Analysis: USI baseball looks to compete in first OVC season


Photo by Quinton Watt

Tracy Archuleta, head baseball coach, gives Gavin Morris, 2022 freshman pitcher, command Apr. 23. Morris was the second pitching change in the game against Lewis University and struck out two batters over four innings.

Eric Reynolds, Sports Writer

Baseball will enter its first Division I season coming back from a 21-28 campaign in 2022. However, the team has 16 transfer students coming in, hoping to push the program to a competitive first season.

The Eagles struggled in conference last season, posting a 10-14 record, placing fifth in the Great Lakes Valley Conference Blue Division and missing the conference tournament by one game. 

USI was recently projected for an eighth-place finish in the 2023 Ohio Valley Conference Baseball Preseason Poll, which is voted on by opposing schools’ coaches and sports information directors. 

The team will be powered by Lucas McNew, senior catcher, who hit .321 last season and had an on-base percentage plus slugging percentage of .950, which was team-leading. McNew also led the team with eight home runs last season. He is currently a member of the preseason all-OVC team and is the only member of the team to achieve this honor. 

McNew will not be the only returning starter on this roster. Ren Tachioka, senior outfielder, will be a speed threat for the Eagles, just as he was last season. Tachioka had the second most steals on the team with 22 total stolen bases and a team-leading 26 attempts on the year. Tachioka also had the third most walks on the team with 28. These walks came in only 183 at-bats for a walk rate of 15%. 

The Eagles will also have new faces in the lineup. Ricardo Van Grieken, sophomore infielder, is a transfer from Indian Hills Community College. He will be an impact bat in the middle of their lineup. Van Grieken had a batting average of .335 in 216 plate appearances, along with a .441 on-base percentage and a .483 slugging percentage. To go along with these stellar hitting statistics, Van Grieken also walked 20 times compared to 19 strikeouts, giving him a 1.05 walk-to-strikeout ratio. 

Joining Van Grieken from Indian Hills is Tucker Ebest, junior infielder, who hit .305 in his two seasons in junior college. Last season, Ebest had 58 runs batted, which would put him as the team leader if he had been at USI. With this level of production, Ebest could come in and immediately compete for the everyday first base spot in the lineup.

On the mound, the Eagles return Trent Robinson, junior pitcher and infielder, who led the team last season with 12 total starts and was second in total number of innings pitched at 53. At times, Robinson did struggle on the mound. His outing against Delta State University had 10 earned runs on 11 hits in two innings of work. However, this game was followed up with a two-earned run performance against Quincy University. If Robinson can be consistent this season, he has a chance to be the Eagle’s leading pitcher. 

Out of the bullpen, the Eagles have Caleb Meeks, junior pitcher, who transferred from Wabash Valley College. He is coming off a 3.73 ERA season in 31.1 innings pitched at the NJCAA level. Along with this sub-four ERA, Meeks had 12.93 strikeouts per nine innings, putting him on par with top-of-the-line relievers. 

Over the past 15 years, USI baseball has arguably been the most successful program at the university. With Division II championships in 2010 and 2014, the Eagles’ tradition of success is unmatched. Following a disappointing 2022 season, head coach Tracy Archuleta looks to get the program back on track and compete for an OVC championship.

The Eagles open up with a four-game neutral site series against Western Illinois University Feb. 17-19 in Millington, Tennessee. The first home series of the year will be Feb. 24-26 against former GLVC rival Bellarmine University

See the rest of the USI baseball schedule here.