For many reasons, expectations and goals are lofty once again this season for the Millersville University baseball team.
Among them, skipper Jon Shehan returns a loaded pitching staff, featuring several potential pro prospects and a deep bullpen.
Eight of nine positional starters (and the DH) are also back for a squad that has appeared in six consecutive NCAA Atlantic Regionals and the PSAC championship game in for of the last five years.
This all has not gone unnoticed.
The Marauders, who were 37-20 in 2018, were voted No. 9 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Division II Preseason Poll and are ranked first in the NCBWA Atlantic Region poll.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Shehan said last week of the high expectations. “Our kids set their sights high every year.”
And although the Marauders stumbled a bit out of the gate over the weekend — dropping three straight to Lander in Greenwood, South Carolina — they still have every reason to believe in a return to winning form.
Eli Nabholz (0-1 to start this season) is the reigning PSAC East Pitcher of the Year and two-time consensus All-Atlantic Region First Team pick.
The 6-foot-6 righty went 8-4 with a 2.19 ERA last year and struck out 92 batters in 90.1 innings. He is the only pitcher in program history with two seasons of 90-plus strikeouts.
He posted a 1.93 ERA against the PSAC East and a 1.77 ERA in the postseason. Despite the stellar season, he was not selected in the MLB draft.
“He has a chip on his shoulder,” Shehan said. “He really wants to play professional baseball. Last year, being pitcher of the year in the league he didn’t get drafted and I think he has a lot to say about that on the mound.”
Southpaw Cordell Shannon (0-1 this season) was 8-2 with a 2.72 ERA a season ago and entered his senior season 13 starts shy of the MU record. The national freshman of the year in 2016, Shannon was 7-1 with a 1.94 ERA in his final nine starts last spring.
“It’s really nice to put those two guys on the mound every weekend,” Shehan said of Nabholz and Shannon. “You know you have really consistent starts to give you an opportunity to win each day.”
Drew Miller (0-1 this season), another lefty, is back after posting a 4-2 record with a 3.12 ERA last year and Kris Pirozzi, a freshman from Lampeter-Strasburg, has impressed Shehan and likely will see time on the mound.
Kaylor Kulina, the team’s leading hitter in 2018, is batting at the top of the order. In his first season at MU after transferring from Pittsburgh, Kulina was named First Team All-PSAC East after hitting .364.
Kulina played third base last spring, but moves to second base this year, replacing Ted Williams, the lone starter not back this season.
Ben Snyder, a four-year starter at catcher and DH, hit .330 and led the PSAC in walks. He hit 19 doubles and five homers while driving in 41 runs.
Jimmy Cain, Cole Friese and Dominic Hardaway are middle-of-the order guys who are likely to get the attention of pro scouts.
“I think this season really hinges on some of those position players,” Shehan said. “Not to put pressure on some guys, but just to have them play up to their capability. We need some guys to have big seasons.”