The Northern Kentucky Baseball team will open up the season Feb. 19 with a four-game series on the road against Troy University. Here are some numbers to watch as the season starts and progresses.
1: This will be the first season NKU will play in the Horizon League, after playing four seasons in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The schools in the A-Sun are located in warm-weather states like Florida and South Carolina and are able to play and practice outside for the majority of the year. Being in a crazy weather climate, the Norse were at a distinct disadvantage to the teams in that league
“They don’t even have indoor batting cages down there,” NKU Head Coach Todd Asalon said. “We had to go from the gym to playing outside against their live pitching and it was very difficult for us.”
Now the Norse will face competition that has the same northern, cold spring climate as they do, such as Valparaiso and Milwaukee. This, along with shorter bus rides to games, will help the Norse in their fourth year of being in Division I.
“I won’t be able to wear short sleeves during batting practice anymore,” Asalon said. “But hopefully our guys won’t wear down and we will be able to compete.”
7: Seven position players will be returning for the Norse this season, including senior center fielder and captain Anthony Vagnier and redshirt senior right fielder Quint Heady. The Norse also add seven transfer players and five freshman this year, who will look to the experience of the seniors for guidance as the season progresses.
“Being here all four years, I feel like I have an advantage helping others get through the daily struggles as an athlete and a student and showing them right from wrong,” Vagnier said.
Part of Heady’s role is to help the freshman know what to expect at the collegiate level.
“I know when I was a freshman I was too timid and I was a little fearful facing the bigger pitchers throwing 90 mph,” Heady said. “But the biggest thing I tell the younger guys is know that you are good. You are Division I players and are good enough to be here.”
.271: Norse batting average last season. While this is a solid team batting average, the Norse will have a challenge meeting this number again, after losing their two best hitters Cole Bauml and Caleb Lonkard, who hit .350 and .305 respectively. Bauml was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 10th round of the Major League Baseball draft.
“It will be hard to replace a 10th round pick,” Asalon said. “But our offense should be really good this year.
Sophomore pitcher/1st baseman Trey Ganns will lead the Norse offense this season. Ganns hit .296 last season with 25 RBIs and a .432 slugging percentage, all of which are tops among returning players for the Norse. For his efforts, Ganns was awarded to the Atlantic Sun Conference All-Freshman team.
“He was so good at the plate last year,” Asalon said. “You can’t teach the size and power that he has.”
Ganns has already added to his trophy case this season, when he was selected to the preseason Horizon League Second Team by the website College Sports Madness.
“It’s an honor and it’s great to be recognized,” Ganns said. “But my biggest thing is performing during the season and helping my team win.”
Heady will also be a leader for the Norse offense this season. He hit .284 and stole 11 bases without being caught last season.
“I need to get on base more this year so I can steal more bases,” Heady said. “I feel like I have gotten faster from last year and I have the confidence to go out and do it.”
Heady hopes that his final season as a Norse will be his best season yet.
“I think we are the best we’ve ever been as a team,” Heady said. “I really think we can go far this year.”
16: Years Todd Asalon has been head coach. During that time he has accumulated a 473-390 record, mostly in Division II He continues to guide the transition to Division I and now the transition to the Horizon League.
“We’ve gotten better each year for sure,” Asalon said.
This will be the last year the Norse will be ineligible for NCAA postseason play, which Asalon hopes will bring more excitement to the program.
“We’ve continued to get better players,” Asalon said. “It’s been hard to get kids excited about coming here knowing they wouldn’t be able to play in the postseason. But now that is over it will be easier to bring players in.”
Players have continued to respond and improve under Asalon, allowing the program to continue to grow.
“He’s really helped me become more of a hard worker and has helped me prove I can play here,” Vagnier said.
6.39: Last season’s earned run average (ERA) for the Norse pitching staff. This must improve for the Norse to have any success in the Horizon League this season. Opponents in the A-Sun hit .328 and had 28 home runs against the Norse last season. NKU pitchers also walked 103 batters in the A-Sun, while Norse hitters only walked 56 times.
“We can’t give away free bases,” Asalon said. “Our philosophy is to pitch inside but we can’t pitch inside if we hit guys. You’re only as good as your pitching staff.”
Senior Tyler Miller is the only returning pitcher who had an ERA under 4 last year, with a 3.72 ERA and 28 strikeouts.
“We have a lot of good pitchers this year,” Miller said. “I try to help and see if I can see flaws in mechanics and do anything I help improve their games.”
Ganns, who pitched in nine games last season, will be relied on to be a consistent option on the mound for the team this year. He posted a 7.71 ERA in 11 innings, but struck out 10 batters in those innings. Those numbers should improve in Ganns’ sophomore season.
“He’s a gifted ballplayer,” Asalon said. “The pressure will be on him and he will have to be mentally tough this year because everyone knows who he is now.”
Justin Watts and Pat Kelley round out the starting rotation, while Jordan Menfee is a young pitcher Asalon really likes.
“He may be the highest draft pick we have in three years.” Asalon said. “But all of these guys can really chuck it.”