MITCHELL, S.D. – Coming off a 25-27 season, the Dakota Wesleyan University baseball team has set its sights to finish strong in a talented Great Plains Athletic Conference.
After going 0-2 in the conference tournament a year ago, the Tigers have used it as motivation to reach new heights heading into 2017. The first portion of the season will be a tough test for DWU as they open play against No. 10 Tabor College (6-1) at noon on Saturday in Hillsboro, Kan. Tabor was picked No. 1 in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference Coaches' Preseason Poll after making a trip to the NAIA Opening Round last season.
Senior Patrick Whetham (Garretson, S.D.) returns for his final season on the mound after going 3-4 last year, while recording a 4.71 ERA in 57 and a third innings pitched. In his career, Whetham is 11-10 with a 4.10 ERA with 95 K's and 34 walks.
"We expect Pat to continue to lead as a senior on the mound, and be a leader for our entire staff," said John Greicar, head baseball coach at DWU.
Appearing in the starting rotation with Whetham will be lefties Dillon Campbell (Ashland, Neb.) and Nathen Smith (Altona, Manitoba, Canada). In the bullpen, DWU has senior veterans Steven Somerville (Ajax, Toronto, Canada) and William Lutjen (Miller Place, N.Y.) that will be called upon in critical situations. Last season, Lutjen tallied three saves in 24 innings, while Somerville saw action in 13 games.
The Tigers have 12 other seniors listed on the roster, including fifth-year seniors Tyler Waddle (Huron, S.D.) and Jared Neilan (Pierre, S.D.). Waddle was a critical piece of the 2015 GPAC Championship Team as he recorded a .342 batting average with 13 doubles in 149 at-bats. Last season, Waddle finished with a .330 in 91 at-bats. Aside from playing third base, Waddle has the ability to pitch as well for the Tigers. Neilan returns as a powerful asset to the DWU lineup after hitting .333 in 2015 in 165 at-bats.
"They (Waddle and Neilan) will be looked upon as leaders as they have played some bigger roles and have been around the program," Greicar said. "They also had some great upperclassmen that showed them how to lead."
"We have quite a few guys that haven't had a ton of major roles, but have played roles in the past," Greicar said. "It's an exciting time for them to develop some major roles and we are excited to give them that opportunity."
After losing six starters to graduation, Greicar brought in a handful of junior college transfers that have the ability to compete for a starting spot. Junior Branden Oropeza (San Francisco, Calif.) will be looked upon to as an immediate contributor in the infield.
"Branden has good tempo and communicates well, but he also has some pop in his bat," Greicar said.
The Tigers will look to build defensively behind senior catcher Tramane Moore (Los Banos, Calif.). Last season, Moore hit .274 with four doubles and two home runs. Along with Moore and Oropeza, transfer Brody Kunzmann (Sioux Falls, S.D.) comes to DWU after spending the previous two years at Ellsworth Community College.
"I feel really good where we are at defensively," Greicar said. "All of our infielders can play multiple positions."
Joining the Tiger squad at semester was University of Sioux Falls commit, Reed Harter (Colome, S.D.). Harter led his team to a state championship, while hitting .533 with 14 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.
"Reed hasn't been with us for very long, but he has already made an impact," Greicar said.
Other underclassmen that will look for playing time include: Colton Boudreau (St. Clement, Manitoba, Canada), Nathan Volk (Casselton, N.D.), Gavin Reichmuth (Chandler, Ariz.) and JT Miller (Sioux Falls, S.D.).
"We are excited to get better every day and find our identity," Greicar said. "Our expectations are as always and that is to be the best team we can be."
Alongside Greicar in the dugout, third-year coach Rene Cardona will work with the team's defense and pitching. The Tigers welcome back former DWU shortstop Dominic Sebastiani as a graduate assistant. Sebastiani will assist Greicar in recruiting efforts, while coach the middle infielders.