Xavier baseball begins title defense

By: Paul Fritschner ~Staff Writer~

Newswire photo by Tom vonAhlefeld | Junior Garrett Schilling looks to be a big part of the Musketeers’ success in 2017.

The boys of summer, or in this case, the boys of spring, are back in action at Xavier. The baseball team’s season commenced over the weekend as it split a four game series with Troy University.

This year is chock-full of expectations for a team that is coming off one of its most successful seasons in program history. Last year, it won 14 of its 18 conference games en route to a Big East regular season championship, won the Big East tournament to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament, reached a regional final for the first time ever and had two players selected in the Major League Baseball (MLB) Draft.

The thing about this year, though, is that the team is projected to be even better. While it lost its starting shortstop (Andre Jernigan) and catcher (Dan Rizzie) to the draft, it returns six everyday starters and the majority of its pitching staff.

The ace, junior lefty Zac Lowther, is coming off a phenomenal summer in the prestigious Cape Cod League, where he pitched his way onto its allstar team. Another key piece of the rotation this year will be junior Garrett Schilling, who was the closer last year and was extremely effective, breaking the school record in saves with 14 to go along with his 1.91 ERA.

As a team, seven Musketeers were selected to the All-Big East preseason team, including Lowther and Schilling as well as junior Nate Soria, sophomore Chris Givin, junior Will LaRue, junior Rylan Bannon and senior Joe Gellenbeck. The awards don’t stop there, because Gellenbeck was also selected as the preseason Big East Player of the Year.

This was the first time ever that a Xavier player had been selected, and he’s coming off a season in which he hit 13 homers, 16 doubles, 70 hits and scored 41 runs.

Over the weekend at Troy, a couple of freshmen stepped up to the plate in a big way. Conor Grammes hit .471 over the four games and had a homer, three doubles and five RBI. His performance earned him a spot on the Big East Honor Roll. Nate Monastra made his Xavier debut in emphatic fashion, going 2-2 with a double and a homer in his first two collegiate at-bats.

Xavier is looking to break into the next level of college baseball programs this season, separating itself from the rest of the Big East and becoming regulars in the NCAA Tournament. The Musketeers have won the Big East twice in their first three seasons in the conference, providing head coach Scott Googins with a glimpse of what this program can become. Conference titles are outstanding, but the Musketeers should set their sights on Omaha.

The Musketeers are on the road for about the first month of the season to play in warmer climates until they return home to Hayden Field on March 19.