|Chandler Dippman is one of two returning ABCA All-Americans for the top-ranked Scots.|
Fresh off the program's sixth appearance in the NCAA Div. III World Series, a veteran, hungry team now has its sights set on an unprecedented fourth straight North Coast Athletic Conference title, and another lengthy postseason run.
"I like the team a lot," summed up legendary head coach Tim Pettorini, who will retire at the end of his 38th season at the helm of The College of Wooster's baseball program. "These guys have played in big games, won some big games, and lost some big games. They should be pretty well ready for whatever is thrown their way."
Wooster, which starts the season as the top dog in the D3baseball.com/National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Top 25 Poll, returns two American Baseball Coaches Association All-Americans in senior third baseman/pitcher Chandler Dippman and junior left fielder Dan Harwood, while senior first baseman Garrett Crum was just as good offensively as Harwood last season.
"Chandler and Garrett have a lot of experience," said Pettorini. "They've played a lot of games for us. They're both super quiet (when it comes to leadership), so when you get something out of them, everyone listens. Hopefully we're getting them to be a little more vocal."
Dippman's developed into one of Div. III's premier utility men after taking on a heavier workload on the mound in addition to his regular role at third base. The right-hander ranked in the top six in the NCAC in ERA, innings, and wins, while hitting above .300 for the third straight year as a junior.
"I've said it all the time, Chandler is the smartest player around," added Pettorini. "He's a coach on the field and has a tremendous feel for the game.
Crum's ranked as one of the top run producers in Div. III since sliding into a regular role as a sophomore. In fact, Crum was one of two Wooster players to rank in the top five nationally in RBI as a junior, and every indication points toward a strong senior year, evidenced by preseason All-America honors from D3baseball.com.
"Garrett's the best player who nobody seems to know about," summed on Pettorini. "That's a shame. He's been surrounded by such good hitters like (All-Americans) Michael Wielansky, Jamie Lackner, and Dan Harwood that he kind of gets overlooked through all of that. Garrett is as solid of a player as we've had at the College in a long, long time, but he's been lost in the shuffle (when it comes to major awards) despite putting up tremendous numbers."
Wooster's ability to reload year-in and year-out has led to the program ranking as one of the elite in Div. III throughout Pettorini's tenure. That often results in players waiting for their number to be called to shine, and Harwood was the latest prime example of that last year. A consensus second-team All-American, the then-sophomore ranked in the top 10 nationally in home runs, RBI, and total bases in his first full season as a starter.
"We've got some flexibility in the batting order; however we're going to do it," shared Pettorini. "I'm not sure if we're going to hit Dan three hole or four hole. I've always liked Garrett in the five hole. I think that gives him the opportunity to drive in runs, but we lost a pretty good three-hole hitter. We've got some guys who can hit in front of Dan and Garrett. Dan's highly motivated heading into the season."
Three other regular starters from last year return for 2019, including all-conference honoree Jacob Stuursma.
Stuursma, a two-year starter at second base, is the likely candidate to replace Wielansky, the 2018 ABCA Div. III Position Player of the Year, at shortstop. Last year, the then-junior earned first-team all-conference honors after hitting .338, and helping Wooster lead Div. III in fielding percentage with a remarkable five errors in 255 chances at second base.
"The team holds Jacob in high regard," said Pettorini. "He's been a captain for two years, which doesn't happen too often with all the good seniors we've had here over the years."
Wooster's outfield represents an area to keep an eye on with two key graduation losses, but a reloaded reconfiguration may be the proper way to describe the Scots' outlook in this area.
As alluded to earlier, Harwood projects to take on the everyday role in left field, where he spent some time during the home stretch of last season.
Rising junior Nick Strausbaugh, a two-sport standout at the College, projects to take on a new role as the regular in center. While Strausbaugh does possess a lot of experience at the collegiate level in the outfield, it'll mark his first time regularly patrolling center field.
Classmate Aaron Spidell heads into the season as the projected starter in right field. He's no stranger to the program though, having entered 31 games last season, primarily as a late-inning defensive replacement, while offensively, the local product made his limited plate appearances memorable with a .452/.500/.581 slash line.
Switching back to the biding their time theme, senior Harrison Walls and junior Dan Gail were pressed into service with a pair of catching injuries midway through the 2018 season, and the Scots didn't miss a beat in that area. The duo's instant impact offensively led to both being mainstays in the lineup, and Pettorini's now excited to see what contributions come forth in a day-one role. Walls projects to get the majority of the innings behind the plate, while Gail is the leading candidate at designated hitter.
Pettorini's excitement carries over to second base where rising junior Harry Witwer-Dukes projects to take over as the regular, and "will be a force in our lineup," per Pettorini.
The Scots have plenty of depth among the position players with the likes of junior Tyler Iversen and sophomore Gabe Sherman ready to take on key roles, plus sophomore Noah Clement, junior Ryan Farrell, junior Christian Julius, senior Ethan Myers, senior Sam Severance, and sophomore Zach Schuch all return. Iversen projects to be in the mix for time at third base when Dippman pitches, while Sherman saw action as a late-inning defensive replacement last year, and could very well contribute in a similar fashion this season with a veteran starting cast in the infield.
In terms of pitching, Dippman and Brian Murray pose a formidable one-two senior punch for the Scots, while a host of rookies blossomed in time to pitch key innings during last year's World Series run.
"I'm not sure of the order just yet, but we have multiple guys back who pitched in the World Series last year," said Pettorini.
Murray, one of three all-conference hurlers for the Scots a season ago, held the opposition to a tidy .231 average while posting a 3.61 ERA in 67 1/3 innings of work.
"I like the way Brian's been working out, summed up Pettorini. "I think Brian's really grown over the course of the last three years. I feel good that we can put him out there again anybody, and he can compete and beat them."
"Andrew has No. 1 stuff, there's no question," stated Pettorini. "We feel if we're going to win the big prize, you've got to have a guy who can go out there and absolutely dominate the game. On our staff, he's got the type of stuff that can do it. We also really think Evan can be a big winner for us. If they consistently throw strikes, our pitching staff gets really good real fast."
Senior Wyatt Linde will anchor a talented bullpen, and he projects to pitch in "meaningful situations," per Pettorini, who notes that the most important inning isn't necessarily the ninth inning.
"Wyatt had close to 30 appearances last year and is going to do it again this year," said Pettorini. "He's going to get a lot of opportunities to pitch."
Wooster's roster is rounded out by 12 freshmen – pitcher Frank Adams, outfielder Troy Baughman, pitcher Dylan Carr, second baseman Tyler Chumita, catcher Alex Gasper, outfielder/pitcher Ben Gbur, outfielder Ben Hines, pitchers Mitchell Reardon and Colin Springer, outfielder Dominic Stilliana, catcher Michael Thomas, and outfielder Jack Whitehouse.
Wooster's non-league slate features several tough contests, starting with a season-opener versus No. 7 Swarthmore College (March 11), which knocked the Scots out of the 2018 World Series. That game kicks off a 10-game slate in Florida with two games versus Johns Hopkins University (March 15-16) and a tilt with North Central College (Ill.) (March 20) also on tap in the Sunshine State.
Upon returning home, Wooster opens the northern portion of its schedule with a non-conference tilt against longtime Mideast Region rival Marietta College (March 27), while the Scots also have non-league dates set against 2018 regional participants La Roche College (April 7) and Otterbein University (April 11).
The NCAC will once again play a full round robin twin bill. Conference play starts with a trip to DePauw University (March 30).