WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Gallaudet University baseball program reached new heights last season as the Bison broke the school record for wins in a season that stood for over a century and advanced to the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) tournament in their first year in the new conference. The Bison and head coach Curtis Pride are ready to pick-up where they left off last season as the buff and blue prepares for their 2012 campaign. Gallaudet, who posted a 17-25 record overall and went 8-6 in the NEAC last year, has its sights set on a conference championship and making the NCAA tournament.
If the Bison are going to achieve their goals in 2012 they will need to improve on their defense, pitching and stay healthy during a challenging 39-game schedule.
"Our main goal is to win the conference championship. We were so close last year. It was a tough loss for us because we knew we had a chance to win the conference championship. Our defense is what hurt us," said Pride, who enters his fourth season at the helm. "That's why I am excited about this year because our defense has improved a lot from last year."
Gallaudet led the NEAC in scoring and offense with a .289 team batting average, .378 slugging percentage, .388 on base percentage and were second in runs (238), hits (350), runs batted in (210), doubles (68), triples (11), total bases (458) and third in home runs (six). On the flipside, the Bison ranked last in the conference in errors with 96 while their .930 fielding percentage was ranked 339th out of 367 NCAA Division III teams. The GU pitching staff posted a 5.68 earned run average, seventh best in the NEAC, and walked 171 batters in 301 innings pitched.
"We learned last year [first in the NEAC] that we can't make mistakes on defense against our conference opponents because they will capitalize on our errors. Plus, there are some good [pitching] arms in this league," said Pride. "Now we are more prepared. We know every conference game is important because only the top four teams make the playoffs. For us our goal is to get the No. 1 seed so we can host the conference tournament here."
If the Bison do clinch the top seed the conference tournament will be played on the new Hoy Field that is currently under construction. The project began last fall and is slated to be completed in March. GU will play its first few 'home' games at nearby Riverdale Park in Maryland.
"It is very important for the Gallaudet University baseball program to invest in recruiting tools to bring in quality players. In the past we have had a horrible field and that was another reason why we made so many mistakes [on defense]. Now that we will have field turf so we don't have to worry about weather," said Pride.
Hoy Field will also be the future home for the D.C. Grays, the tenth team in the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League, who will play during the summer months.
"This is great for the community because it gives local teams a chance to use our field especially the Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League. The new field is great for D.C.," added Pride.
The Bison return experience along with some new talented players to its pitching staff this season. Gallaudet pitching coach Andre Rabouin has been working exclusively with the Bison pitchers to stress the importance of throwing strikes and trusting the improved defense behind them.
"We walked too many guys last year. Our pitchers were trying to be too picky around the plate. We need to keep the ball down because we left too many pitches up and we got hit hard when we did that," said Pride. "Andre has been working with his guys everyday fine tuning their mechanics and working on their grips of various pitches and building their confidence."
Senior pitcher/outfielder William Chapman (Los Angeles, Calif.) is the ace of the staff as the transfer from University of California Santa Barbara returns for his second season with the Bison. He was named to the Jewish Sports Review All-American first team for college baseball at the Division II, III and NAIA levels last year along with being selected to the All-NEAC second team. Chapman took to the mound 13 different times in 2011, started nine games, and posted a 2-5 record with a 4.55 ERA. He led the team with 40 strikeouts in 59.1 innings as opponents batted .262 against him.
"I expect great things from him this season," said Pride on Chapman. "He has improved a lot from last year."
Adams, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, pitched previously at Alabama State University (Division I) and Washington Adventist University (Division II). Smith comes to Gallaudet from Baltimore City Community College.
"Jeremy knows how to pitch, he has great movement on his pitches. He is going to help us a lot this year," said Pride. "Marcus and Brandon both need to get experience at this level but they both have good arms."
Senior Ryan Hastings (Cherry Valley, Mass.) is the lone four-year letterwinner and left-handed pitcher on the team. Hastings is the workhorse of the staff as he made 16 appearances last season, 11 starts, as he logged 71.2 innings and posted a 3-9 record. He will start and work in relief for the Bison.
Junior Layton Seeber (Champaign, Ill.) and sophomore Tyler Crace (Westfield, Ind.) will join the team after the conclusion of the men's basketball season. Both saw time on the mound last year as they combined to make 17 appearances and seven starts. Freshman Justin Wiener (Woodbine, Md.) is come along slowly this season as he overcomes some arm issues while fellow freshman Larry Kohler (Union City, Calif.) gives the Bison much needed depth in the bullpen.
The GU returns experience behind the plate and on the left side of the infield, at third base and shortstop, while the right side, at first and second base, will be revamped in 2012.
Sophomore catcher Casey Hicks (Henderson, Nevada) started all 42 games for the Bison, only one of three players to do so. Hicks was second on the team with 36 runs batted in and three triples while he batted .237. In the field he threw out 15 base stealers and posted .955 fielding percentage.
"He has a better relation with the pitching staff this year. He needs to be the leader of the infield," said Pride. "He needs to be more vocal and have the pitchers trust him. He has shown great leadership on and off the field."
Adams, a natural third baseman, moves over to first base and will provide big target for the Bison infielders. At the plate Adams will provide a lot of power and offer protection in the heart of the order. He will be backed up by sophomore Jeremy Murphy (Owings Mills, Md.).
