The Waynesburg University baseball team’s annual spring trip to Florida got off to a well enough start.
Behind the golden arm of senior pitcher Mason Miller— who is said to have touched 96 MPH at one point Sunday afternoon— the Yellow Jackets won their season opener comfortably, 8-2. But the team dropped the second end of its doubleheader with Ohio Northern, and hasn’t recovered since. Today, Waynesburg [1-7] looks to salvage its spring trip with two games against Mt. Union.
Although spring break hasn’t gone the way the Jackets have wanted, part of the reason is that Waynesburg is challenging itself with tough non-conference games.
“We’re playing a lot of solid ball clubs down here,” senior catcher John Przybylinski said. “It’s a good step for us to see how far we are from getting to where we need to be.”
For the Jackets, where they need to be, at minimum, is back in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference tournament, a place that was starting to become foreign for Waynesburg before it broke a three-year drought last season. Whatever happens down south won’t affect the team’s chances of getting back to the postseason, so coach Mike Humiston has put some stiff tests in front of the squad.
Concordia, for instance, won 37 games and made it to the NCAA Super Regional in 2019, but Przybylinski said Albion is best overall team the Jackets have faced to this point. Concordia swept Waynesburg Monday, and Albion beat the Jackets in a 13-7 slugfest Tuesday.
Although the competition explains part of the 1-7 record, the Jackets haven’t helped themselves much, either, especially in the field.
In eight games, Waynesburg has committed 18 errors, which has undermined the work of the pitching staff, which Miller said has been promising.
“Our pitching I think has been pretty strong overall,” Miller, who is starting the first end of Friday’s games, said. “We’ve seen a lot of unearned runs. That points to defense as an area that we need to work on before we get into conference play.”
Aside from Miller, who arguably should have been PAC Pitcher of the Year in 2019, some young arms have stepped up. Sophomore Cody Ray allowed just two earned runs in a complete game effort against Mitchell Thursday, and freshman Bryan De Schon struck out the first five men he faced Tuesday against John Carroll.
But their work has been undermined by poor defense, and, recently, quiet bats, as Waynesburg hasn’t scored a run in 18 innings.
On the surface, the Jackets are far behind last year’s pace. Through eight games of the 2019 Florida trip, Waynesburg was a solid 5-3. For Miller, however, there are things within the team that have improved from a year ago, things that the average pair of eyes wouldn’t see.
“I think we have a more tight knit group this year than we [did] last year,” he said. “Guys are able to take criticisms and take critiques and change things as opposed to turning it into a debate or an argument I felt like we did last year.”
For Przybylinski, the key to turning this season around is finding some sort of stability.
“I would say the biggest difference between this year and last year down here is last year we had a solid ‘this is our guy for third [base], this is our guy for short [stop], this is our guy for second,'” he said. “This year we kind of have a lot of different players who can play different positions. I think we’re just trying to figure out what puzzle is going to fit best and just kind of ride with that.”