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MAC Baseball Preview: Ohio Bobcats

Coach Rob Smith's Ohio Bobcats look to improve dramatically in their second season.

Ohio Athletics

The 2013 season was a fresh start for the Ohio Baseball team, and everyone knew coming in that it was a year to restart the building process. 2014 will be the year in which the Bobcats look to harness that talent in order to play respectable ball in MAC play.

With new coach Rob Smith at the helm, the Bobcats went 14-39, and 9-18 in MAC play. It was stage one for a team that has a long way to grow and learn.

"I think in building any program there's phases to it and there are steps you have got to take," Smith said in an interview. "And last year was a big part of it... trying to develop our culture, trying to establish how we were going to work, the intensity at which we were going to work, and then the other part of it is trying to build your roster."

Junior first baseman Jake Madsen was one of the lone bright spots for the Bobcats, hitting at a .326 clip with 37 RBI, 96 total bases, all while slugging .434, all of which led the team.

A big part of the Bobcats' futility were the struggles of the pitching staff and a constant series of errors.

Experienced bats in the lineup like Nate and Nick Squires, and Tyler Wells return, all looking to make their respective impacts on the young and improving squad. Wells in particular, will have to step into a leadership role after regressing in his sophomore season a year ago.

The pitching yielded runs upon runs, though to be fair plenty were unearned. Connor Sitz who is a sophomore and picked up some vital experience in starts late in the season. Jake Miller is back as well, having started 15 games as a freshman. Senior Sean Kennedy will most likely come out of the bullpen for a majority of games after posting a team-best 5-3 record in 2013.

"That was one of our biggest points of contention...we did not have a very deep pitching staff" Smith said. "At one point we had six or seven pitchers on the whole team. We had to convert position players... We obviously had to rely heavily on young pitchers like Jake Miller and Connor Sitz, both freshman." Smith later said: "So our pitching staff is still very young, but the positive side is that the 16-17 guys we have on staff are actually pitchers, they're not position players."

The club is hit marginally in terms of graduation. Third baseman Ben Otto is gone, as is shortstop Dan Schmidt, who wielded a good bat, but committed a team-high 24 errors at shortstop a year ago. The Bobcats lose Brett Barber who appeared in 30 games out of the bullpen and posted a 4.37 ERA as well as Marck Pallioto, who started in 17 games and posted a 2-8 record and a 6.08 ERA.

Ohio will also have to make due with senior catcher Kyle Dean, with the possibility of a freshman like Anthony Winters or Nick Bredeson filling in for the injured Cody Gaertner, who is out thanks to complications from a torn labrum, an injury he has had to fight since high school

The Bobcats never won more than a one game in any series at home and struggled to put any type of consistency together over the course of conference play. In fact, Ohio never won two consecutive games throughout the entire season.

To start the season, the club ventures south from Athens to North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia for a total of 15 games.

Ohio will have multiple opportunities to pick up momentum thanks to scheduling that has them playing multiple long home stands. Over a five day stretch from March 12th through the 16th, Ohio plays Marshall once and St. Bonaventure four times. Later, as the conference season winds down, Ohio starts another home stand where they play eight homes games between April 22nd and the 7th of May.

With a more experienced but still young pitching staff set to be much improved in 2014 and the core group of the starting lineup from last year back, the Bobcats are at least set to win more games in the MAC and maybe even run off a few nice stretches in 2014.