Before having its 2020 season shortened because of the coronavirus, the Defiance College baseball team was off to a fabulous start after posting a 7-1 record on its annual Spring Break trip to Florida. With the cancellation of the remainder of its season, Defiance completes the campaign at 7-3 overall.
“I thought the trip went well. At times we played really well,” said 13th-year head coach Derek Woodley. “I was extremely encouraged with how we pitched. Offensively, we were able to generate just enough to give us a chance to win. We had some questions about our team coming into the season and the trip allowed us to start figuring some of those things out. We were starting to settle on some roles for players moving forward into conference play.
“The trip always allows us to spend time together as a team with limited distractions. I started to see some continuity develop. We won some close games and had some high-pressure situations. We learned a lot about our team from those moments.”
With seven wins in 10 games, the Yellow Jackets finish the year with a winning percentage of .700, the best in 52 years after the 1968 squad went 19-8 (.704). Additionally, it had been 31 years since DC got off to a better start as the 1989 team began 7-2-1, including an 11-2 rout of NCAA Division I Bowling Green State University.
Defiance played four doubleheaders while in Fort Myers, Florida, with four of its wins coming by one run. The squad’s only loss was by a single run and took extra innings on its last day in the Sunshine State. Overall, however, the Yellow Jackets outscored their opponents by a 43-21 margin in South Florida.
DC opened the week on Monday, March 9 when sweeping a twinbill with the United States Merchant Marine Academy – which went 28-11 overall last year – by the scores of 7-1 and 3-2. The next day, the Purple and Gold swept Wisconsin Lutheran College, 3-2 and 4-3, before the club enjoyed a day off. Defiance returned to the Lee County Player Development Complex on Thursday by defeating the State University of New York at Canton, 10-3 and 6-0, before settling for a split with Haverford College the following day. On March 13, which turned out to be the final day of their 2020 season, the Yellow Jackets had a six-game winning streak snapped with a 5-4 loss in eight innings before bouncing back with a 6-5 victory.
“I think anytime you win it gives you some confidence,” Woodley said. “USMMA was a good team that had won 28 games last year. There is no question those wins (over Merchant Marine Academy) helped lay the foundation for the rest of the week. To win some close games, by either coming back from a deficit or holding on, is a confidence boost as well. We had a little bit of everything during the week.
“On the final day versus Haverford, we were in two really good games against a very good team that played fast and aggressive. They were similar to a top three team in the HCAC (Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference). I was very encouraged with how we played.”
After the HCAC decided to cancel the spring sports seasons on March 18, DC did the same. No conference contests had been played, but Defiance and Earlham College both end with 7-3 overall records for the conference’s best winning percentages.
Individually, several Yellow Jackets concluded the campaign among the HCAC leaders. Senior pitcher Zac Brazen had two saves, tying for the conference lead, while junior pitcher Cohen Nies was second in strikeouts per nine innings (12.51) and tied for fourth in total strikeouts (19). Senior catcher/infielder Ben Bucklew (Archbold) tied for third in stolen bases with seven while Nate Kaffenbarger, a junior outfielder, ranked fifth in batting average at .448.
Kaffenbarger started all 10 games and paced the offense. He led the club in hits (13), doubles (three), triples (two), home runs (one), runs batted in (eight), walks (nine), on-base percentage (.590) and slugging percentage (.793).
On the mound, senior Jon Brown started three times, going 1-0 with a 2.87 earned run average and 10 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. Nies, freshman pitcher/infielder Brant Richardson, junior pitcher/infielder Michael Reese, junior pitcher/outfielder Lane Good (Napoleon), junior pitcher/infielder and senior Grant Curavo all made strong appearances in Florida and recorded wins.
“It’s disappointing for our athletes, especially the seniors,” said Woodley, who doubles as DC’s athletic director. “The end of a season is never easy, but typically you are mentally prepared for it. I felt really good about our start and where this team was headed. Regardless, we are fortunate we were able to travel and complete our spring trip schedule and still have some positive memories. Our players have handled the disappointment of the cancelation of the season with a tremendous amount of maturity.”
Eight seniors are on Defiance’s 2020 roster, including catcher Derek Angelone, pitcher Will Bohlman, Brazen, Brown, Bucklew, pitcher Paris Creek (Bryan), Curavo and infielder Jude Neary. With new NCAA legislation, some of the players may return next season.