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2024 SEASON PREVIEW: Shippensburg University Baseball

The Shippensburg University baseball team returns all eight starting position players from a team that slugged its way to a 27-25 record in the highly competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Eastern Division and a NCAA Division II Region Tournament a season ago. This year’s squad is a year older, a year stronger and a year wiser, giving head coach Matt Jones a squad that is poised for a potentially memorable season.

“Having that big core back from last year has really helped. We’ve been just picking up where we left off in terms of how the team has jelled together,” noted graduate utilityman Morgan Wyatt (Richmond, Va./Mills Godwin (Radford)). “The freshmen and the new guys have fit right in. Everyone is getting along, enjoying each other’s company and just trying to get better every single day.”

Wyatt continued, “Every day is a new day and a chance to get better. Yeah, it’s cool that we went to regionals last year, but we didn’t win anything. It’s a new day and we are 0-0. Every day is a chance to rewrite our story or write a new chapter in the book and get better.”

Among SU’s 21 total returning players is a pair of All-PSAC East selections.

Graduate Justin Byler (Lititz, Pa./Warwick (Delaware/Louisburg)), a 2023 All-PSAC East Second Team outfielder, posted a .327 batting average last season, leading the Raiders in hits (67), doubles (15) and total bases (101). He also authored one of the greatest individual games in program history, clubbing three home runs and driving in seven RBI at Bloomsburg.

Sophomore Mike Heckman (Lititz, Pa./Manheim Township), a 2023 All-PSAC East Second Team infielder, led the Raiders in batting average (.347) and on-base percentage (.431) as a freshman. He also fared well against tough competition, registering at least one hit in 20-of-23 conference games.

Austin Baal (Palmyra, Pa./Palmyra (Middle Tennessee State)) returns as the Raiders’ top slugger. The senior first baseman led Shippensburg in home runs (11), RBIs (47) and OPS (.926) last season.

Senior catcher Andrew Chronister (Dover, Pa./Dover Area) is also back to lead the Raider pitching staff. Chronister threw out a PSAC-leading 18 baserunners and posted a .274 batting average in 2023. Other players making their return to the Raider lineup include junior centerfielder Gio Calamia (Burleson, Tex./Joshua (Mount Saint Mary’s)) and junior shortstop Carter Hinds (Warrington, Pa. Central Bucks South). Hinds concluded last season on a 17-game hitting streak.

“We have our whole lineup back,” Byler stated. “Everyone is excited about that, and the new guys have come in and put good pressure [on the returning players]. We have good depth this year. When a guy is slumping, another guy can step up and altogether give us a more solid team.

On the mound, senior Gabe Stotler (Warfordsburg, Pa./Southern Fulton) returns after pitching to a 3.16 ERA in 31.1 innings last season. Junior Jaxon Dalena (Cogan Station, Pa./Montoursville (Monmouth)) – a corner outfielder and DH for the Raiders in 2023 – broke out over the summer on the mound and will likely be penciled in as one of the team’s top starting pitchers in 2024.

Five of the Raiders nine newcomers are pitchers. Among the new arrivals is graduate left-hander Ryan Gleason (Laytonsville, Md./Georgetown Prep. (Virginia Tech/Charleston Southern)). Gleason, a transfer from Charleston Southern, who struck out 26 batters in 21 innings last spring.

“The last few years we had one or two guys, but the depth hasn’t been there,” assistant coach Sean Williamson said of the team’s pitching. “We’ve brought in five freshman arms and one grad transfer. It’s probably the deepest staff that we’ve had in my nine years here. Jaxon is going to pitch a lot for us as well. Our pitching staff is very exciting.”

Coach Williamson continued, “The new guys have been fantastic. They love to work and they want to be great. They have fit right in and have done a fantastic job of just continuing that great culture. We are a team. We have a smaller roster, so everyone has their role. Whoever is playing that game, the guys who aren’t playing are going to be their biggest supporters. The biggest thing that we’ve preached is that having fun is winning. If we can be one team, support each other and win baseball games, that is the ultimate goal.”

Added Byler, “We are not just competing for the regular season and to make the playoffs, we’ve got to be prepared to beat these teams later on to accomplish what we want to accomplish – going to super regionals and the [College World Series].”

The Raiders will spend the first two weeks of their 2024 schedule on the road, starting with a season-opening doubleheader Friday at Carson-Newman at 11 a.m. Shippensburg begins its home schedule Friday, February 23 with the first game of a three-game home set against Pitt-Johnstown. First pitch is slated for 2 p.m.

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