is to become a more complete hitter this year,” Fontes said.
If Fontes, who put together a .211 average, .327 on-base percentage, and .506 slugging percentage last season, can take his power-heavy 2019 and add the ability to hit for a higher average, he will certainly be one of the most complete and dangerous hitters in the conference in 2020.
Getting on base consistently will be something Fontes’ teammates hope to improve on, as well. The ‘Cats finished 10th out of 14 in the conference in on-base percentage in 2019, and if they can pair an uptick in that number with their elite power hitting, the offense will be as formidable as any in the Atlantic 10.
On the mound, the Wildcats’ rotation will likely be led by Gabe Levy ‘22, who had an impressive rookie season a year ago. The 6’0”, 190-pound righty compiled a 2.57 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 49 innings, most of which came out of the bullpen. While the losses of graduates Casey Sutherland, Allen Barry, and Josh Hudson leave the shape of the rotation uncertain, the Davidson roster has some experienced pitchers who look ready to step in if their name is called, such as Jaret LaCagnina ‘20, Pete Bloomberg ‘21, and Blake Hely ‘22. Beyond that, talented redshirt sophomore Jake Biederman ‘21 will look to get a healthy season under his belt after undergoing Tommy John surgery as a true freshman in 2018 and sitting out all of 2019. Coach Taylor also identified Imwalle as someone who could be an X-factor both on the mound and at the plate:
“Imwalle is a guy that started pitching late last season and has done a nice job in summer ball and for us in practice. He has a chance to help us as a two-way guy and could potentially have a great impact in two areas,” Taylor said.
In his second season, Coach Taylor’s mantra is similar to what he preached in his first. “[Coach Taylor] is constantly preaching to us about striving for success in everything we do, whether it’s in the weight room, the classroom, on the field, or elsewhere,” Imwalle said. Fontes added that “[Taylor] just wants us to control what we control.” With the top-to-bottom talent of the roster, the team has the potential to reach all their goals if they put Coach Taylor’s advice into practice.