By: Paul Fritschner ~Staff Writer~
It may be below freezing outside with snow still left on the ground, but it’s just about time to stock up on Cracker Jack for baseball season.
Xavier’s baseball team is looking to bounce back from a tough season in 2015. It won the Big East tournament and earned an NCAA tournament bid in 2014 but stumbled to a 15-38 record last season. The Musketeers 3-15 record in the Big East left them to settle as the caboose in the conference.
Last year may have just been a speed bump on the road to success. This season, the Musketeers have a chance to reestablish themselves and pave the way for the future.
Seniors Daniel Rizzie and Andre Jernigan were both selected to the pre-season All-Big East team and will lead the squad through its grueling schedule. Rizzie, the catcher, and Jernigan, the shortstop, occupy two of the most vital positions on the diamond, and are thus the crux of the team.
Rizzie, who was a first team All-Big East selection after the team’s breakout season in 2014, is looking to rebound from a hand injury that kept him out for a large chunk of last season. The Musketeers need Rizzie to be a wall behind the plate as well as a force in the batter’s box as he seeks to get back to his .307 average from two seasons ago.
Jernigan has started 110 games over the last two years, providing stability and consistency to the middle infield. He had the most at-bats of any Musketeer in 2015 and added double-digit steals along with 13 multi-hit games to his resume.
On the mound, junior Brad Kirschner will aim to improve from his solid sophomore season where he threw 61.1 innings en route to a 4.84 ERA. Junior Trent Astle led the Musketeers’ pitching staff with 79 innings pitched and 55 strikeouts to go along with a 3.42 ERA. Astle was also named to the All-Big East second team.
The team flies out to Grand Canyon State this week to get its season underway in Tempe against the Arizona State Sun Devils. Xavier then travels around the eastern portion of the U.S. as it competes against southern teams in warmer climates before finally returning home for its first game at Hayden Field on March 16. The Musketeers’ home opener against the local Miami RedHawks is the first of 20 games on Xavier’s campus.
Eight of the teams on the Musketeer’s slate went to the NCAA tournament last year, including the Vanderbilt Commodores, who have been to the College World Series two years in a row.