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SEASON PREVIEW: Wolverines open spring this weekend in Kentucky

SEASON PREVIEW: Wolverines open spring this weekend in Kentucky

DEARBORN, Mich. – The University of Michigan-Dearborn baseball team opens the spring portion of the 2019-20 schedule with three games this weekend against Robert Morris University-Illinois in Florence, Ky.

UM-Dearborn went 3-5 in the fall and looks to start strong against the Eagles before embarking on its annual spring training trip to Florida next week.

The third-year program surprised the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference in 2019, finishing just one game out of the league postseason and at or near the top of almost all offensive categories in the conference under Head Coach Matt Cunningham.

"We've come a long way in a couple of years and that's on the shoulders of a bunch of guys that work hard and represent us well on and off the field," Cunningham said. "We had some struggles in year one, especially with a particularly young roster, but these guys never backed down from the challenge. We're deeper all the way around - in the lineup, pitching staff, and coaching staff. We still have work to do to meet our goals, but we're hungry and ready. We won't be sneaking up on anyone in the WHAC in year three."

The Wolverines finished 2019 with a record of 19-24-1 overall and 11-11 in the WHAC, good enough for seventh place in a tightly contested conference race. The team played nine games in the fall, winning three of four against Miami-Hamilton and dropping three at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. The Wolverines fell in the opener of a nonconference series with WHAC power, the University of Northwestern Ohio. UM-Dearborn leads game two 2-1 in the sixth inning of game two, which is scheduled to be concluded at a date to be determined this spring.

The Wolverine lineup returns much of its production from a year ago, including All-WHAC First Teamers Ryan Beadle and Andrew Capone, as well as Second Team honoree Shaun Hannibal. Beadle, now a senior, had the highest batting average of any returner last season, hitting .355 with four home runs, 10 doubles, 40 RBIs and 33 runs scored in 2019.

Capone, a junior, who has been a staple in centerfield for the Wolverines since game one of year one, finished 2019 with a .350 average, 47 runs scored, seven steals, nine doubles, three triples, and 30 RBIs. Hannibal, a senior shortstop, led the team with 61 hits a year ago, batting .345 with 42 runs, 11 doubles, two home runs, 31 RBIs and eight steals.

Senior Patrick Downing returns after hitting .308 with 27 RBIs and a team-high nine steals last year, while junior Justin Dolney looks to build on his 48 hits, 12 doubles, three home runs and 37 RBIs from a year ago.

UM-Dearborn will try to replace the production of Daniel Kerr, who led the team in hitting last season and is back for 2020 as an assistant coach.

"We return most of our lineup from last year including All-WHAC performers in Beadle, Capone, and Hannibal," Cunningham said. "Dolney had a great fall and is poised for a breakout season in the middle of our lineup. We'll need production from top to bottom - especially after losing our most accomplished player in our program's young history in Danny Kerr - but we're optimistic we're going to get contributions throughout the lineup."

The pitching staff looks stronger in 2020 with the return of several veterans and the debut of talented arms in the rotation and bullpen. Junior John Dyda is set for his third season after throwing a team-high 63.2 innings a year ago. He racked up team-best 62 strikeouts for the Wolverines.

Sophomore Garrett Davis led UM-Dearborn with four wins in 2019, tossing 53 innings in nine appearances, while Dan Bos enters his junior year after recording two wins and 24 strikeouts last season. Sophomore transfer Tyler Koons leads the new arms for the Wolverines after transferring from Eastern Michigan University prior to the fall. Koons pitched two games in the fall, picking up his first win while striking out nine in nine innings.

"This is the deepest and most experienced our staff has been and it's anchored at the top by John Dyda and Tyler Koons," Cunningham said. "We've seen some great improvements and we hope the competition brings out the best in this group."

After three games against Robert Morris this weekend, UM-Dearborn will play a total of 11 games from Feb. 29 to March 7 in Florida, starting at the RussMatt Invitational, followed by the Warner University Invitational. On March 6, the Wolverines are scheduled to play No. 2 St. Thomas University and No. 7 Bellevue University.

The WHAC season starts with two games against Siena Heights University on March 21 in Adrian, Mich., while the first true home series for the Wolverines is set for April 4 at Fisher Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich., against Cleary University.

Comerica Park, the home of the Detroit Tigers, will be the setting for a nonconference game against NCAA Division II program Saginaw Valley State University on April 14, while UM-Dearborn will host a pair of series April 18-19 at Fisher Stadium against WHAC frontrunners (No. 8) Indiana Tech and Northwestern Ohio. The regular season is scheduled to conclude against Rochester University on Senior Day on April 26 at Harwell Field on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit.