To many observers, UB Baseball had too much to overcome this season. Last year's squad finished last in their division and one of the team's best players, Nick Sinay, left when Toronto drafted him after his junior year. It appeared they they needed more time to rebuild.
And those who thought this was sure to be a non-competitive year seemed to be proven right when the Bulls were swept in their opening week.
Then a funny thing happened. They started to win, and even in their losses they were competitive. They took Kentucky to extra innings, swept Tennesse-Martin and Mount Saint Mary's.
They began to look like a young team that were well into the process of getting comfortable with the lineup.
Doing real damage in the MAC is still going to be an uphill climb. Kent State and Ball State had pretty solid non-conference runs and a lot of teams in the conference played near even ball with a harder schedule than UB.
But if the Bulls play they way they have been the past couple of weeks - easily beating bad teams and hanging around a tight series with Northeastern - then a top-eight finish and a return to the MAC postseason tournament is not out of the question. Once into the double elimination tournament than anything can happen.
At this point last year, on the eve of conference play, the Bulls were 3-10 and had not won a game in nearly 2 weeks. This year they are 6-10 and get to test themselves early against Toledo this weekend.
Part of the surprisingly competitive non conference run was the emergence of Bobby Sheppard as a solid lead off option. He's one of only two Bulls to start all 16 games and has a .290 batting average. He and a few batters have the look of a squad that can push for decent run totals against Mid-American Conference pitchers.
Vinny Mallaro and Chris Kwitzer each have a pair of home runs and ten RBI's. They are well positioned in the middle of UB's order.
Pitching is another story. They are young and it has at times shown.
We don't have a Mike Burke to anchor the rotation around and we don't have a River McWilliams to come in and close the door on two games a weekend.
Right now my SWAG at our weekend starters would be, in no particular order, Alec Tuohy, Charlie Sobieraski, and Brandon Mumaw. If I had to guess I would say Shawn Dubin and perhaps Andrew White will get the nod for midweek non conference games.
That's a sophomore, junior, and JUCO transfer leading the conference slate and a junior and freshman handling weekday games. They have all had flashes of promise but the consistency to be a team in the top half of the MAC east has not emerged.
But they are not playing like the worst team in the MAC, something they were projected to be before the season started.
Generally in the MAC 11-12 conference wins was the mark to get you into the top eight teams. With Akron dropping baseball I suspect that number will shift to 9-11. That means if a team like Buffalo can steal at least one win in every series and win a couple more over the true bottom dwellers they should qualify.
Nothing I have seen this season makes me think that's not a realistic goal for this years squad. A trip to the MAC postseason could be a fantastic building block for a team that will return most of it's talent for next season.