Junior Tommy Barksdale (Brookeville, Md.) anchors the left side of the infield as the two-time letterwinner has started all 80 games over the course of the past two seasons. He moved full-time to shortstop last season after sharing time at third and shortstop his freshman year. He was selected to the NEAC all-conference second team last year. Barksdale was fourth on the team with a .322 batting average last season as he collected 49 hits, scored 37 runs, 15 doubles, two triples, one home run and knocked in 25 runners.
"Right now Tommy needs to improve his defense because he made a lot of mistakes last year (16 errors). He is more experienced this year and more comfortable at shortstop," said Pride. "Tommy is going to be our lead-off guy. I am trying to teach him that he needs to get on base. He is going to be a good table setter."
Sophomore Chris Guinn (McLoud, Okla.) had a rough first year with the Bison as he led the team in errors (22) as he started 41 games and saw action in 42. Guinn batted .246 at the plate as he tallied 31 hits, 19 runs and 16 RBI.
Sophomore William Bissell (Brewer, Maine), a D3baseball.com preseason All-American outfielder, is the centerpiece of the 2012 Bison team. Last season, Bissell became the first Bison to be selected to the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA)/Rawlings NCAA Division III All-American teams as he was named to the third team as a freshman. He was also a first-team ABCA All-South Region selection and was the 2011 NEAC West Division Player of the Year and a first team all-conference outfielder.
"It is great for our program to have a player recognized on the national level," said Pride. It says a lot about our program and the players we have. We have the ability to compete with anybody. It is also about getting respect from other teams."
He led the entire NEAC/NAC in seven different statistical offensive categories. He was first in batting average (.438), slugging percentage (.711), on base percentage (.547), RBI (41), doubles (15), triples (four) and total bases (91). The freshman was also second in home runs (four), hits (56), fourth in walks (24), sixth in runs (33) and hit by pitch (eight). Bissell was also ranked nationally by the NCAA for Division III in many different categories including on base percentage (10th overall), batting average (22nd), slugging percentage (28th), triples (68th), doubles (74th), total bases (108th) and RBI (112th). Bissell also swiped 14 bases out of 19 chances as he started all 42 games.
"Billy has improved from last year, there is always room for improvement, so I expect him to have a better year this season. His confidence is very high," added Pride.
In the field he made 124 putouts, collected eight assists and posted a .964 fielding percentage. Bissell, a red-shirt freshman last season, had his 2010 season cut short due to a season ending injury.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he has one of the best arms in all of college baseball (Division I, II or III). He has a great arm. I don't think a lot of teams will try and test his arm this year," said Pride.
On days when he is not scheduled to pitch Chapman will start in right field. He was second on the team in batting average (.394) in his debut season for the Bison where he started 41 games. In the conference he was second in hit by pitch (12), third in slugging percentage (.543), on base percentage (.490), fourth in batting average (.394), hits (50), RBI (34), doubles (14), fifth in runs scored (34), total bases (69) and tenth in total plate appearances (157). Chapman was ranked nationally for five offensive categories including hit by pitch (70th), on base percentage (90th), hit by pitch per game (114th), doubles (119th) and batting average (138th).
Freshman Austin McKenzie (Oilton, Okla.) will get the start in left field as Pride will also play Klein in the outfield when needed.
The Bison will begin the season with a doubleheader by hosting former Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) foe and nationally ranked Salisbury University (ranked No. 9 by D3baseball.com/National College Baseball Writers Association and No. 17 by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper) on Feb. 18 at Riverdale Park. The following week the Bison will host Muhlenberg College for two non-conference games at Riverdale Park. GU will visit Division III powerhouse and South Region leader Christopher Newport University (ranked No. 7 and No. 4, respectively) on March 2. The road schedule for GU will not get any easier as they embark on a seven-game Florida road trip during Spring Break from March 10-15, playing such notable teams Daniel Webster, Drew, MCLA, Rivier and Vassar. The Bison return from Florida and will go up against several heavy hitters from the CAC including a road contest against Frostburg State University (March 18), Stevenson University (March 21), at University of Mary Washington for two games on March 25 before hosting Wesley College for two on March 28.
"It [playing tough non-conference games] is a good way for us to get ready for our conference schedule. I did that on purpose because I want us to face tough teams early to see where we stand, see what type of work we need to do to get ready for our conference games," said Pride.
The Bison begin conference play against last year's West Division regular-season champions SUNYIT on the road March 31 for a doubleheader.
The month of April begins with four straight NEAC games on the road against Lancaster Bible College (April 5) and Penn St.-Abington (April 6). The Bison return home to host St. Mary's (Md.) College from the CAC on April 10, before hitting the road for yet another NEAC road weekend trip where GU will play Cazenovia (April 14) and Keuka (April 15). The final home regular-season doubleheader is slated to take place April 18 against Penn St.-Harrisburg before finishing the slate on the road against Penn St.-Berks (April 21) and McDaniel College (April 23). The NEAC tournament will begin on April 27 at a field to be determined.
The Bison earned valuable experience last season, their first in a new conference with additional travel requirements, and showed the NEAC that Gallaudet can compete and will be a force to be reckoned with. If Gallaudet can improve its fielding and pitching the Bison can take the next step in elevating its program and claim a conference championship.
"We have some new newcomers that can help us right away. We have a lot more pitching then we have had in the past three years. Our defense has improved a lot since last year. We lost seven to 10 games because of our defense last year. That was our main focus this spring, to concentrate on defense and pitching," said Pride.