HANOVER, Ind. – The Hanover College baseball season is less than two weeks away and we open our annual position preview series Thursday with a look at the returning pitchers and catchers.
The 2019 season marks the beginning of a new era for Panther baseball, as the program will be guided by first year head coach Grant Bellak. Bellak comes to Hanover after serving seven years as an assistant at fellow Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Institution, Franklin College. The Grizzlies won the HCAC regular season and tournament championship en route to an NCAA Division III Regional appearance in Bellak's final campaign on campus.
Bellak will have the luxury of returning two of the team's top starting pitchers, as well as 2017 all-conference catcher Tyler Fitch (Crestwood, Ky.). 2018 first team all-HCAC pitcher, Garett Zorb (Medina, Ind.) also returns along with classmate David Herrmann (Fishers, Ind.).
Fitch will look to lead the catchers' group this spring, as the senior has appeared in 94 games for the Blue and Red over the past three seasons. The senior has a career .269 batting average, with 15 of his 75 hits going for doubles. His all-conference performance in 2017 saw him hit .321 while driving in 22 runs. Behind the plate, Fitch has thrown out 34 runners in career and allowed just one passed ball in 2018.
On the mound, Zorb produced a 5-1 record last spring, while also leading the team and ranking second in the HCAC in earned run average at 1.98. His ERA was also among the top 50 in NCAA Division III. In six of his nine starts last season, Zorb allowed one or fewer earned runs. For his career, the senior has 19 starts in 27 appearances, 124.2 innings pitched and an 8-4 record.
Fellow senior, Herrmann, has a career ERA of 3.45, as he is Hanover's current active leader in innings pitched, 201.0, strikeouts, 150, and complete games, seven. Last season, Herrmann struck out 54 batters, ranking sixth in the HCAC, and logged a five-hit shutout against Bluffton on April 21. His best statistical season at HC came in 2017, where he logged a 2.43 ERA and a 5-3 record.
A trio of pitchers will look to add depth in the bullpen, as junior Zach Chapman (Loveland, Ohio), along with sophomores George Dant (Indianapolis, Ind.) and Justin Pope (Fishers, Ind.), combined for 33 appearances and 57.1 innings pitched in relief last season. Dant led the group with 12 appearances, as he tied for the team high with two saves, both of which came in HCAC play. Chapman paced the group with 20.1 innings pitched. The now-junior had an ERA of 3.10 and had a stretch of 11.2 innings where he did not allow a single earned run. Pope appeared in 10 games, recording 19.2 innings pitched.
Also competing for innings on the mound this year are juniors Hayden McIlwain (New Castle, Ind.) and Sam Crick (Seymour, Ind.), sophomores Eli Copner (Zionsville, Ind.) and Grant Larimore (LaGrange, Ky.), and freshman Andrew Littlefield (Louisville, Ky.). Behind the dish, junior Brayden Imel (Barbourville, Ky.) and freshman Charlie Burton (Columbus, Ind.) will look to spell Fitch.
The Panthers are set to open the season with their annual Winter Break trip to Florida at the end of the month. A six-day, six-game stretch is set to begin at 1:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 25, against Cabrini (Pa.).
Contact: Tyler Jester