By Dan Pavlik, Campus Carrier Asst. Sports Editor
The loud ‘pings’ heard around the Ford buildings can only mean one thing – it’s baseball season. The Vikings will begin their 2017 campaign on Feb. 7 at LaGrange.
Last year, the Vikings held a record of 27-17, while being 11-10 in conference play. The Vikings made a strong push for the SAA Championship, but lost to Birmingham Southern. With an overall team batting average of .302, they will have to get that statistic up in order to try and compete for a SAA Title this year.
One of the keys for the Vikings through this year is their pitching. With a team ERA of 4.66 last year, they were able to ride their strong arms and play a defensive game in order to beat opponents. This year, the pitching staff doesn’t have the experience of years past.
Senior catcher Devin Skelton will be behind the dish this year calling the games.
“We don’t have any senior pitchers this year,” Skelton said. “With that being said, we need to be able to create experience as we go.”
Skelton hit .324 in 28 games last year, and is looking to be a key senior leader on and off the field.
The Vikings will also need to be timely hitters. Increased RBI and runs scored will ultimately take a lot of pressure off their young pitching staff. When runners are in scoring position, it is crucial to have quality at bats and capitalize on all opportunities.
Head Coach David Beasley returns for his 20th year at the helm. Coach Beasley has the most wins of any coach in school history at 569, and counting. He commented on the strengths and areas of improvement for his team.
“I think we’ll be very good defensively,” said Beasley. “Offensively we’re going to have to have somebody step up. And it may be somebody that we haven’t counted on in the past.”
Someone to count on at the plate is sophomore Casey Whitaker, who had 39 hits in 40 games played as a freshman. He hit .345 last year with 19 RBI and 25 runs scored. Now a sophomore, Whitaker will be a very important part of the lineup this year.
Another spark to the lineup could come off the bat of sophomore Slade Dale. He had 51 hits in 156 at bats, and had a .383 on base percentage.
The Vikings are more than just baseball though. This includes players participating in another varsity sport and giving back to the community. Playing baseball at the Division 3 level has its perks, and many of the players are taking full advantage of it.
Pierce Nufer, a freshman from Gainesville, Ga., spoke about being able to be a dual athlete and play both football and baseball at Berry.
“I wanted to play both,” Nufer said. “This was the only place that offered me for both sports. I knew I was going to Berry right then and there.”
The Vikings also volunteered at the Miracle Field, a baseball league for children and adults with disabilities. This league has been making dreams come true since 2004, and sees hundreds of players sign up each Fall.
The Vikings’ first home game is against Emory & Henry on Feb. 18 at noon.