The Aces return five position players and their entire pitching rotation from a team that went 32-27 last year, yet Missouri Valley Conference coaches tabbed UE eighth (last) in the league’s preseason poll.
“I think every coach feels like, at this point in the season, that they have a great squad,” said Aces coach Wes Carroll.
Carroll, entering his fifth season in charge at his alma mater, thinks the same about what’s been assembled at UE.
“Just because of the work ethic of what I see our team doing each and every day from fall practice, then into winter and now the preseason,” he said.
Carroll doesn’t put much stock into preseason polls, which he said tend to note more of what a team will miss from last year than what it gained through recruiting and offseason improvements.
For the Aces, that means the loss of shortstop Eric Stamets, who helped lead UE to the nation’s best fielding percentage before the Los Angeles Angels organization drafted him.
Without Stamets in the field, Carroll said the Aces’ approach won’t change. “The staples of our program and the foundation of what we try to do is, we want to pitch it and pick it. I think that’s very important for us as a small, private school playing in Braun Stadium, which is a big yard. We have to be able to pound the bottom half of the zone with our sinker-ball, ground-ball type pitchers and then catch it.”
Added senior catcher Chris Pearson: “We had a team meeting about a week ago. We sat down and really talked about who we are, and I think that’s collectively what we came up with. We’re not the SEC. We’re not anything like that, but we’re fine with it. We’re a grind-it-out, chip-on-our shoulder, blue-collar bunch.”
Pearson is determined to fill the leadership void left by Stamets, only with a different style: “I try to be as vocal as I can. Eric was a guy who led by example. He didn’t say much, but he was a guy who you watched…Every drill I do, I bust it 110 percent to show the guys, ‘This is our philosophy here.’ We don’t have the nicest equipment. We don’t have the nicest facilities. But we’re a grind-at-it kind of ball club, and that’s what you’re going to see.”
Carroll has a mostly new coaching staff in place. Ben Bachmann came from Miami (Ohio) to coach pitchers, Andy Pascoe moved up from volunteer assistant, and Cody Fick filled that role. “Having Andy Pascoe and Cody Fick in the fold, those are two guys who played for me,” Carroll said. “They know what University of Evansville baseball is all about, so it’s not a whole new staff. It’s been absolutely amazing seeing coach Bachmann come in and take over the pitching staff and give such a well-detailed, organized approach that was much-needed for our pitchers.”
Pearson said the Aces won’t let a preseason poll change their own expectations: “Preseason rankings, every year I feel like we got slighted. Last year we were eighth, and I know this year again we were eighth. I was a little surprised by that. I thought we’d be around fourth or fifth. But it’s one of those things that adds to the fire…Honestly, I think, I’ve told people this and I still believe it – we should win the Valley regular-season and conference championship in the tournament. I look at what we have coming back – this is the deepest team we’ve had since I’ve been in college. I have a lot of faith in our pitching staff, our hitters, and I feel the middle infield is going to get it done for us. If we don’t get it done now, I think it would be a bust.”