CANYON, Texas – Finishing a school-record 37-21, the West Texas A&M baseball team had a historic season under sixth-year head coach Matt Vanderburg in 2014.
WT started the season 24-5 and was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally this season which was the best in school history. The Buffs won 21 Lone Star Conference games (21-14) finishing second in the league standings which was the best finish in school history since baseball was reinstated as an intercollegiate sport in 1994. WT was runner-up in the Lone Star Conference baseball championship which also was a first in program history.
The Buffs earned their first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2014 as a No. 2-seed in the South Central Regional last week at Colorado Mesa University. Vanderburg’s squad played loose and had great composure in the team’s first trip to the NCAA’s, winning the first two games over LSC opponents Tarleton State (13-10) and Texas A&M-Kingsville (17-3). A heartbreaking 9-6 loss to top-seeded and No. 4-ranked Colorado Mesa, followed by a 7-4 setback to Texas A&M-Kingsville in an elimination game ended the season.
Despite the two losses at the end, Vanderburg has put the Buffs on the national map as a contender in the Lone Star Conference, regionally and nationally as they were in line for a regular season conference championship heading into the final weekend of the regular season and nationally with the ranking this season. The 37 wins were the most in school history and marked the first time of back-to-back 30 win season sin school history as WT won 30 in 2013.
The 2014 season also was the sixth time since 1994 WT has won 30 games in a season. The previous school record of 34 wins came in 1997, followed 33 in 1999, 31 in 2002 and 30 wins in both 2011 and 2013.
As a team, the Buffs hit .325 on the year which was 15th nationally and tops in the LSC. WT leads the nation in hits with 669 and led the league in doubles with 100 ranking 29th nationally. The Buffs are second nationally in triples with 27, 12th in runs scored (407), 26thin scoring (7 runs per game) and 27th in slugging percentage (.444).
On the bump, the Buffs rank 15th nationally in shutouts with seven, 31st in strikeout to walk ratio at 2.43 and 16th in strikeouts per nine innings (8.1). The Buffs’ 4.32 earned run average is second-best in school history as the 2013 squad tallied a 3.74 ERA.
Individually, WT senior starter Dylan James set the school record with 126 strikeouts this season, topping his previous best of 95 set last year. His 126 strikeouts is third nationally as he was tabbed the LSC Pitcher of the Year. He was a first team National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and Daktronics All-Region select ion, while earning All-South Central Region Tournament accolades. James ranks third in hits allowed at just 5.74, while averaging 11.57 strikeouts per game which is 11th in the nation.
James’ nine wins on the year (9-3) tied the school record for wins in a season with Justin Kuks (2012) and Jason Patrick (1995). He also broke the school record for innings pitched in a season with 98, topping the previous mark of 96 set by Jason Patrick in 1995. He also broke the school-record for starts with 15, while his 2.30 ERA this season is the second-best in school history behind his mark of 1.83 set in 2013.
Junior Paul Lujan tallied nine saves on the year setting the school record held by Carlos Maese with 6 (2012). Senior Joshua Weyker is 24th nationally in complete games with six, tying the school-record set by Jessie Rodriguez in both 2007 and 2005 and James in 2013. He also had four shutouts which is the most in school history. Weyker was second on the team in innings pitched at 93.1.
Offensively, the Buffs were led by senior Tyler McKnight who led the team with a .392 average. Junior Nick Chapman is 13th nationally in hits with 85, which is second in school history for a season. WT had six of the top nine players in the conference in hits this season, including four of the top five. Senior Matt Redfearn was second in the league and 21st nationally with 82, while senior David Hebert was fourth with 79 and 28th nationally and McKnight was fifth with 78 and 29th nationally.
WT tied Texas A&M-Kingsville for a league-best 11 named to the all-league team, while each had seven on the first team. Along with James and Lujan, senior Beto Rodriguez, senior David Hebert, McKnight, Chapman and Redfearn each earned first team all-league honors. Senior Scott Cone, juniors Jacob Caples, Aaron Blair and Dylan Dyson were second team selections.
In addition, McKnight and Cone were both named to the LSC All-Academic Team and were Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-Region selections. It was the first time since 2012 the Buffs had selections to the Academic All-Region team.
McKnight and James highlighted the all-region honorees for NCBWA and Daktronics as they were first team selections on each. Earning second team Daktronics accolades were Hebert, Rodriguez and Lujan. Rodriguez also earned second team NCBWA honors, as did Redfearn, while Blair earned NCBWA honorable mention accolades.
The season started out with a 4-3 win at Colorado State-Pueblo in early February. CSUP won the next two games in the three game series in extreme cold temperatures. From there, WT rattled off 11-straight wins and 15 of 16 capping a 3-1 series victory over Texas A&M-Kingsville to open LSC play. WT then went 3-1 at Eastern New Mexico for a 16-4 record and a 6-2 mark in conference play.
WT then had probably its most convincing series win of the year as it downed then-No. 10 Angelo State in four games for the first sweep of the Rams in school history and it marked the first sweep by an ASU opponent since Abilene Christian in 2010. Following the series win, the Buffs jumped to No. 4 in the national polls as they were No. 17 prior to the Angelo series. The Buffs went 3-1 at Tarleton State, including a school-record 15-inning, 2-1 win over the Texans as WT moved to third nationally.
Despite an up-and-down second half to the season, the Buffs stayed together in what was a very close-knit group as a number of players said ‘they wouldn’t go to war with anyone else than this team.’ WT finished three games back of Texas A&M-Kingsville in the league standings.
Entering the conference tournament in Kingsville, Texas, the Buffs dropped an 8-4 decision to Tarleton State in the opener, but battled back for a 4-3 win over Texas A&M-Kingsville eliminating the Javelinas from the tournament and then ended Angelo State’s season with a 5-3 win in 10 innings to earn a berth in the championship game. Tarleton State won its first LSC Tournament title with a 4-3 win over the Buffs.With the strong and record-setting season in 2014, Vanderburg and the Buffs look forward to the 2015 season to continue its upward climb on a conference, regional and national scale.