Dayton baseball fell just short of an A10 title last season, losing to Fordham in the final. Cover photo from Dayton Athletics
Sports Staff Writer
There may be snow on the ground in chilly Dayton, but don’t be fooled; baseball season is just around the corner for the Flyers baseball team, rain, shine or snow.
“There’s a lot of motivation,” head coach Jayson King said when asked about his team’s excitement as the 2020 season quickly approaches.
On February 14 in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Flyers will kick off their spring with a game against Bryant. King is confident in his team’s ability to win games in what is always a competitive Atlantic 10 conference.
“I think we have several strong points,” King said. “Our goal as a staff is to have good players and good special teams; pitching, defense, offense. All of it. We look at all of those things and try to be good at all of them. I think we’re in a good spot.”
The Flyers are coming off a 2019 campaign that saw a return to winning-baseball; the team had a record of 32-26-1, just a year after finishing 10 games below .500. A trip to the A-10 conference tournament saw the squad advance to the championship game, only to fall short to Fordham 4-3. While last season’s success is something to build on, King feels that sometimes it’s better to take stock of each season separately in order to set better goals.
“I don’t see [last] year running into this year and the following years too much,” King said. “It’s a different team this year with different expectations. I think the guys are just looking forward to this year—knowing what they did last year and knowing that that is in the past is not going to affect what we do this year, positively or negatively.”
There were a lot of positives about this team in 2019; senior starting pitcher Hunter Wolfe led the conference in wins at 9-4, Dayton was also one of the most aggressive baserunning teams in the A-10 and the Flyers averaged an impressive six runs per game. Building off of those successes will be key for the Flyers if they hope to replicate their performance and qualify for the NCAA Tournament in late spring.
Dayton will rely heavily on the play of a trio of senior pitchers who all saw success in 2019. Wolfe is joined by fellow teammates Cole Pletka and R.J. Wagner, all of whom will be expected to anchor an impressive starting rotation. The addition of graduate student Ben Olson, a transfer from Bradley who held opposing hitters to a batting average of .209 in 2019, will only deepen the team’s pitching. The seniors won a total of 18 games between the three of them in 2019; there’s a good chance that that total will be even higher this year.
“The combination of those three [and Olson] will be able to match-up with, if not be better than any staff in the league in my opinion,” King said.
Behind the pitchers is a youthful middle infield that is expected to bolster what was a lackluster Flyer offense in 2019. Junior college transfer Mariano Ricciardi hit a dazzling .324 last season with Cypress Community College as a second baseman. Sophomore Benjamin Blackwell is coming off a season which saw his selection to the A-10 all-rookie team after batting a respectable .275 on the year.
Junior third baseman Riley Tirotta and senior designated hitter Alex Brickman will provide the power in this season’s lineup; the two hit 12 homers between themselves last year in a season that saw just 42 home runs in total by the Flyers.
While King admitted that his team’s hitting specifically wasn’t productive as he had hoped last year, the offense found ways to produce runs to fill those gaps.
“I think last year we produced runs well,” said King. “I think we didn’t necessarily hit the ball the way we wanted to, but we found ways to produce runs because we needed to. We ran the bases, we found ways to get runs across, and at the end of the day, that’s most important.”
It’s a likelihood that the team’s offensive creativity will continue on in 2020 as the Flyers focus on winning games as opposed to trying not to lose them. King’s tenure as head coach has marked the reversal of the baseball program’s fortunes; their 32 wins last year were the most they have had in a single season in almost 10 years. The team’s competitive drive is all too evident as they pursue a trip to the NCAA Tournament. With that attitude and the players in place to make it happen, a postseason run in 2020 would not be surprising.