WATERTOWN, Wis. -- The 2018 baseball season forced the Sabercats to be patient and persistent.
Thanks to some unseasonable snowstorms in April, the Sabercats played just six times on the originally scheduled date during the 2018 season. On top of that, MBU had a 20-day stretch in which they played only two games. All told, they played only half of their scheduled contests.
To put it lightly, it was hard to find a rhythm.
Not only did the team have an unpredictable schedule, they also faced the internal weakness of a lack of experience. Coming into this season, the team had lost over half of its starting lineup, and this year's team featured just five players with two years of experience or more.
In context, the team had a disappointing season record-wise, as they went winless after approaching the program single-season winning record the last two years. Still, this young and tested team persevered through a frustrating spring schedule.
"The team knew that this would be a rebuilding year after the loss of so many seniors on last year’s team," said Coach Gary Garrison. "We saw this as a year of development for our younger players and a chance for some to step up to the challenge. They showed very well!"
Prime Performers, Prime Prospects
Among those new faces was Ryan Hempel, who co-led the team with 18 hits along with senior captain Jordan Garrison. Hempel cashed in for three RBI and 10 runs and held the leadoff position as a rookie. Meanwhile, Garrison topped the team stat sheet with a .411 slugging percentage
The team focused on building for the future, as Coach Garrison and company focused on laying a good base for the seasons to come.
"The team has focused on baseball fundamentals," Garrison said. "Especially since we have so many young players. We are trying to build a foundation."
In the interest of developing the rookies, the senior leadership tried to make up for the lack of games with their own example on the field. Joining Garrison and Hempel in the double-digit hits category were senior captains Elijah May and Micah Shepard, who recorded 13 hits each. May put a couple of exclamation points on his final season of hitting, as he recorded two home runs on the year. Garrison and junior standout Clint Matheis did the lion's share of the pitching.
Newcomers Cody Kuhl (six hits, one homer) and Tim Kinzler (nine hits, one RBI) also made contributions at the plate. Kinzler turned out to be a utility player while Kuhl took up residence at first base.
The weather-shortened schedule and lack of chances to get results made the Sabercats a hard sell for regional awards for the NCCAA. The All-Independent Awards for the Association of Division III Independents are yet to be determined.
On a team level, Coach Garrison announced the team awards in Maranatha's Athletic Awards Assembly at the end of the school year. The recipients were selected by a team vote (with the exception of the coach's award), and they were as follows:
Pitching Ace, Co-MVP: Jordan Garrison
Defensive MVP, Co-MVP: Elijah May
Offensive MVP: Ryan Hempel
Coach's Award: Dillon Smith
Coach Garrison lauded his players' mentality when it came to staying focused on what they could control.
"The greatest disappointment for me this season was the number of games lost to weather," Garrison said. "And the lost chance of development of younger players. The guys handled the weather frustrations in a fabulous way. They were challenged to 'control the controllables', and the weather is not controllable."
In Coach Garrison's mind, the efforts of this year's team will pave the way for an exciting road ahead.
"The three seniors - Elijah May, Jordan Garrison, and Micah Shepard - carried the bulk of the lead. We will surely miss [them] on next year's squad. However, I have five or six experienced players who I expect to be here next season. Keep your eye on us next year."
Once they are voted on, the AD3I All-Independent selections will be announced at mbusabercats.com.