Special to The Flash Today
Tarleton Athletic Communications
STEPHENVILLE (February 1, 2018) — There may not be a baseball team in the country with a bigger score to settle in 2018 than Tarleton.
Last year, head coach Bryan Conger turned his program back to where Tarleton is used to residing among the top teams in the region – and at one point, in the nation. The Texans won 28 games, reached a record-high ranking of No. 15 in the country by the Division II Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, and were among the top six teams in three of the four NCAA regional rankings at the end of the season.
Two very unfortunate circumstances stood in the way of Tarleton’s return to the national postseason – a victory over then-No. 8 Angelo State that was not counted as a Lone Star Conference win due to a league rule that is no longer in place and an unlikely sweep of Texas A&M-Kingsville in the final weekend of the season while the Texans were watching on a bye week. Those two events led to Tarleton missing the LSC postseason tournament – which has now also been expanded to six teams – and ultimately the regional tournament.
To say the Texans have been waiting for 2018 might be the understatement of the year.
“We’ve moved past the events of last season,” said Conger. “Our mindset is solely on what we can control right now and that’s our preparation on a daily basis.”
Tarleton returns 14 total lettermen from a year ago, including seven all-conference selections led by first-teamers Nathan Hickey, Dylan Lemons, and Blake Adams. Joining them among all-league returners are second-team selections Jake Hasbrouck, Francisco Rodriguez, Conner Fletcher, and Eddie Avila.
“This senior group has done a very nice job of setting the tone for this team from the beginning of August,” said Conger. “They are a group that is fun to be around because they understand the concepts of hard work and fun and how to intertwine the two. That might be their strongest trait – the ability to consistently stay on point and work towards a goal.”
Tarleton has already made their mark among the preseason polls after the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association voters tabbed them fifth in the regional preseason poll and named Hickey and Lemons to the preseason all-region first team and Adams to the second team.
But preseason accolades mean very little to these Texans.
“We are excited for the season to begin with this group,” said Conger. “As the preseason polls start to roll out, we understand what they mean and what they don’t. Our goal is to be in that No. 1 spot in the middle of May.”
As a team last season, Tarleton hit .295 with 48 home runs and 266 RBI while the pitching staff – led by a record-setting season from Hickey – boasted a 3.91 team ERA with 365 strikeouts. Hickey set the school’s single-season ERA record by a starting pitcher with a 1.79 mark in 70.1 innings of work.
In addition to the large number of returners, Tarleton has added several key pieces including four new faces that potentially figure into the starting nine – Elvin Alamo, Ruben Rodriguez, Tyler Fowler, and Derek Martin, who is a two-way standout as an outfielder and relief pitcher. Pitchers Case Rolen and Kurt Johnson, along with catcher Hunter Hudson, look to figure into the mix quite frequently as well.
“Every season brings the challenge of getting your new players up to speed and going in the same direction at the pace we need,” said Conger. “This group has a chance to make an immediate and needed impact from the beginning. Time will tell, but we like the potential of our new additions.”
With 2017 in the rearview, the Texans can look forward to a new opportunity in 2018 and will begin this new journey in Houston for the annual Winter Invitational at Minute Maid Park on February 2.