The Bobcats have a large number of players returning to the team after they made it to the NCAA Tournament last year.
Coach Rob Smith always kept his chin raised, even in the worst of times. During the 2013-14 season, Smith and the Bobcats won just 25 games.
Before the 2015 season, Smith preached that something good was about to happen.
Last May, it became clear that Smith’s optimism was well-founded.
Ohio won the Mid-American Conference Tournament for the first time since 1997 and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament last season.
It wasn’t just a bunch of seniors peaking as a unit, either. Though Ohio lost some key members from last year's championship team, many more are back for at least one more year of success.
There is some bad news for Ohio heading into 2016. A few players who were crucial to the construction of last season’s run graduated last year.
MAC Pitcher of the Year Logan Cozart came out of the bullpen to sport a 1.52 ERA last season, good for 14th in the country, and impressed enough to earn a selection by the Colorado Rockies in last summer’s MLB draft.
Ohio's all-time leading hitter, first baseman Jake Madsen, also is gone from the program. He capped his career with a .323 batting average last spring and led the MAC in runs batted in (50).
The Bobcats’ second most prolific power hitter from 2015, outfielder Tyler Wells, also graduated, along with five-year starting shortstop Garrett Black.
Though that’s a tough group of names to replace, the talent Ohio has returning in 2016 should be enough to sustain the team for another strong run.
MAC Player of the Year, outfielder Mitch Longo, returns for his junior year after he finished first in the conference in hits (86) and total bases (120).
Longo also was second in RBIs (49), third in batting average (.357) and fifth in home runs (7).
The senior class leading the lineup is incredibly strong. It features centerfielder Manny DeJesus, third baseman John Adryan and catcher Cody Gaertner.
On the mound, senior right-hander Jake Miller will take over Cozart’s role as bullpen stopper this year, and senior right-handers Jake Rudnicki and Connor Sitz should return to the rotation.
The Bobcats also will see two big-time players return from injury. Redshirt sophomore left-hander Gerry Salisbury slides into the Friday starter role after he missed the 2015 season because he had Tommy John surgery. Redshirt sophomore Jake Roehn, a right-hander, will look to return to his promising 2014 form after sitting out last year with a shoulder injury.
Smith is a believer in the transfer process as an important way to build a program. There are a few transfers who are strong candidates to make an impact early this season — namely, a couple of right-handed pitchers.
Redshirt senior Eddie Fitzpatrick is a tall, hard-throwing right-hander from Brown University who can be expected to play an important role in the Bobcats’ bullpen.
Junior Michael Klein was picked up from Nebraska. He looks to fill a similar role. The highest ceiling guy might be Connor McMann, a redshirt freshman, who is coming off a redshirt season at West Virginia and was once one of the most highly sought after right-handed arms in the state of Texas.