by Tim Miller
The Cedarville Yellow Jackets baseball program hasn’t finished over .500 since the 2014 season. However, head coach Mike Manes expects the 2018 team to be one of the most solid he’s coached.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time and I’ve never coached a team that’s worked harder than this one,” Manes said. “The work ethic is off the charts and if that’s any indication, they’re going to do really well.”
Following a 17-30 2017 in which the Yellow Jackets squeaked into the G-MAC Tournament, Cedarville will be led by two players who provided pop to the Yellow Jackets’ lineup last season.
Senior outfielder Colton Potter turned in a team-high .381 batting average and swiped a team-leading 14 bases last season. Senior first baseman Markus Neff powered six home runs and 40 RBIs last season. The one-two punch at the top of the lineup gave Cedarville the ability to drive in runs in a hurry.
The duo landed on the All-G-MAC Second Team last season, and Manes said he expects the pair to continue their success from last season. Potter knows his role on this team and aspires to provide in more ways than with his bat.
“I hope that I am able to provide a reliable bat this season,” Potter said. “As a senior, I hope to mentor the underclassmen, be a spark to the offense and hopefully steal some bases again this year.”
Behind those two, Manes said the hitters show more promise than he’s ever seen.
“I’ve never had a team where after batting practice we’ve had to take buckets and pick up home run balls,” Manes said.
Manes also said the team will be successful on the mound this season. The team has a deep rotation with senior Josh Kneeland (3.44 ERA in 73 1/3 innings) expected to be the ace of the staff.
Potter said there’s no shortage of star power on the 2018 Cedarville Yellow Jackets.
“Josh Kneeland and Nate Robinson are two senior pitchers who have had success in the past and will help lead our pitching staff into a successful year,” Potter said. “Markus Neff is a huge bat in the lineup that can change the game with one swing of the bat. We also have senior Thad Ferguson who has amazing hands at second and will help lead the infield.”
Manes couldn’t name a spot where the team suffered from a weakness. Every starter has already been named for the Yellow Jackets, and Manes said those starters have seen plenty of at bats already.
The expanded G-MAC features teams that will prove the conference as one of the best in baseball nationally, according to Manes. Luckily for the Yellow Jackets, they played each newcomer other than Hillsdale last season, so there won’t be too much shock.
Before the conference games start, Cedarville will have to battle through a taxing non-conference schedule. Games against Charleston (34-22 in 2017), Florida Southern (35-17 in 2017), and Northwood (46-13 in 2017) will give the Yellow Jackets no chance to warm up to start the season.
“We don’t circle any games,” Manes said. “Every game counts the way the region is laid out. We are probably playing in our first 20 games the most difficult schedule Cedarville baseball has ever seen.”
Manes said that as long as the team can avoid injuries, the Yellow Jackets should make it out of the G-MAC Tournament and will have a shot to play in the national tournament.
“The goal is always to get to the World Series,” Manes said. “I look at our team and it all depends on health. If we stay healthy, there’s no reason why we can’t go as far as last year.”
Tim Miller is a sophomore marketing major and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, sipping Dunkin Donuts coffee and striving to be the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.