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Miami baseball developing ‘killer instinct’ to open 2020 season

<p>Cristian Tejada takes a hearty cut at a pitch, as his teammates look on from the dugout. Tejada finished the 2019 season with a .339/.453/.497 slash line and 26 runs batted in.</p>

Cristian Tejada takes a hearty cut at a pitch, as his teammates look on from the dugout. Tejada finished the 2019 season with a .339/.453/.497 slash line and 26 runs batted in.

It’s far from spring in Oxford.

Last weekend, it snowed on and off, but the Miami RedHawks will still play baseball this upcoming weekend. 

After a 37-19 (15-11 MAC) finish in 2019, Miami ranks No. 33 in the 2020 Preseason National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll. The RedHawks are the only Mid-American Conference team listed in the top 35. 

Vanderbilt, Louisville and Texas Tech are the top three schools. Ohio State is just one slot above Miami at No. 32, and Texas A&M, Miami’s first opponent this season is ranked No. 21. 

To get ready for the Aggies, the RedHawks have focused on two things: switching their mindsets and handling the baseball with care.

“We’ve got to develop a bit of a killer instinct,” head coach Danny Hayden said following his team’s first preseason practice on Jan. 24. “We’ve got to have that feeling when we’re up a run, we’re going to keep it, and when we’re down a run, we’re going to tie the game or get back to the lead.” 

During practice, Hayden and his team have focused on “taking care of the baseball,” meaning they are making sure no defensive errors occur on the field. 

“We have to be very confident that we can take care of the baseball, no matter what happens,” Hayden said. 

Whereas “taking care of the baseball” is easily practiced in training, a “killer instinct” is an attitude that continues to develop. It will hopefully begin to take shape when the team starts playing games against other teams. 

Players, old and new, are showing their talent, as they are staying motivated to pursue the MAC Championship — something they haven’t won since 2005.

Star infielder Landon Stephens is returning for his senior year. His batting average was .310 in 229 at-bats last season, an improvement from his 2018 batting average.

Nick Urbantke, Shane Smith and Cole Gnetz led the team in earned run average last season, but they all graduated. Miami will be tasked with finding suitable arms to replace those players on the mound.

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Sophomore Sam Bachman had the fourth-lowest ERA among the starting pitchers. He finished with seven wins, one loss and 75.2 innings pitched.

There are also some new players who, like last season, have the chance to impact the lineup. 

Hayden said the competition on the field has motivated the players to win their desired spots. 

“We’ve got some really young, talented players that are creating tremendous competition at positions [and] tremendous competition on the mound,” Hayden said. “That’s what you want as a baseball team.”

Hayden hopes that returning players, like Stephens, will help the new players carry the success of the team into the future. 

“[Players] want to have great players develop other great players,” Hayden said. 

With strong players like Landon Stephens and Sam Bachman returning, new players coming in, the “taking care of the baseball” training and the “killer instinct,” the mood of this baseball season is hopeful. 

And with Miami alum Adam Eaton contributing to the Nationals’ World Series win, it could drive the motivation and team performance to an even higher level.

“We are not going to lose to anybody,” Hayden said. “We’re going to take the game to whoever we’re playing.” 

Miami starts its season at Texas A&M on Friday, at 7:30 p.m. The RedHawks round out the weekend with a 3 p.m. game Saturday and 1 p.m. first pitch on Sunday.