By BRIAN LESTER
Reid Rothenbuhler loves baseball and has put a lot of time and effort into the game.
But during the summer, the senior shortstop for the University of Findlay baseball team stepped away from the game for a bit.
“I worked most of the summer and took some time to get away from the game,” Rothenbuhler said. “Baseball is such a mental game and that time gave me a chance to not think about it. It worked out good for me. I came back ready to go.”
Rothenbuhler has high expectations on his shoulders as he heads into his final season with the Oilers. The former
Elmwood star is the top returning hitter and was an honorable mention All-Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection last season.
He will need to turn in a similar effort this season if the Oilers are to improve on a 19-26 campaign. UF is seeking its first winning season since 2008 when it went 28-21.
“The expectations are as high as they have ever been in my time here,” Rothenbuhler said. “Our senior class has stuck together and we have a lot of talented players. We’re looking to be a much better team than we were last season.”
Steve Parrill will be in charge of making it happen. He is in his first year as the head coach, replacing Troy Berry, who retired to focus on his battle with Multiple Sclerosis.
Although the rugged winter has prevented the Oilers from getting outside to work out as they prepare for a trip to Florida, Parrill is happy with the way the offseason has gone for his team.
“We’ve had great workouts and the guys are working hard,” Parrill said. “I’m excited about this baseball team. Our pitching is in good shape and we have some good hitters back.”
Rothenbuhler is one of those key hitters, coming off a year where he batted .333, drove in a team-high 33 runs and 15 of his 53 hits were doubles.
Other key bats back for the Oilers include senior first baseman Dylan Cintula, sophomore catcher Jordan Garcia and senior second baseman Joe Sickler.
Cintula hit .278 last season and knocked in 16 runs, while Garcia hit .271 and scored 23 times. Sickler batted .252 and drove in 21 runs.
The Oilers hit .280 as a team.
The pitching staff will be anchored by senior Drew Hargrove, who went 2-3 in 11 appearances and fashioned a 3.00 ERA. He gave up 35 runs on 74 hits and struck out 41.
Senior Derek Draper is expected to be the No. 2 pitcher and is coming off a season in which he appeared in just three games because of an injury.
Junior Jon Walker appeared in 13 games and owned a 4.61 ERA, while striking out 21. The closer is junior Alex Williams, who was 4-3 last season with a 1.24 ERA. He gave up four runs on 15 hits and recorded 11 strikeouts.
If the Oilers are to be more successful this season, though, the defense will have to be at its best. It has been an emphasis in the offseason.
“We have to be able to make the routine plays and just play solid all-around defense,” Parrill said. “If we can be smart in the field, we’ll be in good shape.”
Rothenbuhler said he has worked hard on improving his defensive skills during the winter, thanks in part to former UF head coach Jim Givens.
“I’ve worked with Givens on my defense, and he’s helped me improve tremendously in that aspect,” Rothenbuhler said. “I feel like I will be a much better defensive player this year.”
The Oilers were 12-22 in the GLIAC last year and are hoping to be more competitive in one of the toughest NCAA Division II leagues in the nation. It’s a league that features defending Midwest Regional champion Grand Valley State. Ashland also played in the NCAA tourney a year ago.
“It’s a very difficult conference and there are lot of good baseball teams in it,” Parrill said. “We know we have to be at our best if we want to compete in it, and hopefully our tough non-conference schedule will get us ready for the GLIAC.”
The Oilers open the season against Lewis in a doubleheader on Sunday in Orlando. UF will play eight games while in Florida.
Rothenbuhler said he’s ready to get things started.
“We’re looking forward to playing and understand the season is a marathon instead of a sprint,” Rothenbuhler said. “We feel like if we can do the little things right and win the games we should win while stealing a few from some of the better teams in our league, we’ll be successful.”