Choice not chance—that is EKU Baseball’s motto for the 2017 season.
“We make choices in the offseason so that we do not leave anything up for chance,” Head Coach Edwin Thompson said as he sat in his office decorated with team awards—a prominent glass award mentioning the team’s high grade point average displayed at the front of his desk.
In his second year at EKU, Thompson has made a variety of offseason choices in hopes of increasing the team’s odds both in and out of conference.
First, the team recruited top-ranked Canadian outfielder Nick Howie alongside Georgia natives Miles Jones, Logan Stephens and Nick Laster. Sophomore transfer Will Johnson and Kentuckians Jaxson Blair and Darren Williams were also prominent grabs.
Howie, a freshman who was looked at by various teams during the 2016 draft, is set to start for EKU during their opening series at Arizona.
Arizona, ranked seventh in the nation by ESPN, is only one of the top-ranked teams EKU will face throughout the season. In addition to a loaded conference schedule, EKU is scheduled to play eighth-ranked University of Louisville, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Thompson said the increased difficulty in competition was meant to introduce the team to newer, high-pressure situations.
“It’s a tough schedule,” Thompson said. “We’ll be playing the best in baseball at the start of our season with better depth and pitching.”
Thompson said the games will be a measuring stick for the team—if they win, it is a big win, and if they lose, they can find the problems.
“That’s the good—and bad—thing about baseball, you have to just deal with it and move on,” Thompson said.
Despite the difficult schedule, Thompson said he believes the team has improved on last year and has a chance to make strides this season.
As usual, current players played in summer leagues during the offseason to stay conditioned and practice as much as possible while away from school.
While some students chose to take classes during the summer, Thompson said summer leagues are often stressed to help players who do not have as much playing time during the season improve their game.
Additionally, a few players transitioned positions such as moving from starting pitcher to bullpen.
The transitions, while not always easy, are always made with what is best for the team in mind, Thompson said.
With two top players graduating, and additional players moving positions, Thompson said the team will look different than the previous year.
A naturally aggressive coach, Thompson said the team will have a much different style that what may have been seen in last year’s games.
With a team featuring Mandy Alvarez and Kyle Nowlin, EKU’s 2016 season featured more home runs than stolen bases. This year, Thompson said the team is much faster and smaller, meaning less home runs and more working the bases.
“I would say our team last year was more [American League], where this year we’re more of a [National League] team,” Thompson said. “We like to think we pitch well, we will play good defense, and we can hit when we need to.”
The team will also have an advantage over previous teams once EKU’s new baseball facilities are completely constructed. In addition to being an easy recruitment tool, the training opportunities for the team and higher-quality spectating opportunities for the fans make the new stadium an important aspect of the team’s success.
“New is always good—change is good,” Thompson said. “If you’re a fan of college baseball, you can come and see us at a stage we want players to sign up for.”
The stadium is expected to be finished soon, though EKU’s first home opener has been moved to Lexington due to construction. Thompson said he hopes the team can continue to achieve at a high level during conference play and become regular season champions, or at least qualify for the OVC tournament, and have a chance to play in the NCC tournament.
“I expect us to win,” Thompson said.
EKU will start their season with a series at topranked Arizona on Friday, Feb. 17 at 8 p.m. and will play University of Louisville on Wednesday, Feb. 22 at 3 p.m. in Louisville.