After winning their first Atlantic Sun conference championship and earning their first NCAA tournament bid, the Belmont Bruins are ready to return to the diamond in 2012 to try to do it again.
The team hopes to have a more consistent season than last year’s 38-26, which was historic but required a late season six-game winning streak to the A-Sun title and then wins over Oklahoma State and Troy in the NCAA Regional before losing to Vanderbilt.
“That success, that season, that team is actually behind us now,” longtime baseball head coach Dave Jarvis said.
The 2011 season has provided a goal and a focus for this season: to be the first Belmont baseball team to earn two straight NCAA tournament bids.
Belmont has received votes in numerous 2012 preseason polls, including the USA Today/ESPN coaches’ poll, that have generated hype for the season that started with 2-1 run in the Music City Classic on Feb. 17-19.
“It’s a tribute to last year’s team in many ways, I think, and it feels good for our university and program to get that type of recognition,” Jarvis said. “That’s always a positive and has a carryover effect … [with]team recognition and program recognition with recruits.”
This will be the final season for the Bruins in the Atlantic Sun. The conference coaches predicted the Bruins would finish fourth in the A-Sun this year.
Although this will be a season of transition for the Bruins, Jarvis said it should be like any other. “This is another one of those situations where our goal, effort, and every thought is about making sure we play our way through this conference season.”
Winning the conference tournament is always the goal, Jarvis said.
For seven seniors, this season will be their final in Belmont uniforms. It’s a senior class that has contributed much to the program’s history.
“Every one of those guys as juniors last year was such a big part of our success,” Jarvis said. “We have good leadership in that class. … It’s a good group of leaders and people. I’m very thrilled to have them back.”
Included in this senior class is outfielder Dylan Craig, who has set nine offensive records during his Belmont career.
“I want to take this team back to the A-Sun and win it my last year here,” Craig said. “It’s my goal to always get better … [to] stay unselfish and help the team in any way that I can.”
Another key player for the Bruins will be junior pitcher Chase Brookshire, who was part of an NCAA all-region team last spring.
“There’s always things to improve on,” Brookshire said. “We got a whole new team, got tons of new faces. It’s a new culture, and our goal this year is to win.”
The rousing finish to 2011 is in the past, and Brookshire isn’t looking back.
“We are coming off of that high,” Brookshire said. “But I wouldn’t say we really feel any pressure. … Expectations are high, but I think the guys are excited, ready to get back out, and ready to be playing again.”
The team lost several key players from last season, including Nate Woods and Derek Hamblen. However, Jarvis believes this incoming freshman class is capable of stepping up.
“They definitely will, over the course of their careers here, be able to step in and fill those roles for us,” Jarvis said.
The Bruins will be at E.S. Rose Park for 10 straight home games starting Feb. 23 in a contest with the Oregon Ducks. The stretch includes also Vanderbilt on March 6 and Murray State on March 7 before the Bruins head to Auburn
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