The 2014 season did not go according to plan for the Belmont baseball team last year.
After they finished under .500 for the first time in six years, the Bruins missed out on the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in the final weekend of the season.
Despite all the difficulties in 2014, Belmont coach Dave Jarvis said his team learned the importance of being consistent over a 56-game schedule.
“We had days where we were a pretty good ball club and could play with anybody in the country. Obviously, for example, we dropped a game to Vanderbilt 2-1 and they end up being the national champion,” said Jarvis, who enters his 18th season at the helm of the program.
“So we were able to compete at a very high level. But we weren’t able to do that consistently enough.”
In the preseason poll released this week, the OVC coaches and sports information directors selected Belmont to finish eighth in the conference this season. But the senior class wants to make sure 2015 is different.
“We definitely don’t want a repeat of last year,” said senior Patrick McGrath. “So it’s nice to have a fresh start and get everyone on the same page more than anything.”
E.S Rose Park will play a significant factor in the team’s consistency, both early in the season and later on in conference play. The Bruins play 13 of their first 17 games at their home facility and the conditions should provide an advantage over the visiting teams.
“Rose is somewhat of a temperamental beast I guess. There is a lot of strong wind and it’s cold up there. The highway is pretty close so we kind of get all sorts of noise,” said senior William Dodd. “But it’s where we are used to play at so we should be able to use the elements of adversity to our advantage.”
The Bruins lost several contributors from last year’s team in the offseason. Austin Coley, Greg Brody and Jamie Ritchie decided to forgo their final year after all three players were selected in the 2014 MLB Draft last summer.
Despite all three deciding to pursue professional baseball careers, 19 letterwinners returned from last year’s team. Jarvis and the coaching staff also added 12 newcomers.
“Through tremendous effort by our recruiting coordinator Aaron Smith and Coach Barnett, we’ve put together a very good team in and around that obstacle of losing guys in the draft,” Jarvis said.
Belmont will look to rely on its senior class especially at the plate from Drew Ferguson and Matt Beaty.
Ferguson powered the Bruins in nearly every offensive category in 2014 with 66 hits, 15 doubles and 10 home runs. The centerfielder earned recognition for the OVC All-Conference Second Team.
Beaty complemented his classmate as the infielder led the team with a team-high .352 batting average and .478 on-base percentage.
The team selected Ferguson and Beaty as captains in addition to McGrath and Dodd.
“Those guys have all been tremendous players for us in their careers and they give us very good leadership as voted on by their teammates. They see it the same way too,” said Jarvis.
In addition to the offensive power, Belmont’s pitching staff continues to shine for the program and will look to lead the conference in earned run average for the third consecutive season.
“We’ve picked up some good arms this year, a couple of JUCO guys and freshmen who have been pretty impressive,” said McGrath. “A big part of the whole starting pitching is guys going out there and being ready to compete and be consistent.”
The Bruins will welcome competition once again from a slew of high-quality non-conference opponents in the Top-100 RPI including the No. 1 team in the nation and defending national champion Vanderbilt.
“It’s fun playing against the top teams in the nation. You want to go against them and be faced against the best talent,” said Beaty. “It’s definitely going to be a good challenge for us and we’re excited to be able to face it.”
When OVC play heats up in March, preseason favorite Southeast Missouri, Tennessee Tech and defending conference champion Jacksonville State will present challenges to the Bruins if the league’s success is any indication.
“For the last two years, the OVC has been very good. They have had several teams either at or above or in the neighborhood of 40 wins each year. Anybody that wins it can do well as it was proven by Jacksonville State last year,” said Jarvis.
Belmont opens its 2015 season today when the Bruins host Horizon League opponent Wright State. First pitch is set for 3:30 p.m. at E.S Rose Park and will open up an eight-game homestand.