If you are a person who pays attention to MAC baseball, you know that Akron has struggled to win games for a long, long time. In case you're new to MAC baseball, you should know that only the top eight teams get into the tournament, regardless of division.
Before 2014, the last time Akron even placed in the top eight was 2005. Yes, that's eight (!!!) straight seasons in a row failing to be in the top eight.
Last year's Zips were able to notch one victory in the final series of the season over Kent State to cling a spot in the tournament. Led by pitchers John Valek III, Pat Dyer, and J.T. Brubaker, the Zips made a tournament run that included a 12-inning walk-off base on balls after a robbed grand slam.
In the MAC final against Kent State, Dyer threw a gem in a 3-0 loss. The offense just couldn't get anything going, and when they did, the Flashed snuffed it out.
All three of the main starting pitchers are returning. Last year, it was Valek on Fridays, Dyer on Saturdays, and Brubaker on Sunday. Don't be surprised if this is the same in 2015. In 2014, Valek went 6-4 in 14 starts with a 2.77 ERA. Valek also led the team in innings pitched with 91 in his sophomore season.
Dyer has had an up and down career overall. In 2014, he went 4-5 in 12 starts with a 4.04 ERA in 64.2 innings. Brubaker finished 2014 with a 3-5 record in 12 starts with an ERA of 4.02.
One of Akron's offensive leaders in 2014 was center fielder Devan Ahart. He was a junior last year and he hit .311 while knocking in 32 RBI and going 27-33 on stolen bases. He should be great this year, right? Nope, he was drafted in the 16th round in 2014 by the Los Angeles Dodgers. This has created a void in the field, at the plate, and on the base paths.
Luckily, red shirt senior Matt LaRocca is coming back in 2015. LaRocca started most games playing first base, and he would come in for relief at pitcher as well. He was a .228 hitter in 2014 and led the Zips in home runs with five. While coming out of the "bullpen", LaRocca appeared 16 times and finished with a record of 1-2 with a 3.33 ERA. Though his hitting and pitching stats may not seem that impressive, LaRocca is one of the most important players on the team. He led the team with five saves last season, so he will likely fill that role once again.
Another returning Zip that has a lot to prove is senior Matt Rembielak. Yes, he is the head coach's son. Rembielak normally plays shortstop and is returning without his normal second baseman James Sheltrown, who graduated after the 2014 season. He should be a leader on this team in 2015, and he will need to improve his .240 batting average to do so. Rembielak was only able to come up with 21 RBI in 2014, and he will need to capitalize with runners in scoring position as a senior.
The bullpen was decent for the Zips in 2014. One of the best relievers was then-freshman Masashi Sakamoto from Dublin, Ohio. He led the team in appearances with 20, while making no starts. His 3-2 record and one save were impressive. He also had the best ERA of the entire pitching staff with an excellent 1.91 mark.
The rest of the bullpen is solid as well. Ten members of last year's relievers are returning. Some of the notables are Joe Cochran, Myles McVeigh, Evan Jensen, and Zach Beaver. The only problem with the bullpen is that every single one of the relievers is right handed. The only returning players that pitched left handed in 2014 are Dyer and Valek, and a position player who appeared in three innings all year, sophomore Daulton Mosbarger.
The Zips open the season with a three-game series at Furman on February 13-15.
2015 In-conference schedule:
March 20-22: at Eastern Michigan
March 27-29: vs. Toledo
April 3-5: at Ball State
April 10-12: vs. Northern Illinois
April 17-19: vs. Miami
April 24-26: at Ohio
May 1-3: at Bowling Green
May 8-10: vs. Buffalo
May 14-16: vs. Kent State
The rest of the schedule can be found at GoZips.com.