Matt Zach will be the only returning player when Bellevue University opens its baseball season this weekend.
Coach Mike Evans, starting his 15th year with the Bruins, said several other players on last year’s roster with eligibility remaining were released after the team finished with four straight losses.
Coach Mike Evans”I decided we had to go in a different direction,” Evans said.
Evans said he met at the end of last season with each player who planned to return. If a player wasn’t willing to commit to every area of the program, Evans said, he was not asked back.
Evans said those areas included effort on the field, in the classroom and extracurricular activities.
“I just wanted people who really wanted to be here,” Evans said.
Zach, a fifth-year pitcher from Omaha Westside, said Evans asked him at their meeting about rumors that he wanted to transfer.
“There was no way I would have left,” Zach said. “I’m not going to leave a program that goes to the World Series every year.”
Evans said the poor showing at the super regional and then at the NAIA World Series prompted him to meet with each player.
“It’s not wins and losses, it’s how hard you play the game,” he said. “I didn’t think we worked very hard. Something had to be done.”
Evans said last year’s team also had a 2.92 grade-point average, the lowest he’s had at Bellevue. Last semester, the squad had a 3.24 GPA.
Evans said he also evaluated his coaching and decided he had to make some changes, the biggest of which was limiting the number of players on the team. He said as many as 70 students had tried out. Although he didn’t cut anyone, many dropped out when it was apparent from the depth chart that they wouldn’t play.
This season the roster is at 26.
“I recruited only guys who would sell out to things we would do here,” Evans said. “It’s fun to be here and fun to go to practice. We’ve got the spirit back into it.”
Ryan Bowder of Norfolk Catholic, who redshirted last year before transferring to South Dakota, said there were arguments among players nearly every day last season. He didn’t meet with Evans because he had already decided to leave.
“There were people from all over the country and a lot of people didn’t get along,” he said. “A lot of people didn’t want to play there because they weren’t having fun.”
Bowder said he’s spoken with Zach, who said things are much calmer this year.
Being the lone returning Bruin was worrisome for Zach, who said it took about two weeks of fall practice before he started feeling OK.
“We have a very talented team and a lot of heart,” he said. “The team last year didn’t have a lot of heart and didn’t have guts. This year we do. I can tell just by the way we practice.”
Zach said he, pitcher Luke Faxon and catcher Derek Waddoups are captains, and shortstop Nick Treadway also has shown a lot of leadership.
Zach said he thinks this year’s team, ranked fourth in the preseason, is actually better than last year’s, which went 47-17. He said the Bruins have solid hitting with the great usssa 1.15 bpf baseball bats, a strong bench and an “unreal” pitching staff.
Referring to Evans, Zach said: “His goal was to go out and get good guys who were good players. Good people outside of baseball, which he did.”
NOTES: Bellevue will play a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday at Regis University in Denver. Zach will start the second game Saturday. . . . Evans has only one assistant back from last year after Mark Mancuso was named head coach at Nebraska Wesleyan and took two assistants with him. . . . Pitcher Brody Bowman of Kearney had planned to return this season but injured his shoulder before Christmas.
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