ST. GEORGE — Dixie State baseball had its worst season, record wise, in the program’s NCAA era by finishing under .500 for the first time. It was, however, not a disappointment.
Even though the Trailblazers finished 24-32 overall, 17 of those losses came outside conference play in the program’s first year in Division I. In their first year in the Western Athletic Conference they went 21-15. DSU went 12-16 in their final 16 games and came within reach of a series victory over No. 6 Arizona in the season finale.
“I’m really proud of the way the guys finished,” Dixie State head coach Chris Pfatenhauer told St. George News. “It’s hard for me to call the whole season a success finishing under .500. We have much loftier goals than that, obviously within our program. … Our guys just stayed with it, their fortitude, believing in what we’re doing.”
The club’s fourth-place finish in the WAC was the highest of any of Dixie State’s programs in the school’s first year in the conference matching volleyball, which finished 8-8 to tie for fourth.
It didn’t look like a top-half finish and a winning record would be in the scope of reality early on for the Trailblazers’ baseball team, though. Pfatenhauer front-loaded their schedule with tough teams in Washington State and Wichita State. Dixie lost their first 10 games, including their first three conference matchups at New Mexico State. The Aggies outscored the ‘Blazers 50-8 through the first three games before Dixie State avoided the sweep with a 19-13 win on March 14, the school’s first victory as a Division I program.
It was a trial by fire, but Pfatenhauer said the experience paid dividends down the stretch.
“There’s no way we finish the way we finish had we not challenged ourselves like that early,” Pfatenhauer said. “There’s parts of me that regret it, but I know wholeheartedly, being in that dugout and that clubhouse every day, that we wouldn’t have been as good down the stretch had we not done that.”
The returns on their early struggles came quickly. They walked off BYU for the program’s first DI home win. They split a four-game set with University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. They topped Utah on the road.
A couple weeks later, they secured their first series win at Tarleton State, taking three of four games. Junior right-hander Jimmy Borzone twirled a seven-inning no-hitter in game two.
In mid-April, the ‘Blazers split their series with California Baptist, dealing the Lancers two of their only seven conference wins en route to the WAC title.
It all culminated with a trio of sweeps in their final four series, taking 12 of the final 16 conference games on the schedule.
They finally took on No. 6 Arizona in Tucson, losing the first game before taking the second. In the rubber match, they led by three at one point before getting walked off in the ninth inning.
The team fought through injuries, inexperience and travel that Pfatenhauer said he’s still recovering from to become DSU’s top WAC program in the school’s first year.
To make things even better, they’re returning a huge portion of their core next year; however, they will lose some key seniors: Lane Pritchard, who was named first team all-WAC; Jake Engel, who set the school record for home runs in the final days of the season; and long-time starting pitcher Tevita Gerber.
However, freshman All-American catcher Kaden Hollow will return. Borzone is a junior, and fellow starting pitchers Dillon Holliday and Ryan Hardman are also freshman.
“We want to make this the best college experience in the state,” Pfatenhauer said. “We want to make it something that people think about on a Saturday afternoon to spend their family day. I think we play a good level of baseball and an exciting brand of baseball, and we just want to see as many people at Hurst as possible.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.