Hood College’s Baseball team, the Blazers, looks to accomplish a feat previously insurmountable in its first two years of existence.
Just two weeks remain before the Blazers final game of their regular season. During this game, on April 30, will be pushing towards the team’s first ever post season berth. After 10 conference wins over the last two seasons the team is on the right track to accomplishing their goals.
With a record of 5-8 in MAC Commonwealth play, and eight conference matchups left on their schedule, the third-year team is just two games behind Lebanon Valley for fourth in the conference standings. The Blazers must finish fourth or higher to compete for the 2017 MAC Commonwealth Baseball Championship, held from May 4 to May 6 at the York Revolutions’ Peoples Bank Park.
The team must win just three of their final eight Commonwealth games to eclipse their 2016 conference total wins of seven games. However, the Blazers have a much larger goal in mind.
“Our expectation each year has been to make the playoffs and win a conference title,” said Drake Friend, the team’s starting right fielder. “It feels right, and is an opportunity that we’ve been waiting to take advantage of.”
During the team’s inaugural season in 2015, the Blazers dealt with their fair share of struggles. They finished 14-25 overall, and 3-18 within the conference.
In 2016, the young team saw improvement, concluding the season with an overall record of 16-24, and finishing 7-14 in conference play. The Blazers received numerous postseason honors, with Head Coach Cory Beddick winning the conference’s Coach of the Year award, and multiple players being named to the MAC all-conference teams.
Despite the improvement, the players and coaches agreed the team had still yet to reach its full potential. For two straight years, it failed to make it past the regular season.
“I think we were expecting to make improvements, and we were hoping to have a better record than the previous year,” said Travis Schweizer, a Junior pitcher for the Blazers.
Schweizer is the team’s most reliable arm over the last three seasons, and he currently boasts a 6-1 record, along with a 3.41 earned run average.
“We are a young program,” he said, “but baseball isn’t a game of winning, it’s a game of losing, and most games are lost, not won. I feel we can compete with any team in the conference, as long as we play up to our capabilities.”
Friend echoed that same sentiment. “There is no powerhouse,” he said, “and it’s been proven that anyone can beat anyone in this conference, so why not us?”
An outfielder and junior at Hood, Friend is currently tied for second on the team with 19 runs batted in, and shares the team-lead for walks with 12 free passes on the season.
His neighbor in the outfield, Cam Esposito, has been the team’s starting centerfielder in almost every game since transferring to Hood just prior to the start of the program’s inaugural season. Esposito’s successes on the field are a big reason why the team finds itself in contention for a postseason run.
The Blazers have also received a boost this season from some key new pieces, including Jordan Patterson, who was forced to redshirt in 2016, due to injury. After becoming the team’s starting shortstop during the fall, he is currently batting .379 and leads the team with 22 runs batted in.
Patterson’s fellow first-year teammates, Josh Greenberg and Brad Sawyer, have also played a key role in the team’s success to this point. Greenberg, batting .405 with 16 RBIs, has added to an already impressive middle of the lineup for the Blazers, while Sawyer currently holds the team’s best earned run average of 2.25.
These efforts, along with a lineup already including proven hitters such as Brooks Warrenfeltz, Dylan Johnson, and Josh Gall, have helped position the Blazers for a late season run at their ultimate goal: a conference championship. While the team still remains on the outside looking in, they’re well aware that anything can happen as they sit two games out of that final playoff spot.
“With eight games left, anything can happen, but the team seems to be progressing through the year, and some guys are really starting to find their rhythm to help contribute to the team near the end of the season,” Schweizer said.
The Blazers will be back in action at Nymeo Field at Harry Grove Stadium on Monday, April 17, when they look to complete the series sweep of conference-rival, the Messiah College Falcons.