Last year the SAGU Lions reached some heights that in its four years since resurrection SAGU Baseball had not reached before.
First, the Lions hit the 20-win mark, and then the Lions played their first ever postseason game in the NCCAA Central Region Tournament.
Now in their third year under head coach Greg Hayes, the Lions plan on making these heightsâ more like foothills as their expectations rise.
The reasons for going higher start in the mound.
Two of the three freshman starting pitchers that threw last year will return to the rotation this year.
Robby McCans, who posted the lowest ERA of all regular starters (4.26) and notched four wins, will return to the rotation. Jake Vanzant, with his team leading five wins and 4.33 ERA will also get back on the bump.
From the bullpen, Red River Conference save leader, Scotty Smith (6 saves), returns to the staff and the sophomore could see some time starting and closing game for SAGU.
The Lions added New Mexico Military Institute transfer Mark Mullany to the starting rotation and Southern Missouri transfer Gabe Hensley to the bullpen.
Mullany’s and Hensley’s upperclassman status will help bolster a staff of otherwise underclassmen.
SAGU posted the third lowest team ERA in the Red River last year, 4.94. McCans and Vanzant finished fourth and fifth in ERA among pitchers with over 50 innings pitched.
Last year the Lions finished with their best team batting average in program history (.359), and the average was good for fourth in the conference.
Key to the offensive production and returning to the line-up is second basemen Scott Cieri who hit .372 with two home runs, 20 RBIs and a team-leading 22 stolen bases.
Cieri was a second team All-Conference selection last year. Reggie Veal also returns to the Lions lineup with a team-leading .402 batting average and team leading .494 on-base percentage.
Supplementing the lineup will be seven returnees who all posted .300 or higher batting averages last year.
That includes third baseman Derek Fortner, outfield Ryan Mulhman, pitcher/outfielder Scotty Smith, first basemen Joe Davila and Bo Adams, and catcher Adam Bowie and Fidel Lopez.
Hensley will anchor the Lions at shortstop when he is not pitching.
Last year Hensley hit .295 with NCAA Division II Southern Missouri.
He is expected to hit in the top of the Lions order.
This year, reaching the playoffs is not enough for the Lions.
The bitter feeling of losing in the playoffs has motivated this team since their sheepish trip home from the playoffs last May.
Now they will have the chance to do something reconciling the end of last season.