Garrett Coleman, assistant sports editor
In sports, success is measured universally by one thing: championships. Spectators generally don’t drool over their team unless they have a chance at winning championships. UVU baseball has had its share of championships, winning three of the four conference championships while in the Great West. Moving to the WAC will allow the Wolverines to compete against some of the nation’s best.
“Our expectation level wasn’t reached and that devastated us as a program,” explained head coach Eric Madsen. “Our only expectation is to win and we weren’t able to reach our goal and that devastated us.”
This season saw the Wolverines face a variety of teams, from top-ranked opponents to in-state rivals and even future WAC foes. The team had mixed success against these opponents. The collective expert opinion coming into the season predicted a mid-conference level finish, and another solid campaign for a team that lost over one-fourth of its previous year’s roster.
Among the early season highlights, was a win against the then-No.10 ranked Arizona Wildcats. The victory invited the idea that it would be another season to remember. However, the Wolverines could never catch a hot streak like they have in past seasons and ended the non-conference schedule on a low note, losing six straight before opening up conference play.
The Wolverines began the season with a winning streak of 29 games over Great West opponents. That streak was extended to 31 when UVU won its first two conference games, but ended abruptly with a loss against NJIT. The rollercoaster ride continued for the team, which never really found the groove it needed to make a final push toward the GWC championship. UVU finished with a 15-9 conference record; the inability to win series against below-average opponents and close out sweeps preventing the Wolverines from finishing the regular season atop the GWC for the first time.
Despite a late push for the top seed, the Wolverines headed into the Conference tournament as the No. 4 seed. A disappointing two game exit from the tournament capped the season, the team falling short of its goal to win a final GWC championship. UVU finished with a 24-30 record.
The season did feature more individual accomplishments, as five athletes were noticed for their excellent play. Senior shortstop Kai Hatch was named first-team All-Conference for the third straight year. The Wolverines had four other players named to the second-team. Senior pitchers Jeff Barto and Justin Campbell, junior outfielder Riley White and freshman first baseman Mark Kruger joined Hatch as All-GWC team members.
The future is bright as UVU heads into the WAC. The conference re-alignment gives the baseball program the chance to compete for an automatic bid to compete in the NCAA regionals. Coach Madsen welcomes the opportunities that lie ahead.
“We are excited.” Madsen said, “when you have this result, you can expect the guys to come out and be hungry and I’m excited.”
The team hopes to continue improving and replicate its past success in the inaugural year of the WAC. The team loses eight seniors, who will be replaced in the lineup with the young, talented players that joined UVU this season.
“Our freshmen played well down the stretch.” Madsen explained. “As the year progressed, so did they and that’s something to be excited about.”
Though the Wolverines were unable to hoist one last trophy, the UVU baseball program has created a winning tradition during its time in the GWC, which can be emulated by future Wolverine teams.