Miami Baseball opens its 2013 season this weekend with the first of two straight trips to Greenville, S.C. for the First Pitch Invitational. The RedHawks face Northwestern, Michigan State and Furman in single games Friday to Sunday.
The RedHawks posted a 30-29 overall record in 2012, earning a No. 7 seed for the MAC Tournament. They won their opening two contests before falling short of a second straight championship game appearance.
Miami returns 15 letterwinners, including 2012 Freshman All-America selection Matt Honchel. The Harrodsburg, Ky., native batted .395 in his initial collegiate campaign, earning All-Midwest Region, first-team All-MAC and MAC Freshman of the Year honors.
The infield remains nearly intact with Kevin Bower at first, Scott Slappey at short and Dan Walsh manning the hot corner. Alex Johnson returns to center field after missing most of last year, with Honchel on his right.
On the mound, Miami has more depth than in recent memory with seniors Brooks Fiala and Mac Thoreson and sophomore Nathan Williams slated to start the first weekend.
Fiala (2-7, 6.82 in 2012) had a down year as a junior, but returned to his sophomore form during the fall and in preseason workouts. Two years ago, he was 7-4 with a 2.53 ERA, serving as the Sunday starter. Thoreson, a 2011 All-MAC selection, got off to a rough start last year, but rebounded to a 7-3 record and 4.77 ERA.
Williams is a newcomer to rotation after working out of the bullpen as a redshirt freshman. He was 0-3 with a 1.88 ERA in 21 appearances last year. He had 26 Ks and allowed only 21 hits and six runs.
As a team, Miami hit .292 with five players holding an average of .300 or more, while posting a 4.68 team ERA.
Miami has previously faced all three of the competing schools with each of the matchups taking place in early season trips to warm weather.
Miami and Northwestern have split the only two previous meeting, both of which came on Spring Break weeks in Florida. The first, a 3-2 win, was in 1997, while the Wildcats answered with a 14-6 win in 2004.
Despite their relative proximity, Miami and Michigan State have only had four previous meetings, including two last year. The teams split games as part of the 2012 First Pitch Invitational.
Miami holds a 9-8 series lead over Furman after the teams split four games over two weekends last year. The first 16 games took place on the Furman campus, with the last being played at Fluor Field.
Sophomore Matt Honchel was mentioned in several preseason publications in the last month.
The outfielder was on preseason All-America teams by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (second team) and by College Sports Madness (third team). He was also named “Toughest to Strike Out” and one of three “Best Pure Hitters” in a poll of MAC coaches conducted by College Baseball Insider.
Miami graduated a total of seven players off of the 2012 roster, including three everyday position players and two instumental pitchers.
The RedHawks must replace outfielders Bryce Redeker and Ryan Curl and second baseman Ryan Brenner. Shawn Marquardt and Matt Rosinski were Miami’s No. 1 pitcher and closer, respectively.
Other seniors who completed their eligibility were reliever Joe Neff and utilityman Pat Glass.
For the third straight season, Miami was tabbed second in the Mid-American Conference East Division in the annual preseason coaches’ poll. The RedHawks received 58 points behind defending regular-season and tournament champion Kent State. Central Michigan was the favorite to win the West Division.
2013 MAC Baseball Preseason Poll
MAC East Division 1. Kent State - 72 points 2. Miami - 58 points 3. Bowling Green - 44 points 4. Ohio - 34 points 5. Akron - 25 points 6. Buffalo - 19 points MAC West Division 1. Central Michigan - 65 points 2. Toledo - 60 points 3. Eastern Michigan - 54 points 4. Western Michigan - 36 points 5. Ball State - 23 points 6. Northern Illinois - 15 points