DII baseball: Mitch Stoltzfus has Millersville back in the hunt
The Millersville Marauders are coming off of a dream 2016 season. A team full of All-Americans and major league prospects reeled off a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference record 53 wins, falling just two wins short of their first national championship.
That's become the accepted culture on the small Pennsylvania campus, one set up by head coach Jon Shehan. The Marauders win, and win frequently.
Over a three-year stretch, Millersville has averaged 45 wins per season, taking home the PSAC East title each year. Mitch Stoltzfus is one of several seniors that have been along for the magical ride.
With a team full of new faces, Stoltzfus knows it would be unfair to put those same lofty expectations on the new core.
“We never really try to put expectations on ourselves,” Stoltzfus said. “We have a really young club. I think we have 14 or 15 new guys. That gave us more reason not to put expectations on ourselves. Even after the fall, being with each other for three months, we still weren’t quite sure where we were. We’re not putting anything on our back. That creates more pressure. We try to do one game at a time, one pitch at a time.”
That being said, the Marauders are right back in the thick of the hunt. They are 14-4 heading into the heart of PSAC play, ranked No. 14 in the most recent NCBWA poll.
Coming off of a career-year, Stoltzfus entered 2017 as a NCBWA Preseason All-American. The program’s first-ever Gold Glove catcher has seen one of the biggest changes in the roster first hand.
Gone is last season's ace and PSAC East co-pitcher of the year Brandon Miller. So are Jim McDade and Reid Anderson. All three are now on minor league rosters. The only experienced returner is 2016 PSAC East freshman of the year Cordell Shannon.
“If you had asked me a few weeks ago, I would have said a work in progress,” Stoltzfus said of the chemistry with his new staff. “I think it’s really starting to come together. We have Eli Nabholz, a Penn State transfer, and David Manesek, who is a DI transfer also. It’s not like college baseball is new for them. The only thing they had to learn was how we do things. It’s pretty much learning the culture and gelling with the other guys. Right now, I feel pretty comfortable.”
Stoltzfus was absolutely remarkable behind the plate last season. He didn’t commit an error in 301 chances, while throwing out 46 percent of attempted base stealers. He was equally impressive at the plate, hitting .414 with 64 RBIs and a team-best 10 home runs.
“I’m never satisfied with anything that I’ve done in the past,” Stoltzfus said. “My freshman year, I felt I was a good enough hitter to play, but where I struggled, believe it or not was behind the plate.
"I went to a small high school. If I saw an 85 mile-per-hour pitch, that was fast to me. Now I come up here and I’m seeing 88 to 90 every day. The game sped up, my mind was all over the place. It took a lot of hard work. The mental side is what really put me over the top.”
That mental side is something Shehan preaches to every new player that comes into the program. That's what has established such a consistently successful program. And the players almost immediately buy in.
“Coach Shehan goes above and beyond with what he does here,” Stotlzfus said. “If you just look at the baseball stuff, you go, ‘Wow, he really knows what he’s talking about.' What separates him as a coach is he’s a personable guy. He talks about the mental game a lot. He trains us to slow the game down. We’re trained not to worry about what happened in the past or what will happen in the future but to immerse ourselves in the present moment.”
Presently, the lineup is still pretty stacked with veteran leadership. Fellow preseason All-American Chas McCormick and Dan Neff bring a combination of on-base prowess, power and speed to the top of the lineup that makes Millersville a dangerous offensive threat.
“Oh my gosh, those guys are tough competitors,” Stoltzfus said. “They’re great hitters, get on base, and they’re both quick. Once those guys get on they give me and [cleanup hitter] Ben Snyder opportunities to hit them in. It’s a privilege to be in the lineup with them.”
As far as Stoltzfus goes, he is well aware of the recent trend of Marauders finding their way to the pros. That’s not his focus, however. His focus remains one that his head coach has seemingly made the Marauders' mantra.
Staying in the moment.
“I’d say it’s a goal,” Stoltzfus said of being drafted. “It’s not my priority, though. All I can do is focus on what I can control and how I play the game. As far as I’m concerned, the only thing that I’m worried about is helping this team win a few more championships.”