Over the past two years, the Davidson baseball program has begun to turn a corner. After being stuck between 17 and 19 wins every season between 2009 and 2013, the team has dragged its win total up from that range by double digits the past few years, winning 29 in their final SoCon season in 2014. Last year, the Wildcats followed that up with 28 wins in their inaugural A-10 campaign, including a big win in the conference tournament over top-seeded Saint Louis.
This season, the team will have to replace the production of eight graduating seniors, who together pitched over 200 innings last year. “Every member of the 2015 class had a vital impact in helping us win and reach the culture that the Davidson Baseball program has developed into,” explained fifth-year senior Clark Beeker ’16. “We relied heavily on upperclassman pitching, and our offense was surrounded around proven, college-ready hitters.”
Despite losing all that talent and leadership, the team still has reason for optimism. This year’s freshman class is among the deepest the program has seen, especially in terms of pitching. Austin Leonard ’19 and Peyton Hopkins ’19 are among the many young arms that are expected to be cogs at the back of the bullpen, while Adrian Mayans ’19 will bring some pop to the lineup with his bat. Catcher Jake Sidwell ’17 had high praise for them, remarking, “they’re talented and go out there and compete.”
These freshmen put their talent on display this past weekend, as the Wildcats took two out of three games at home. Leonard came into a tight game against Marist in a jam and was able to limit the damage so that the offense could rally in the bottom half of the inning, before Hopkins came in for the save to preserve a 4-3 victory and Leonard’s first career W. The next day, after being given the start at DH, Mayans came within a few inches of his first career home run with what amounted to a long double off the top of the wall in the team’s 5-0 victory over Buffalo.
Combining this young talent with some improving returning players, the team has a nice overall balance. Beeker will lead the pitching staff and is able to mentor all the young arms with his experience, while upperclassmen, including Sidwell and Will Robertson ’17, have come back looking like new players. Both of them provided a spark in the lineup this weekend, as Robertson hit the first two home runs of his career, while Sidwell was 4 for 8 at the plate himself. Both of these players credit associate head coach Rucker Taylor for the strides they made at the plate in the off-season.
Putting these players alongside established stalwarts, including Lee Miller ’16, Sam Foy ’16, and Alec Acosta ’18, the team is not short of depth. As Robertson remarked, “One advantage of having so much depth is that everyone feels the need to compete and get better every day in practice to try to earn time on the field.” Because of this, the team expects to continue to get better and better as the season wears on.
If this past weekend is any indication, Wilson Field could be a daunting environment for opposing teams to come into this season. Throughout the weekend, the right field deck was often overflowing with students to the point that opposing teams began to question whether the turnout was atypical. Sidwell attested to the effect of having so many of his fellow students in attendance this weekend, saying, “The fan support was incredible this past weekend, and hopefully that continues for the rest of the season.”
Throughout the team, the focus is primarily on performing well in conference play. Every single player has his sights set on the same prize: winning the A-10 title, and the appearance in the NCAA tournament that comes with it. After being picked sixth in the conference preseason poll, they know it won’t be an easy task. However, the squad showed last year they belong in the league, so a good shot at an A-10 title is certainly there for the taking.
While the focus is primarily on the A-10 season, the team also has a daunting nonconference schedule facing them. After a tough 7-4 loss against ACC foe Wake Forest in the first of two meetings between the schools this season, the team will also have a home game against Duke and travel to nationally ranked powerhouses UNC and South Carolina.
Though the Wildcats know nothing will come easy for their young squad, they are confident about what they can do this year. “I think this year we have the best team chemistry since I’ve been here,” explained Sidwell. “We have a lot of really great guys, and everyone is playing for the guy next to him instead of themselves.” With the combination of this mentality and the raw talent on the squad both in the lineup and on the mound, an A-10 title is certainly within reach this season.