Wildcat Baseball “Fall Ball” Notebook
Returning to Business as Usual
Davidson outfielder Trevor Candelaria had a breakthrough season last spring, earning Atlantic 10 First Team honors, and he entered this fall wanting to build off it.
By all accounts, he did.
“We can talk about pitchers or position players, but I think Trevor won the fall,” says teammate John Hosmer. “Every time he’s up there, it’s a tough out for the defense and pitcher. He’s going to have a tough at-bat and usually hit the ball hard somewhere.”
Now a senior, Candelaria was an all-around offensive threat in 2021, while also making plays in (mostly) right field. He hit .285, with 11 home runs, 17 doubles and 32 RBIs and led the team in OPS (.960), slugging percentage (.576), total bases (99), stolen bases (13) and runs scored (40). He ranked third in the A-10 in doubles and fifth in home runs.
Having overcome some injuries, Candelaria entered last spring simply wanting to play loose, compete and put together good at-bats. This fall, he’s just continued to work, with hopes of putting together a successful senior season.
“It’s been nice to kind of reinforce some things I did last year,” says Candelaria.
Spikes in warmups
The Wildcats have been playing spikeball as part of their pre-practice warmups, and the popular game has been a hit — literally and figuratively.
“They absolutely love it,” says coach Rucker Taylor. “It’s a dynamic warmup that promotes athleticism, teamwork and communication, all that good stuff.”
If you stopped by a practice, you might have seen multiple nets set up along the first base line, with four players flying around each one and playing what is often referred to as “a mix between volleyball and foursquare.”
“The guys have really gotten into it,” adds utilityman A.J. Pabst. “It gets pretty intense.”
Who are the top players? Word is that Candelaria, Parker Nolan, Tyler Douglas and Matthew Gravely are the ones to watch.
So the real question: is Candelaria better at baseball or spikeball?
“I would hope baseball,” he says. “Spikeball’s not going to cut it.”
Hosmer backs it up
Like Candelaria, Hosmer entered the fall looking to build off his best college season.
Also now a senior, Hosmer became a regular in the Wildcats’ lineup last spring, primarily at third base, and produced his best campaign yet. He made things happen at the plate, leading the team with 35 RBIs, while hitting .262 with 10 home runs. He ranked second on the team in doubles (9), on-base percentage (.389) and slugging percentage (.523) and third in OPS (.912).
“It gave me some confidence and allowed me to relax a little bit,” says Hosmer. “I knew what I was capable of, and I wanted to be a leader for this team. Playing like I did last year allowed me to step into a leadership role and back it up a little bit.”
Peaden learning to lead
Speaking of leadership, junior pitcher Jacob Peaden was in rare company recently when he participated in an NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Forum in Houston.
The forum, held Nov. 18-21, included representatives from every college conference from Division I to Division III, and Peaden was the only male athlete selected from the Atlantic 10 to attend. The forum focused on developing personal leadership strengths, values and philosophies.
“I was able to learn a lot about myself, and I have some good ideas I want to bring back to not only our team but to our campus,” says Peaden.
Back to business
Overall, Taylor likes what he saw from the Wildcats this fall, as the team had a mostly normal session after the COVID-19 pandemic drastically altered the previous year-plus.
“The day in, day out focus, the consistency, is probably as good as we’ve had here,” he says. “I thought there was good competition throughout, and the three exhibition games (against the Ontario Blue Jays, Duke and Erskine) were important.”
The Wildcats return nine position players who started double-digit games, including five — Candelaria, Hosmer, outfielder Henry Koehler and infielders Jacob Hinderleider and Ryan Wilson — who started at least 46 of 51 games a year ago. On the mound, the senior trio of Gabe Levy, Blake Hely and Alex Fenton combined for 35 starts a year ago, while A-10 First Team pick Nolan DeVos is back to lead the bullpen after posting a 1.48 ERA and 5-0 record, while leading the A-10 with eight saves.
In all, 30 players return, and the Wildcats added 10 freshmen and one transfer to the mix. Taylor saw effort and progress on the field and in the weight room, individually and collectively, from both veterans and newcomers.
Off the field, the team had more of an opportunity to connect and build chemistry without the COVID-19 restrictions of a year ago. And they found multiple ways to give back as well, through Movember, Dream on 3 and Baseball For Life initiatives.
Now, the task is to take care of fall exams, enjoy a winter break and return ready to tackle the season, which begins in mid-February.