Webster’s baseball team has ranked first in the conference, according to preseason polls.
After going 37-8 last season, recent preseason polls ranks Webster’s baseball team as first in the conference and 14th nationally. With these rankings, the team hopes to make it back to the Division III World Series and possibly win a national championship.
Senior third baseman Ben Swords said since he joined Webster as a freshman, the team has always been the favorite to win the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC). He said it is always motivational for the Gorloks to know other teams will be looking to upset them. This means they will have to play their best against every opponent.
“We know what we can do. We know what we are capable of,” Swords said. “We just have to keep putting it all out on the field and keep working the same way we have been.”
The Gorloks are returning 25 players from last season, including Swords who was a third team All-American in 2019. The team is also adding 19 new players to its roster.
Despite losing their starting pitcher Matt Mulhearn, Swords has faith in the number of veterans the team has this year. Mulhearn was recently honored by the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for being named the Nation Collegiate Athletic Association DIII Pitcher of the Year in his final season as a Gorlok. According to Swords, the amount of talent within the new players mixed with the experience of the returning player will make the team hard to beat.
“It is hard transitioning from high school to college,” Swords said. “You can play four years of high school [baseball]and then come here and it’s a completely different system and a different approach to how we play the game, but that’s just something you have to be able to do as a baseball player or even as an athlete in general.”
Sophomore outfielder R.J. LaRocco said he didn’t really understand how baseball was really played until he came to Webster. He said most people just go out there and play and it might be competitive, but in college it is always competitive.
LaRocco returns this season after earning third team All-SLIAC as a freshman. He also said he is excited about the talent the team has this year from the incoming freshman and transfers. LaRocco was named the SLIAC Newcomer of the Year last season after hitting .331 with 33 Runs Batted In (RBI) and five home runs.
LaRocco said the preseason rankings set the tone pretty high for the season.
“We’ve been talking about our first game for the past month, just counting down the days on the calendar,” LaRocco said. “We feel like this is the team [to win it all]. We got the guys and the assets and we are ready to play.”
Aaron Hopp is a graduate student who was granted an extra year of eligibility to play baseball from the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He transferred to Webster University from Lincoln College. Hopp played basketball and baseball for Webster University but decided to just play baseball this year.
Hopp said COVID-19 put the team back after making it to the World Series in 2019. However, this year he is hoping they can get back on track.
“We were really hungry my first year here,” Hopp said. “I think we got that fire back this year. We got a lot of young guys that are coming in and are going to help us.”
According to Hopp, worrying about COVID-19 and if anyone on the team had the virus is really stressful. He also said the pressure of not knowing what would happen to their season during a pandemic was hard to deal with.
Now, in his fourth year at Webster, Hopps is hoping to get back to the World Series and win a national title.
“We are just going to get better each and every day and motivate everyone to play harder and play better,” Hopps said.
According to LaRocco, the team is close enough to each other and good enough to overcome any bumps in the road. Swords said there is no reason why the team shouldn’t make it back to the World Series this season.
“The biggest barrier for us reaching our goals is ourselves,” Swords said. “We have the talent to get to the World Series again. We just have to take it game-by-game each day. If we are able to maintain our mentality and push through adversity, the only thing that could stop us is ourselves.”
The baseball team play its first game of the season Feb. 18 in Millington, Tennessee against Piedmont University.
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Kaelin Triggs (he/him) is the sports editor for the Journal. He is a journalism major pursuing a career in sports writing. He also runs for Webster's track and cross country team, and he enjoys playing piano and hanging out with friends and family.