The last year that Muhlenberg College baseball finished the regular season above .500 was 2008. Corey Goff was head coach and the team made the Centennial Conference playoffs. Christian Conti ‘09 set records for runs scored, extra-base hits, triples, home runs and runs batted in for a season; his teammates from that season still hold three career records.
It took until 2014 for baseball to make the playoffs again.
Now, ten years after that record season, Muhlenberg’s baseball team has done it again. Finishing the regular season this past Monday with a 19-18 record overall and an 11-7 record in the Centennial Conference, the upcoming playoffs will be the first appearance for all the players, an achievement four years in the making.
“Before the season even started we implemented the goal of making the conference tournament and winning it, so it is no surprise that we made the playoffs,” said Eric Reitmeyer ‘18, co-captain of the baseball team. “If anything, I would say there’s more feelings of excitement since this is the first time we made it in the several years. After losing five straight conference games and having a record of 3-6, we knew it was not going to be easy to earn a position in the playoffs.”
Reitmeyer continued, “After three years of not making the CC tournament, all of the seniors this year did have some concerns about whether or not we would ever play in a playoff game. However, after seeing the new talent that was brought in this year, we knew that if we could play to our potential there would be no doubt that we would make the playoffs.”
Muhlenberg enter the Centennial Conference postseason as the third seed, sitting behind Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins who both finished the season 15-3 and earned votes towards the national ranking. For Swarthmore and Hopkins, the path to the playoffs was already paved at the beginning of the season. But for the Mules, that playoff spot had to be earned.
After opening the season with three straight wins, the Mules bounced between wins and losses all season, constantly teetering around the .500 mark. It wasn’t until Muhlenberg won six games in six days – including five Centennial Conference wins, the first streak of its kind in 10 years – that the postseason fantasy became a reality. It was those wins that bumped ‘Berg into playoff position.
The team’s 2-2 split in the final four games cemented their spot.; going into the last four series, three of those four teams were ahead of Muhlenberg in the conference standings.
“For the first time in four years, I truly feel that this team is a family. Each player has their teammates backs both on and off the field”
The Mules playoff appearance may come as a surprise to the rest of the Centennial, being that the Mules were picked to come in eighth in the Conference’s preseason coaches poll, but for co-captain Tim Pilrun ‘18 the team’s success this season didn’t come as a surprise at all.
“This year we have put ourselves in a position to win every game we play,” said Pilrun. “There is not a position out there we feel is a weakness on our team and our pitching staff is deep. We know whoever we put on the mound is going to compete and if can push a couple runs across we are going to win.”
A large part of that success down the final stretch was due to the success performances of Chris Grillo ‘19. Grillo was named Centennial Conference co-player of the week after scoring eight runs in four games and hitting two home runs against Ursinus College.
According to Grillo, who was named Centennial Conference Rookie of the Year in 2016, has “made a conscience effort” to ensure all his teammates know “what it takes to be successful and what it means to work hard.” That idea of teamwork being the team’s driving factor was common among Grillo, Pilrun and Reitmeyer.
“Baseball is such a team sport so regardless of how well one person does we will never make the playoffs unless other people buy in,” said Pilrun. “ This year the team camaraderie has been great and we’ve played together as a team the entire year which has played a huge role pushing us into the playoffs.”
Reitmeyer echoed that sentiment, saying, “For the first time in four years, I truly feel that this team is a family. Each player has their teammates backs both on and off the field. We all share the same goals and we have fun playing the game of baseball together. I also think it was our preparation in the off season that led to our success. We took the fall practices, weight lifting, and conditioning very serious to be ready to go once the season started. Even in the past, we have had the talent. This year we have the camaraderie that has been missing.”
At least for now the Mules are focused on doing what they’ve done since February, coming from behind to prove they belong at the top, and focusing on prolonging the best season Muhlenberg baseball has had in years this Thursday against Johns Hopkins.