By: Will Wetzel – email@example.com
When the Villanova Baseball team left the main campus on Lancaster Avenue last spring, they all had a bitter taste in their mouths of what their season could have been.
Winning ball games consistently was a Sisyphean challenge for them: the team would get close to grinding out a victory only to see the other team overpower them. As a result, the Wildcats ended their season on a disheartening note. After a 2017 season that saw them conclude with a record of 14-33, there was the notion that the Wildcats would at least show improvement in 2018.
That improvement, unfortunately, was either nonexistent or stubbornly refused to show up when the games mattered most. As a result, the Wildcats’ record at the cessation of 2018 was a porous 9-39 with only one win in the Big East Conference, and only two victories at home.
Head Coach Kevin Mulvey recognizes that the team must get better. His appraisal of his team’s weaknesses has led to him discovering creative ways to propel his team’s improvement. One experiment he is having his players try out is work with a virtual batting practice system in a nook of the Falvey Library on Villanova’s campus. Instead of practicing on a baseball field, the Wildcats’ players wore virtual-reality headsets and stood in a batter’s box of a ballpark that was projected onto the walls of the library. The goal, Mulvey told the Philadelphia Inquirer, was to use virtual reality to help the players recognize different types of pitches and their locations.
“We want to get hitters to be able to recognize that pitch sooner and sooner and sooner,” Mulvey said to the Philadelphia Inquirer. “You want them to say what it is, where it is, and be right. So you keep stopping it closer and closer until they say, ‘OK, I feel good. I can recognize pitches.’”
When Kevin Mulvey was first hired in 2016, it marked the end of a successful era in Villanova baseball. Under the leadership of former head coach Joe Godri, numerous Wildcat players were drafted by major league clubs. Currently, the University has six notable former players in the minor leagues: 2010 fifth-round selection Matt Szczur, who currently plays for the El Paso Chihuahuas in the San Diego Padres’ organization; Pat Young, a member of the San Jose Giants; Kyle McMyne, a fourth-round pick on the Bakersfield Blaze; Tyler Sciacca, a 27th round pick on the Schaumburg Boomers; 30th round pick Kyle Helisek, a member of the Palm Beach Cardinals; and Todd Czinege, who was drafted in 2017 by the Colorado Rockies.
At the time, Villanova’s Director of Athletics Mark Jackson highlighted Mulvey’s knowledge of baseball and vision for the Villanova program as notable reasons why he was appointed as the next head coach.
“I am thrilled that Kevin will be taking over the reins of Villanova Baseball and restoring the program to its place of prominence. After an extensive national search, it quickly became clear that Kevin was the ideal fit to lead Villanova Baseball into its next great chapter,” Director of Athletics Mark Jackson had said, according to the Villanova Athletics’ website. “His knowledge and experience at all levels of baseball, his respect and concern for our student-athletes, and his vision for the program stood out amongst a pool of highly qualified candidates. Above all, as a Wildcat, Kevin understands the University’s mission and culture, which will be the foundation of his leadership.”
Two seasons later, Mulvey’s leadership is still being put through a rigorous test. After two seasons in which the Villanova Wildcats were in the cellar of the Big East Conference, the pressure is on Mulvey to not only attract the new generation of star baseball recruits to the Main Line but to cultivate a winning culture that the men’s basketball team has managed to do.
“We want to attract the best talent in the area and get them to come to Villanova,” Mulvey said to The Villanovan.
While the team continues to convince baseball recruits that Villanova is the best place for them, the Wildcats currently on the roster have been working hard over the summer and fall to prepare for the upcoming season. Considering how the summer went for several Wildcat players, Mulvey must be feeling optimistic about this upcoming season.
Junior first baseman Ryan Toohers, in particular, impressed over the summer. Coming off of a great 2018 campaign in which he batted .283 with five home runs and 38 RBIs, Toohers showed great offensive power with the Mohawk Valley DiamondDawgs during the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, batting .391 with 57 RBIs and 106 total bases in 40 games. What was remarkable about Toohers’ performance was that he was the first in PGCBL history to conclude the season with at least 50 RBIs and have 100 total bases.
Villanova is certainly hoping Toohers’s success over the summer translates into another impressive spring season in 2019. In 2018, Toohers was the Wildcats’ main offensive weapon, leading the team with a .403 on-base percentage and a .472 slugging percentage in addition to producing team highs of 14 doubles and 28 walks. More impressive than his overall numbers is that Toohers stepped up his level of play against BIG EAST opponents. He batted .324 with a .535 slugging percentage, 15 RBI, six doubles and three home runs in 18 conference games.
Toohers and the Wildcats will certainly be busy before the season starts. The team will play take part in an exhibition contest on October 27th against Rowan College at Gloucester County where the players will be given the opportunity to display their improvement in front of their fans.