Baseball is a team sport, but in order to win, a team must be comprised of great individuals. Those are the words USU’s baseball head coach Brad Singer lives by. It’s the mantra he preaches as truth and the philosophy he uses as his guiding principle.
And this year, Singer may have as good a group of players as any.
The Aggies – who play in the Division I classification under the National Club Baseball Association – posted an overall record of 16-10 and have established a 14-1 regional record this season. Those marks were good enough to solidify Utah State as the Northern Pacific – South Conference champions for the sixth-straight year. With wins against Gonzaga and Western Washington last week, the Aggies claimed the Northern Pacific Regional title, as well.
Now, their sights are set on another prize – the 2017 NCBA World Series and the national championship.
“Words cannot describe how special the feeling is to just get to this stage,” Singer said. “I think this team has all of the pieces and all of the potential to win a national championship. We have just as good of a chance to win the championship as any team in the nation, as far as club baseball is concerned.”
Utah State will enter the eight-team, double-elimination tournament held in Holly Springs, North Carolina as the No. 4 seed and will be chasing its third national title in six years, as the Aggies were the champions in 2012 and 2014. The competition includes teams from Penn State, Michigan State, Colorado State, defending national champion Nevada and No.1-ranked East Carolina, among others.
Despite big-name, well-renowned opposition, the Utah State team is undeterred.
“The question we have is, ‘Why not us?’” Aggies first baseman Jacob Anderson said. “We’re as good as anybody out there, no question. Winning this would leave a lasting legacy for us, it would mean that my baseball career, our baseball careers meant something; our kids would see it, our families, our friends, the teammates, everyone would see our accomplishments.”
A big factor for Utah State in first getting to the postseason and now the World Series has been the team’s success at the plate.
On the season, the Aggies recorded 10 or more runs in 12 games, including a monstrous 22-0 rout of Montana State. In addition, the team features six players that are hitting at above .350 with a minimum of 50 at-bats so far this year – outfielder Eric Stranski (.472), shortstop Michael Kress (.429), Anderson (.410), outfielder M.J. Tineo (.398), catcher Austin Jones (.385) and second baseman Easton Walker (.365).
“We take a lot of pride in our hitting,” Stranski said. “It’s our greatest strength. Ultimately, it’s what we do best.”
That pride, dedication and consistency has certainly paid off, as the six sluggers have helped the team record 61 doubles, 17 triples, 11 home runs and a grand total of 211 RBIs, this season.
However, hitting isn’t the only strength this team has.
Led by ace starting pitcher Colton Draney, who carries with him an ERA of 2.61 this year and has notched 63 strikeouts along the way, the Utah State defense has allowed for continued success throughout the 25-game regular season – especially as of late.
The Aggies are currently riding a seven-game winning streak and defense has arguably been the biggest factor in it. During this stretch of games, Utah State has only allowed 25 runs, while the Aggies have had 85 runners cross home plate.
“Collectively, we are playing our best ball of the season right now,” Singer said. “Offensively and defensively, we are peaking at the right time.”
“Hands down, our middle infield is one of the best, if not the best in the nation,” the senior pitcher said. “(Michael Kress) and (Easton Walker) are unreal. Having those guys behind me, it just calms me down and gives me confidence to go out and throw strikes.”
Confidence can be found elsewhere, as well.
Anderson and Stranski, along with outfielders Jaxson Webb and David Clayton and injured-pitcher Scout Droske, were all members of the 2014 national championship team and have each stepped up into leadership roles for a team that features 20 underclassmen – all of whom haven’t experienced a deep playoff run prior to this season.
In addition, Singer and his assistant coach Brett Jensen played together on the 2012 title team, while pitching coach Scott Stranksi was on the staff for the 2014 run.
“The younger guys have a lot of people on this team that they can go to for questions and coaching,” Singer said. “That’s invaluable, especially now as we head into the World Series.”
The Aggies take on No. 5-seeded Nevada in the first round of the playoffs. The game will be on May 27 at 10:30 a.m.