By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
ANDERSON, Ind. —
In a dugout filled with new faces this spring, two Anderson University baseball players should stand out for local fans.
Catcher Cole Heberling and designated hitter Jordan Ball have been teammates since their high school days at Highland and Anderson. They played together for two summers with Anderson Hockett, and they now find themselves as leaders in just their sophomore year with the Ravens.
“We don’t start even one guy with more than a year’s experience in the field,” AU coach David Pressley said, underscoring the team’s youth.
That doesn’t mean expectations will change.
The Ravens have won at least 22 games every year since 2006, and their 28 victories last year were the program’s most since 2003. AU lost in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship game against Franklin then said goodbye to a host of senior leaders.
Most notable among the departures was slugger Michael Tucker, who led the team with a .335 average, 13 homers and 45 RBIs. Tucker’s long ball total alone matched the combined number for the Ravens’ opponents, and AU got just five home runs from the rest of its roster.
Also gone is shortstop Brett Detty, the team’s shortstop and defensive leader who also hit .325 with one homer and 29 RBIs.
Even with such heavy losses, the cupboard this year is far from bare.
Senior Dan Schmitz returns to lead the pitching staff after going 4-2 with a 3.09 ERA last year, and sophomore outfielder Zach Garcia is back in the lead-off spot. Sophomore infielder Jake Craft also returns, and is one of the team’s most improved players according to Pressley.
But it’s the local stars — Heberling and Ball — who truly could help make a difference this year.
Anderson is off to a 1-4 start and will embark on its annual spring break trip to Florida on Saturday. The trip — which includes games against Benedictine, Augustana, Grinnell and Ramapo in Auburndale and Winter Haven — is a great opportunity for the young Ravens to grow together.
“We can get to know a lot of the new guys more, and they can get to know the team,” Heberling said. “It’s important for team bonding, and it’s a lot of fun. You’re pretty much on your own with them (each night), and they really get to know you.”
For Heberling and Ball, no such get-to-know-you sessions are necessary. They’ve been key players on every team they’ve been a part of, and that’s carried on in the early season.
Ball was not the starting DH entering the spring, but he’s hit .444 with a pair of doubles in nine at-bats and locked down a spot in the lineup. Heberling, meanwhile, is a budding star. He’s hitting .412 with a homer and four RBIs in 17 at-bats, and Pressley said he’s shown the traits to be a centerpiece for the offense.
“It’s pretty fun watching each other play and seeing how we’ve progressed through the years,” Ball said. “I’ve seen a big change in Cole. It’s good to see somebody working hard and who wants it as bad as I do.”
There could be big things on the horizon for the Ravens.
Their pitchers have a combined 3.60 ERA through their first 40 innings, and they believe the offense will come around once they get to the Sunshine State.
“When you get into warmer weather,” Heberling explained, “the ball starts flying a lot better.”
AU will need to bond quickly. The team will play its last game in Florida on March 19 and begins HCAC play March 22 at Bluffton.
But the Ravens aren’t likely to be intimidated by any challenge. They lost a doubleheader 4-3 and 7-3 at defending national champion Marietta on March 4 and came away believing things could have been very different if they had played at the top of their game.
“Even though we didn’t win, it helped boost our confidence,” Ball said.
“It shows we can hang with the best team in the nation,” Heberling quickly added.
Pressley is counting on that confidence to keep the Ravens improving throughout the year. He believes the offense needs just one good game to get on track and sees plenty of talent in his young charges.
“There’s a lot of promise there,” Pressley said. “It’s more about how you finish than how you start.”