DAYTONA BEACH — It hasn’t been the breakthrough season some were expecting for the Embry-Riddle baseball team.
Postseason-eligible for the first time in three years, the Eagles (11-25) have sputtered over the past month after a 6-2 start, and now sit dead last in the Sunshine State Conference in their first official year at the NCAA Division II level.
However, as head coach Randy Stegall said during practice earlier this week, a quick turnaround may not be that implausible. Despite the numbers, the Eagles feature one of the deepest, most powerful lineups in program history.
“We may end up having three or four guys in double-digits (home runs), which is unheard of around here,” Stegall added. “The middle (of the lineup) is one of the best I’ve had.”
While the Eagles rank eighth in the conference in team batting average (.277), they’ve hit the fourth-most home runs with 47, and own the sixth-highest slugging percentage (.445). In last Saturday’s 19-4 drubbing of Eckerd, Eagle batters belted four more home runs to reach the 47 mark, which set the program record for long balls in a season with 14 games still to play.
The previous record was 44, which was set by the 1998 team.
“This is probably the most stacked (lineup) I’ve been on, home run wise,” redshirt junior Zach Howard said. “I’m just trying to put the ball in play and whatever happens, happens. If I hit home runs I hit home runs, but I’m not trying to. When I do hit them I’m not thinking about it, though. I’m just trying to put bat on ball.”
He may not be trying, but Howard has been a virtual launching pad at the plate this season.
The outfielder leads the Eagles with 15 home runs, which is already tied for the most in program history. His next homer will not only break the single-season record, which has been held by Darryl Knight since 2014, but it will also tie Austin Goolsby for most career home runs (25) — a mark he set from 2009-10.
“It’s been nice to see, especially with Howard,” Stegall said of the power surge. “He’s going to get that career record because he still has another year left. You can’t be down on the hitters right now, because we’re putting up enough runs and scoring a lot.”
Howard’s been the consistent deep threat all season, but the hottest hitter as of late has been sophomore Luis Olivier.
The 6-foot, 205-pound first baseman became the first Eagle ever to earn conference Player of the Week honors on Monday after a monster week that included four home runs and 10 RBIs.
Last Saturday, Olivier became just the second player in program history to hit two home runs in one inning, belting a two-run homer and a three-run shot in the third inning against Eckerd. The sophomore now has nine home runs on the season, and has recorded team-best 40 RBIs.
“I’ve been trying some new things with my swing,” said Olivier, who set a program record with five home runs last year during his rookie campaign, and now has 14 in his two-year career. “I’ve closed my stance a little more because I’ve had some problems opening up with the load, but other than that I’ve felt great the past few weeks during BP and I’ve just tried to translate that into games.”
Howard and Olivier have led the charge, but there have been plenty of long balls to go around.
Former Spruce Creek and UCF star Kyle Marsh is third on the team with six home runs, while outfielder Kyle Guttveg has five, including an inside-the-park homer last weekend.
The historical power surge may just be the beginning, too.
With the exception of a few key seniors — namely catcher Cody Bogart and infielder Justin Franklin — ERAU is set to return most of the lineup next season, keeping an already record-breaking group together for at least one more year.
“We’re not happy with the way the season has gone,” Howard added. “But I think if we can build off what we’ve been doing hitting-wise, and translate the confidence we’ve had at the plate into our defense and on the mound, I think we’ll be in good shape next year. It’s definitely a good step in the right direction.”