The reloaded Eagles vow to prove their doubters wrong
Armed with new faces, baseball readies to rise above expectations. | Austin Green / THE CHIMES
Baseball faced several challenges as they prepared for their first PacWest season. Like many Eagles teams, they had to adjust to a reduced practice schedule to meet NCAA regulations. Several seniors who led last year’s squad to their most successful finish under manager Jay Sullenger are now gone. In their place comes a whopping 10 new freshmen along with several transfers from junior colleges. Integrating that many new faces could have proved difficult for junior catcher Anj Bourgeois and senior first baseman Colton Worthington, the team’s two captains.
“Everybody’s coming in with a different background,” Bourgeois said. “So that’s been a big thing that we’ve focused on.”
Then the PacWest released its preseason baseball coaches’ poll on Jan. 25. The Eagles, who ended up one game out of first place in the Golden State Athletic Conference last year, were selected to finish eighth out of the conference’s 12 teams.
Despite coming in as a new team in the conference, the Eagles feel underrated by their ranking. This has added an extra incentive as they gear up for opening day.
“We know that they’re sleeping on us. They don’t know what we have yet,” said senior starting pitcher Wyatt Haccou. “We’re really fired up about it. We know that we’re gonna show them something that they’ve never seen before [and] prove them wrong.”
Bourgeois also believes that the poll does not reflect the team’s potential.
“I definitely think we’re gonna be way better than that,” Bourgeois said. “Kinda puts a little chip on our shoulder, kind of feeling disrespected, honestly, a little bit. Coming off of being one of the best teams in the GSAC [to] just getting no love right away from the polls.”
RETURNING TALENT ALL OVER THE FIELD
At first look, the Eagles have enough talent on paper to make some noise this year. Two of their three weekend starters from last season, Haccou and senior Micah Beyer, are returning. Senior closer Daniel Jang remains in the bullpen with several of the newcomers slated to fill key middle relief roles.
“I would say overall, our pitching staff has a lot more depth, [especially] in our bullpen,” said pitching coach Justin Hixson.
The offense should remain a strength as the Eagles have brought back several key contributors at the plate such as Worthington, Bourgeois, junior third baseman Joey Magro, senior shortstop Ricky Perez, sophomore outfielder Andy Van Antwerp and senior outfielders Phillip Knapp and Jerron Largusa.
“In the fall, [when] we played a bunch of intersquad [scrimmages], we looked really good offensively,” Van Antwerp said. “I’m excited. I think we’re gonna be similar to how we were last year on the offensive side. We’ll see how that compares to the [Division II] teams.”
The Eagles have their sights aimed high—they want to win the PacWest, or at the very least finish high enough to qualify for the National Christian College Athletic Association playoffs so they can try to add another blue banner to Chase Gymnasium. Hixson especially hopes the team performs well against conference powerhouse California Baptist University, his alma mater. Of course, another Christian school in Southern California also looms large.
“Azusa Pacific. That’s our rivalry,” Hixson said. “I’m excited to get started with it… We know that they’re going to have talent, but we’re confident in the talent that we have as well.”
However, the team still keeps things in perspective and is currently memorizing Romans 12 to remind themselves of where their abilities truly come from.
“That’s one of the cool things about being at a Christian school,” Bourgeois said. “We’re not playing for the polls. We’re playing for an audience of one. The polls motivate us, but our real motivation comes from, like, God is giving us a gift and we’re using that gift to go play hard and win for his glory.