UCR baseball (22-32, 8-16) had yet another subpar year, finishing with only a 33 percent winning percentage. The Highlanders haven’t had a winning season since 2011 and the streak of sub-par play continued through this season. The team did start off strong, winning eight of their first 10 games, but failed to keep up that level of play as the season wore on. When speaking with us on Saturday, third-year Head Coach Troy Percival didn’t necessarily think that the team’s overall play fell but that the team played “very high competition.”
The Highlanders’ performance this year leaves plenty of room for improvement. One key factor that Percival stressed in this regard was health. Percival said that he knew going into the season if they had one or two key players go down with injury the team would struggle. The Highlanders lacked depth and it showed after injuries and grades took out starting players. “We were very shallow this year on our bench, but this year we did a really nice job of recruiting. This year we have a lot of competition at every position.” If there is more competition at each position it shows that the depth problem on the roster is being addressed which is a positive sign going into next season.
Another area the team needs to improve in is defense. UCR’s pitchers had a combined ERA of 5.19 which means most nights the Highlanders needed to score at least six runs to win. The team also had an opposing batting average of .281 while they themselves only managed to hit .259. Other teams were consistently getting on base and scoring more which explains the losing record. In order to take a step in the right direction the pitching needs to step up next year.
Percival sees the next step for the program as playing the way they did in the beginning of the season and maybe finally reaching a winning record. He felt that the team took huge strides forward in that beginning stretch up until they hit adversity. Percival explained that they “really made a giant stride with the original team, and this year I thought we had that team and the record showed that.” Percival also said a big reason why he thinks the team can take this stride forward is because of the new recruiting class coming in next season. He says the team next year will be more athletic, with better arms, and will be more fun to watch because they won’t be “sitting around waiting for homeruns.”
The Highlanders have had three players on their current roster selected in the 2017 MLB Draft including senior pitcher Alex Fagdale, junior pitcher Ryan Lillie and senior outfielder Mark Contreras. Having players on the team that are capable of being drafted on to professional baseball teams is great for the program, says Percival. On top of those three currently on the roster, Percival adds that there are three incoming players who have also been drafted out of their respective high schools. “We actually have three incoming that were drafted which shows what type of players we have and that are interested in UCR and actually committing to UCR.”
Having that caliber of players on the roster could help elevate the baseball program to new heights and hopefully lead to their first winning season since 2011.