By: Steve Miller – Asst. Sports Editor
The warm days of spring beckon from horizon as the Dayton baseball team is looking forward to kick -starting the 2015 season.
Stacked with much of the same lineup and an improved pitching staff, spirits are high in the clubhouse with the rejuvinated team looking to improve on last season’s rebuilding effort.
Head coach Tony Vittorio is entering his 16th season managing the Flyers, and is excited about the talent the University of Daton will boast this year.
“We’ve returned almost every position player from a very dynamic team last year,” Vittorio said, “So there’s a lot of experience from both an offensive and defensive standpoint.”
Senior first baseman A.J. Ryan heads that corps along with outfielder Alex Harris, also in his final season at UD. Both recorded batting averages over .330 last season, and won Atlantic 10 Conference Second Team honors.
Rounding out the right side of the infield with Ryan is fellow senior and second baseman Sergio Plasencia. He started all 46 games last year for the Flyers and finished the season with a .962 fielding percentage.
At shortstop will be senior Greg Rhude, who has “pro potential from a defensive standpoint,” according to Vittorio, although the team would like to see more offensive production this year from Rhude, who batted .204 in 53 games.
The third baseman job is the only infield position not yet set in stone. Cale Dineen, a sophomore transfer from Garden City Community College, will battle it out with sophomore Nick Gobert early on in the season to determine the position before conference play begins. In addition to playing infield in 2014, Gobert also pitched 38.2 innings and recorded three wins on the mound.
The Flyers hope that Gobert’s pitching services will not be as crucial this season, as the pitching staff should be much improved.
Dayton is thrilled to bring back two of 2014’s top starters. Noah Buettgen is a redshirt senior and a workhorse on the mound, winning UD’s Most Valuable Pitcher the past two seasons. He started 15 games for the Flyers last season and tallied six wins with a 4.37 earned run average (ERA). In addition, he led the A-10 with 115.1 innings pitched and six complete games.
Junior right-hander Charlie Dant will be Dayton’s second starting pitcher. He also started 15 games for the Flyers last season and led the team with a 3.69 ERA. He was named the A-10 Pitcher of the Week twice in 2014, and threw a complete game shutout against La Salle University.
Buettgen and Dant provide the most experience on the hill for Dayton.
Bradley Horn, a junior transfer from Murray State Community College in Oklahoma, should fit in as a third starter. He posted a 1.70 ERA last year as a sophomore.
To add depth to a depleted bullpen, the coaching staff turned to several more junior college transfers, and are happy with the fresh faces. Cal Rohrman, a six-foot-five junior from Madison College in Wisconsin, will be an additional starter and will also fill a long-relief role. At the back end of the bullpen, Ben Polansky, junior from Los Medanos Community College in California, will work in a set-up role for closer Sam Brunner.
“We have a legit closer in him,” Vittorio said of Brunner, a junior from Dodge City Community College in Kansas.
Vittorio and his coaching staff are pleased with the additional arms in the bullpen, and have filled what they felt was a major void in last season’s depth chart.
For Ryan, and the other senior members of this team, the time is now to succeed in the A-10. Last season, the Flyers went 14-13 in the conference, including two quality wins against eventual champion Fordham University.
However, Dayton does not want to settle for an average conference record again. In Ryan’s first season, the team won the A-10 tournament and advanced to the regional round of the NCAA tournament.
“I have quite an experience to share with the younger guys and show them what it takes to get to that level,” Ryan said.
For now, though, the Flyers will have to work through the doldrums of the cold early spring games to begin that journey back to the top.
“I think Noah [Buettgen] has done a great job, Sergio [Plasencia] and Charlie [Dant] as well,” Ryan said, “To get us where we want to be at the end of the year.”
The Flyers season begins Friday at the Spartanburg Classic in Spartanburg, South Carolina for three games. UD will first play at home Feb. 24 against Bowling Green State University.
As Dayton’s pieces are in place, the boys of summer are looking forward to hitting the diamond in the coming weeks, and regaining the strength they know this program should have.