The UVa-Wise baseball team is set to contend for a spot in the Mountain East Conference tournament in their first year of NCAA Division II eligibility.
Coach Hank Banner will lead an experienced team into what will be his 20th season as head coach. The Cavs will bolster one of their more experienced rosters in recent history. When speaking about his team, Banner said, “We’ve got an older team than we’ve had in a few years . . . probably, on the opening day lineup, won’t have any more than one freshman in the lineup.”
The Cavs look to improve upon their 14-32 overall record from last season. Coach Banner has emphasized the need to win more one-run games. Last season, Banner’s squad lost 15 games by a single run.
Banner will look to his seniors to help lead the team. Ty Lighton, a senior utility man from Asheville, returns after a season in which he hit .355 and scored 34 runs. Tye Marshall also looks to have a strong season after posting a .305 batting average last year.
Vienna native Ryan Dickt returns to spend time behind the plate as well as on the mound. Dickt led the Cavs last season with five home runs. Despite having only pitched 3.2 innings in 2015, Dickt is likely to see more time on the mound this season.
Senior Steven Klaiber looks to turn things around after having sidelining injuries. Klaiber will try to rekindle the magic that allowed him to throw 59 innings in 2013 and post a 2.68 ERA in his freshman season.
Other seniors include Bryan Andrews, Ben Coffman, Cody Jewell, Marcus Elmore, Devon Moring and Jared Finch. Andrews shows promising hitting abilities after striking out only three times last season.
Coffman is likely to see time in the outfield in addition to the mound. Jewell, Moring, and Finch will help round out the pitching staff. Elmore will be playing his senior season after joining this fall.
Also returning is sophomore Brett Yates, who posted a slash line of .329/.375/.376 in his freshman campaign. Joining Yates in the infield will be sophomore and third baseman Matt Wright. Wright slugged one home run and 11 RBI’s last season.
Other pitchers on the team that may see time this season are Kenny Ball and Chase Patrylak, who are both returning from injuries.
Additionally, Nathan Hatmaker may see significant time on the mound with his strike-out ability.
When asked what his expectations are for the upcoming season, Banner said, “We want to go out there this year and try not to beat ourselves- we’re going to catch the baseball, throw strikes off the mound. I think those two things are going to be key for us.”
“The other variable is obviously staying healthy. We’re not really deep, so we’ve got to stay healthy, but I think if we do that, we’ll put a competitive squad out there.”
Coach Banner enters this season only 18 wins away from becoming the first coach in UVa-Wise history to win 400 games.
When asked how he felt about the potential accomplishment, Banner said, “The success of a coach is based on his players and that’s a testament to not only these players, but players I’ve had in the past. I think the credit goes to those guys as far as any accolades or milestones that a coach reaches.”
UVa-Wise will go into the season looking for a tournament berth, following the example of Coach Banner’s favorite Yogi Berra quote: “It ain’t over till it’s over.” The Cavs’ first home game will be against Tusculum on Feb. 24 at Stallard Field.