The Millersville Marauders are off to a scorching start. Sitting at 10-1, the reigning Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champions jumped from No. 14 to No. 6 in the most recent Collegiate Baseball Polls.
Last season, Coach Jon Shehan and Millersville finished at 45-11, his best record with the program since taking the helms in 2008. That says quite a bit about a team that has had three 40-plus win seasons in the past five years. Unfortunately, 2015 ended eerily identical as it did in 2014: one game away from heading to Cary, North Carolina and a chance to play for the national championship.
“This is the first team that doesn’t have anyone returning from the 2011 team that knows what it feels like to win that [regional championship] game,” head coach Jon Shehan said. “We have a half a dozen seniors that are as competitive, maybe even more competitive, of a group that I have ever had the opportunity to coach. And they have come together as a club with one goal, and that’s to win the regional.”
The 2016 rendition of the club has quite a few familiar names on offense, including All American first baseman Dan Stoltzfus, who is coming off a record setting year and is already hitting .500 on the young season. Catcher Mitch Stoltzfus, who has the task of handling the pitching staff, is out to a fast start as well, batting .583 with a team best 17 RBI.
The rotation, however was a bit different with one glaring hole at the top. Chris Murphy — who capped off a Marauders career that saw him go 33-4 with a 2.07 ERA after an undefeated 12-0 season in 2015— was drafted by the Houston Astros last June.
“The big thing with our staff wasn’t finding someone to replace Murphy, it was figuring out our bullpen,” Shehan said. “The hole that he left allowed a couple of younger guys to step in to roles that we knew that they would be successful in.
[Jim] McDade has been Mr. Consistency for four years. Reid Anderson, he wasn’t very well known, but he’s turned the corner as a starter for us. The bullpen has really figured itself out, and that’s where we had big questions on how the young guys would adjust. A guy like Cody Stoneback who has been inconsistent for the past few years has really fallen into the back of the bullpen role well.”
And then there is their ace, Brandon Miller.
Miller is coming off of a solid 2015 himself. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound right hander has the projectable frame of a future MLB pitcher that causes scouts to drool. He went 12-2 with a 2.48 ERA while striking out 85 over 87 innings. He also pitched three complete game shutouts, showing he wasn’t afraid to go the distance.
“Last year, Chris and I did a double-ace thing,” Miller said. “Being able to learn from his experience here — he was able to get the guys out and seeing how he went about business day in and day out — really helped boost my confidence to become that number one starter for this season.”
Miller prepared himself this summer on the Cape as a member of the Chatham Anglers. Facing hitters and throwing against opposing pitchers primarily from the nation’s top DI programs, Miller put himself on the map. He went 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA and an amazing 27 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio over 24 innings. He would become a Cape Cod League East All Star, striking out two in his one inning pitched.
“It really helped boost my confidence coming into this season, being able to face the best hitters in the nation and ultimately get them out,” Miller said of his Cape Cod League experience. ”It was really beneficial to see how the other pitchers went about their business. Our program being a DII program, we do a lot of the stuff the big DI programs do. I think we stick to the process of playing the game correctly which is a true testament to Coach Shehan and Coach Forrest.”
Miller is now definitely on the national radar. Baseball America listed him as one of the Top 10 prospects for the MLB Draft in their Small College Preview. “There have been 35 radar guns in the stands twice already,” Shehan said of the attention Miller is garnering. That attention is well deserved.
He already has two PSAC East Pitcher pf the Week Awards under his belt as well as an NCBWA Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Week Award to add to his trophy case. He seemingly doesn’t like to allow runs to cross the plate, having not allowed an earned run in his first 19.2 innings pitched of 2016. Going back to that Cape Cod All Star campaign, Miller has struck out 47 batters while walking just two over 43.1 innings.
Where most young stars could let their focus and humility slip away from them, Miller has kept his composure, brushed the distractions aside and has become the humble leader this team needs atop the rotation.
“Some people look at humility as a weakness, but his humility is actually his biggest strength,” Shehan said of his ace. “He comes to the ballpark every day acting like he’s a redshirt freshman. You would think that a guy that has 50 strikeouts and two walks going back to the Cape summer would start to get to a point where he thinks he’s better than everybody else. But his work ethic is unbelievable. I think it’s a hunger for wanting to pitch in the big leagues, his priorities are as straight as anyone I have ever coached. His maturity is beyond his years.
“His goal is to continue to serve other people. It’s not go out and meet the goals that Brandon has from a professional aspect. He loves his teammates and he’s done an unbelievable job of walking that fine line making sure that we are winning as a program and reaching his own goals as well. And that’s a hard line to walk for a young kid.”
Miller’s focus and humility aren’t his only strengths, as his arsenal and command are second to none. His pitch selection consists of a fastball that consistently comes across in the low-90s. He also likes to use his slider as his strikeout pitch and has a 12-6 curve ball that he likes to bury in the dirt and get some chasers. But he knows he still has work to do.
“I have a changeup, that is the pitch that I need the most development,” Miller said. “I just haven’t needed to use it that much, but I think in the Cape that is something I really worked with, and now I am able to throw it more for strikes. But that’s one thing I still need to work on.”
The Marauders are currently 10-1 and the No. 6 team in the country. The ranking is tied for the highest ranking in program’s history, and people are starting to notice what’s happening in the small borough in Pennsylvania.
“I’m definitely proud of where we are at,” Shehan said. “I am happy for that fact that our program is now getting some national accolades and people are starting to know where Millersville is. It’s well deserved for those guys that put us where we are at now.”
While the Marauders want nothing more than to finally win that regional championship and head to Cary for a chance at the program’s first national title, they know that it is still early in the season and there is still much work to be done.
“As a team, our motto is one pitch, one game at a time,” Miller said. “We know what’s in the past, we know we lost those two consecutive regional titles. This year we know we have good a team, but we don’t like to get ahead of ourselves. I think collectively we are focused more on what’s present and not the future, and I think that’s what makes us successful.”
That has been Miller’s mantra, and it has trickled down across the whole team. Focus. Determination. Staying in the present.
“Early in my career I wasn’t able to focus on the present,” Miller said. “In a game, when I come in from an inning, I will sit in the dugout and if my mind starts to wander, I’ll just start telling myself to get back into the present. I will literally say it out loud until I’m focused. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned over the years, not to think about the next inning or the end of the game and what the end result might be.”
There is certainly a buzz now whenever Millersville takes the field. Radar guns fill up the stands, murmurs wisp through the air from visiting scouts, and people wait a watch to see what Miller’s next outing brings. Through it all — despite dreams of one day being a big leaguer — Miller keeps a clear head, stays remarkably humble, and always stays in the present.
“It’s ultimately one of my goals,” Miller said of his Major League aspirations. “Yes, there is some hype and scouts coming, but right now I’m playing for Millersville. That’s the biggest thing I’m focused on, I want to help my team win a national championship. I’ll worry about the draft come June.”