BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The Birmingham-Southern baseball team is ready to hit the field for the 2019 season.
After a 2018 year that saw the Panthers go 22-18 overall and 11-10 in the Southern Athletic Association, head coach Jan Weisberg, who is entering his 14th season at the helm, says his team is looking to improve on last season.
"Last year was the first time in four years we haven't been to an NCAA regional," he said. "I think you have to go into the season with the same expectation we've had every year, which is we want to win the conference and get into the regional."
Although BSC did not accomplish its goals of winning the SAA or getting into the NCAA tournament last season, Weisberg said that experience in 2018 will help his players in 2019.
"I think the biggest thing we got out of last year was some key players got experience," he said. "Some of them were freshmen and sophomores who played for the first time, but more importantly there were some sophomores and juniors that went from support roles to lead roles. And they learned a lot from that."
The Panthers are returning all but one of their starting position players from last season, giving BSC a lot of playing time out on the field. Some of the key position players coming back are junior Will Toner (Atlanta, Ga./Marist HS) and the two Tylers: seniors Tyler Wise (Birmingham, Ala./Spain Park HS) and Tyler Hamel (Atlanta, Ga./Alpharetta HS).
"Tyler Wise, Tyler Hamel and Will Toner coming back for us, hitting in the middle of the lineup like they did last year, are some key guys," Weisberg said. "If they can hit well consistently, we'll have a good year."
Weisberg also mentioned senior Richie Misischia (Dothan, Ala./Regis HS).
"Richie is another guy that we need to have a big year," he said. "He won't have to play nearly every day in the outfield like he basically did last year, but he's our best guy out of the bullpen and he's probably got the best stuff on the team with his breaking ball. We need him to have a good year."
On the mound, senior Jake Cook (Oxford, Ala./Oxford HS), the reigning SAA Pitcher of the Year, is back at the top of the rotation for the Panthers. He started 12 games, compiling a 7-3 record and a 2.56 ERA in 2018.
"Jake is a good number one and was the conference pitcher of the year last year," Weisberg said. "He'll be a big guy for us."
Junior transfer Robbie Lively (Helena, Ala./Southern Union) is also a reliever to keep an eye on, Weisberg said.
"Robbie is a JUCO transfer that's come in and we're really excited about," he said. "He's turned out to be one of our top relievers and can kind of anchor our bullpen where we needed help at last season."
Some newcomers that the Panthers will be looking to include junior outfielder Cory Price (Hoover, Ala./UAH), who transferred from Alabama-Huntsville, and freshman Luke DePiero (Atlanta, Ga./Walker HS).
"Cory Price is a transfer from UAH that can play outfield and brings a good level of maturity to the team," Weisberg said. "And Luke DePiero is a freshman that can play all three outfield positions but I think he'll see a lot of time in center field, spelling Richie Misischia a little bit."
Birmingham-Southern will start the season against LaGrange, who captured an NCAA regional berth last season, on Feb. 8-9 before traveling to Texas to face No. 4-ranked Trinity in a three-game series Feb. 15-17.
BSC will also host non-conference games against Adrian College and Wisconsin-Oshkosh, who were NCAA regional teams last season.
"What we do is we always set up our schedule to challenge us and, in the event that we weren't to win the conference tournament, we set ourselves up for an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament," Weisberg said. "Strength of schedule is a big part of that. So we have always put together a good schedule and we did that again this year."
In the SAA, Weisberg says the goal is to get back to winning the conference championship just like they have a history of doing but fell short of last season.
"This conference is a tough baseball conference with Berry and Millsaps and Rhodes," he said. "That being said, I expect us to win (the conference), and there's no good reason I can sit here and say why we shouldn't win. With the amount of talent and experience we have coming back, in my mind, there is no reason why we shouldn't win the conference and that's how we are approaching it."
"We're not going to change the standards. We've won the conference eight out of the last 10 years and we hope to get right back to that," he added.
Weisberg says he is excited to start the 2019 season and is looking forward to seeing what his players can accomplish this season.
"We have a lot of talent on this team, so we don't need anyone to do anything magical on the field for us to be good," he said. "If our guys can go out there and just do what they do then I believe we'll have a successful season."
Birmingham-Southern opens up the season at LaGrange on Friday, Feb. 8 and will return home to Striplin Field for a doubleheader against LaGrange on Saturday, Feb. 9.
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