BELLEVUE, Neb. -- With the 2018 season squarely in the rearview mirror, the Bellevue University baseball team has their sights set on making a return trip to the NAIA National Tournament for 22nd time in program history and an eye towards their 14th Avista-NAIA World Series appearance.
The Bruins are coming off their eighth-straight NAIA National Tournament appearance and are looking to make it a ninth in 2019. BU, chosen first in the NSAA Preseason Coaches' Poll after snagging six of seven first place votes and six voting points ahead of second place pick Mayville State, 48-42, begins the year ranked No. 23 nationally.
Duane Monlux returns for his ninth season as head coach at Bellevue where he is 345-131-3 (.723) and has won at least a conference regular-season or tournament championship in seven of his eight seasons to date. He will be joined in the dugout by long-time assistants in associate head coach Mitch Schmidt, pitching coach Shawn Malley, and assistant coaches Richie Moore, Jake Aylward, and Ozzy Gonzalez.
Bellevue heads south to Chickasha, Okla. as they open the season this weekend for a four-game series at Bill Smith Ballpark against No. 11 Science & Arts. Saturday's twin-bill is set for 1 p.m. while the Sunday double-header's first pitch is slated for noon.
As is usual, the Bruins begin the year with a long stretch of 21 games away from home. During that stretch, Bellevue faces 13 nationally ranked teams and another team receiving votes in the preseason NAIA Coaches' Poll.
When BU returns north, they face some additional tough tests right away. Their first two midweek contests come against area rivals York and Midland before the Bruins host (RV) Mayville State in arguably the biggest series of the NSAA regular-season.
Leading the returners is senior shortstop Kory Longaker who earned Second Team All-American and NSAA Player of the Year honors a season ago after slashing .399/.456/.610 with 27 extra-base hits, 47 RBI, 21 stolen bases, and 63 runs scored.
Junior first baseman Riley Baasch (.316/.410/.636, 17 HR, 60 RBI) and senior utility man JT Patterson (.317/.399/.624, 16 HR, 57 RBI) should form a potent duo as they look to continue to provide thunder in the middle of the BU lineup.
Three other regular starters return for BU in senior catcher Travis Tanaka (.332/.401/.495, 19 XBH, 35 RBI) and senior outfielders Austin Alexander (.305/.349/.578, 19 XBH, 43 RBI) and Stuart Eurich (.362/.479/.595, 14 XBH, 29 RBI).
On the hill, Bellevue returns just two pitchers who logged 30+ innings a season ago. Senior right-handers Stephen Knapp (5-3, 2.91 ERA) and Brandon Desjardins (2-1, 4.59 ERA) both look to build on solid debut seasons for the Bruins.
After having a limited role a season ago, Mitch Savine (4.50 ERA, 4.0 IP) has emerged as a viable option to slot into the rotation as one of BU's weekend starters. Additionally, Patterson emerged as a bullpen option and will see time in a relief role after not having appeared on the bump a season ago.
The Bruins welcome a total of 17 newcomers with several juniors who are expected to be impact players. Among them are a pair of hurlers in southpaw starter Anthony Alvarado (Columbia Basin College; 6-5, 3.85 ERA) and right-hander Derek Browne (Clark College; 8-2, 8 SV, 1.23 ERA) who should slot in as BU's closer.
Catcher Hunter Jury (College of the Redwoods; .315/.442/.430, 17 XBH, 56 RBI) is likely to handle primary pitch-calling duties and infielders Wataru Kazama (Sussex County CC; .347/.455/.522, 20 XBH, 19 SB) and Cody Banks (.340/.444/.470, 29 XBH, 83 RBI) are both strong defenders and consistent hitters.
Outfielders Daniel Teasley (Santa Rosa JC; .323/.394/.419. 23 XBH, 51 RBI) and Tommy Hansen (Kishwaukee College; .308/.388/.404, 20 XBH, 29 SB) are both multi-dimensional outfielders who should aid the club both offensively and defensively.