Some Changes & Pressure as Baseball Season Approaches
By: Godson Eneogwe – The Quincy University baseball team has been known around campus for a long time as a competitive team with a winning tradition.
However, being ranked as high as No. 1 in Midwest Region and having a record of 40-17 last season, the Hawks fell short of a bid to the NCAA Tournament, losing to William Jewell and Drury.
The Hawks lost three key seniors – Gordon Gundaker, Peter Cunningham and Kory Wisdom – from last year’s team, but they are ranked No. 1 in the Midwest Region’s preseason poll and No. 7 in the preseason national poll.
The Hawks are returning a few major key players. Returning senior right fielder Ryan Snyder, who had a .302 batting average and 29 RBIs last year, believes the team is ready and better than ever after bringing in new players to help keep the competitive tradition within the team alive.
“We brought in a couple of junior college guys who’ll be impactful right from the start,” Snyder said. “The freshman as well will need to step up and fill in the voids left by our previous seniors, which will be a difficult task, but I believe they can do it.”
Two key players returning are junior outfielder Dominic Miles, who had a .354 batting average of .354 and four home runs, and junior first baseman/outfielder David Jacob, who hit .394 and recorded 7 home runs last season. Jacob is looked at as one of the team’s primary leaders.
“We have high expectations for the team this year,” Jacob said. “Since guys like Gundaker and Cunningham left last season, the leadership role was in a void, so coming into this season I was looked at more of a leader to the younger players and the rest of the team. I’m ready for that responsibility.”
The Hawks brought in junior college transfers David Hayes and Troy Wehde, who will be splitting time at catcher. Junior college transfer Shea Stine will be competing for the third base spot this season. The Hawks also bring in a handful of freshman who will be competing to fill in for the two midweek starters in the pitching rotation who are gone from last season.
Bringing in new players also means internal competition within the team.
“It’s fun to see that battle every day in practice from the freshman to the upperclassmen,” Jacob said. “Nothing is guaranteed on this team. You have to earn your spot, so having guys come out and compete every day in practice says something about our team.”
Being ranked as high as No. 1 in the region in the preseason polls puts a target on the Hawks’ back, but that doesn’t bother them and makes them more determined.
“We really don’t think about preseason rankings or anything like that,” Snyder said. “When the first pitch is thrown, those numbers really don’t mean anything. It’s all about which team is ready to play ball.”
The way the season ended last year wasn’t how the Hawks envisioned their postseason run to go.
“I remember in our last huddle-ups after the loss to Drury in the regional tournament. Coach (Josh) Rabe looked at us and just said, ‘We choked,’” Jacob said. “Coach was right. We did choke, and we weren’t mentally prepared. That’s why it’s important for us to always stay focused and play with passion.”
Rabe was named the GLVC Coach of the Year last year and is entering his seventh year with the team.
“The group of guys that I have make it very easy for me to coach,” he said. “These guys know that I’m just as passionate about this game like them, which says a lot about my character to our guys.”
Rabe knows what it takes to become a successful team.
“I always have high expectations for my team and the guys have similar expectations for themselves as well,” he said. “The new guys we brought in are meshing well with the returning players, which is always a good sign in your team. Once everyone can come to a realization that we all have the same goal, then playing baseball becomes the easy part.”