With a dozen key pitchers and position players returning from a lineup that finished strong in 2017, Tommie Baseball has received a No. 8 preseason national ranking by Collegiate Baseball News.
The Tommies' 29-18 final record included wins in 24 of their last 34 games. Chris Olean is the lone Division III coach to bring back three All-Region starting pitchers -- junior Henry DeCaster and seniors Ryan Zimmerman and Drew Molin.
After hitting just .245 and averaging four runs over its first 13 games last spring, UST batted .296 and averaged nearly six runs over its final 34 contests. The Tommies were not shutout in any of their 47 games.
During the final stretch of the season, St. Thomas halted a five-game losing streak to St. John's by winning all three games against the Johnnies. They later ended a six-game losing string to region power UW-Whitewater, the nation's No. 2-ranked team, with a 7-2 postseason victory.
St. Thomas shared the MIAC crown last season -- the program's 14th solo or shared title in last 15 seasons. The Tommies had the nation's fourth toughest schedule by one metric in 2017. They played 21 games against teams that reached the NCAA playoffs, including 10 against teams that placed first, second or third in the regionals. In the postseason, St. Thomas squads advanced to the final three of their NCAA regionals, and beat a top-10 ranked teams on their home field.
Olean will start his ninth season when practices begin on Feb. 1. Another difficult schedule awaits, with six of the Toms' first eight games coming against teams ranked in the Collegiate Baseball D-III top 40.
UST is scheduled to have US Bank Stadium twinbills March 6 (against UW-La Crosse) and March 10 (against UW-Oshkosh). Weather permitting, UST will travel to Waverly, Iowa, for four games March 16-18 against ranked Wartburg and Concordia-Chicago.
St. Thomas will also play seven games in Florida on spring break between March 24-28, and open its home and MIAC seasons Saturday March 31 against Bethel.
Pitching carried the Tommies most of last season and should be a strength again. The 2017 staff allowed only 12 home runs in 47 games, and placed third out of 379 Division III programs in both strikeouts-per-nine-innings and strikeout-to-walk ratio. UST hurlers tossed five shutouts, and UST went 21-4 in games when it allowed three or less runs.
DeCaster, Zimmerman and Molin combined to go 18-6 with a 2.50 ERA with 244 strikeouts and just 50 walks in 216 innings.
Closer Shaun Falbo, just a freshman, went 3-0 with two saves and didn't allow a run in 10 appearances (14.1 innings). Opponents managed a .045 batting average against him (2-for-44).
DeCaster made nine straight starts in whch he recorded two earned runs or less, striking out at least six in each start, earning him MIAC Pitcher of the Year honors.
Zimmerman, who had two postseason complete games, improved his career mark to 10-5 with one save and 2.58 ERA with 119 strikeouts in 116.1 innings.
In his last five starts, Molin was 3-0 with an 1.07 ERA and 41 strikeouts and just four walks in 33.2 innings.
The pitchers were aided by an outfield that combined for 11 defensive throw outs on the bases.
Cobbs hit a team-best .372 in his first season as a starter. He finished in the top two in the conference in RBI (38), total bases (97), hits (61), doubles (17) and extra-base hits (24).
Smith hit safely in his final 15 games of the season to raise his final batting clip to .328. He led all MIAC players in triples (six) and total bases (99); was third in runs; and was fourth in hits (58) and home runs (seven). In 123 career games, Smith has reached base 209 times via hit, walk or HBP: 150 hits, 43 walks and 16 hit by pitch.
Gottfredsen has 130 hits and 26 walks in 122 career games, including 38 multi-hit games.
Hart has 70 hits, 41 walks and 61 RBI in 79 career games.
Over his last 22 games last year, Kohorst had 19 hits and six walks while hitting .340.