Urbana University baseball launches a new era under head coach Jake Oester when the Blue Knights journey to Lynchburg, Virginia, to open the 2017 season this weekend.
UU will take on Lincoln University (Pa.) in a non-conference series hosted at Liberty University, starting with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Saturday. The two teams will also meet on Sunday with first pitch set for noon.
Oester, who is only in his third week at UU, enters his first head-coaching job under unique circumstances but he seems to be comfortable with the quick adjustments that have taken place.
“I’m learning on the run,” Oester said. “I didn’t want to shake things up to a point where guys are uncomfortable going about their daily routines. I’ve been able to get to know each guy individually and I’m beginning to understand what they can do in certain situations.”
Fortunately, Oester has a combined 23 juniors and seniors with 16 returners on the roster from last year’s 19-29 team to ease the transition. There are also three sophomores and three freshmen.
“First off, the guys have been great during this difficult situation of me coming in right before the season. I know this season is important to them and they know it is important to me, as well. I am confident that we have the leadership to guide us and understand what the common goal is.”
Here are some things to know about the Blue Knights heading into the opening weekend of baseball action:
A good start is key for the Blue Knights against Lincoln, which finished 5-33 last spring. UU started 1-9 a year ago and never fully recovered despite missing the MEC Tournament by just two games.
Three all-conference players return: 2B – Damario Brown, 1B – Brent West and IF/DH – Mickey Barea. The trio combined to bat .344 with 24 doubles and 88 RBI last season, while accounting for nearly 40 percent of the team’s hit total.
UU lost last year’s MEC leader in strikeouts Austin Mace to graduation. The Blue Knights are looking for answers on the mound with a mix of veterans and newcomers. Jackson Everman, who is almost back from injury, is the top returning arm after going 4-6 with a team-low 3.36 ERA last season.
UU dropped 12 games by two or fewer runs in 2016.
The Blue Knights start the 2017 season with 18 consecutive road games. UU’s home opener is scheduled for March 22 against Findlay at Blue Knight Baseball Field.
“What I’ve really been stressing with the guys is just going about their business the right way and attention to detail,” Oester said. “I think if we take care of those little things, whether that is sprinting through a bag, hustling off the field or executing a pitch, then the bigger things will fall into place.”