The Foundation Behind The Baseball Success at Dallas Baptist

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Courtesy: DBU Athletics

There was a time when the baseball program at Dallas Baptist flew under the radar. That time is over.

The Patriots are now very well known in the world of college baseball. In their latest rankings, Collegiate Baseball has them ranked 23rd in the nation. Dallas Baptist may still be considered a “mid-major” school but has a history of taking on the larger schools and walking away with the win.

“We always knew the only way we were going to compete is that we have to be great at developing our players,” said head coach Dan Heefner. “That’s always been our calling card and what we want to be the best at.”

Dallas Baptist made their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008 and won the Fort Worth Regional in the 2011 tournament to advance to the Super Regional round for the first time. The Patriots have made six NCAA regional appearances in the last nine years and have 40-plus win season in five of the last six years.

But Dallas Baptist isn’t just taking on the larger schools on the field, but also in the recruiting world.

“What we have is really unique,” said Heefner. “We feel like if you want to come to develop, there’s no better place in the country. Not only develop as a baseball player but as a person. If you are a guy who just loves it and wants to see how good you can become, this is the place for you. If you want all the other stuff, like football games, tailgaters, frats and that stuff, this isn’t your place. It’s just focused on baseball, your faith, your character and your education. You don’t have other things pulling you in different directions. We have an oasis here for creating an environment where you can truly develop as a total person.”

And the players seem to embrace it, which helps explains the team philosophy “getting one-percent better every day.”

“It’s just kind of a mindset,” said senior infielder Camden Duzenack. “You just show up to the field and understand you’ve got to improve on something that day, whether it’s bunts, hitting, defense or just being a better teammate. There’s something to get better at each day. Off the field, our biggest thing is growing spiritually as men. We do Bible studies as a team in the lockerroom once a week. Classes are also very important. You can’t play if you don’t make the grades. You just have to keep up with everything. If you just stay disciplined, it gets easier and easier.”

“We say we are a blue collared team,” added freshman pitcher/infielder Ray Gaither. “That means you get up in the morning, you get what you need to get done, you go the extra mile every day. It sounds like getting one percent better every day is easy, but it is actually difficult.”

A standout at Coppell, Gaither had interest from major league teams leading up to the MLB draft last year but stuck with his decision to play at Dallas Baptist prior to his senior season. In his first collegiate start, Gaither threw four hitless innings while striking out five in the 8-4 win over No. 21 Rice, earning his first collegiate win.

“I originally had an idea in my mind of what would work out for me,” said Gaither. “I realized personally I wasn’t ready for that commitment and felt like I needed to develop my skills more. I really love the campus here, the coaches, the facilities, just the demeanor on how they go about it. Being a fan going through high school is why I came here.”

Despite all the success, there is still one goal that has eluded the Patriots, the College World Series. Dallas Baptist is off to a 3-1 start this season and the favorite to repeat as the Missouri Valley Conference champion. The Road to Omaha isn’t easy but the Patriots are ready for the challenge.

“There’s a little bit different of a feel this year,” said Duzenack. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team. We’ve got a lot of guys that believe in each other. We just come ready to improve ourselves each day.”

“Coach Heefner has always talked about how we don’t play the other team, we play the baseball,” added Gaither. “The idea behind that is just you play the game and if you play it to the best of your ability, things could work out in your favor. If it doesn’t, that happens in baseball. We are never intimidated by the other team on the other side of the diamond and we are never out of the game.”

Dallas Baptist begins a three-game weekend series against New Mexico at Horner Ballpark on Friday.

Momentum Building For The TCU Basketball Program

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Courtesy: Getty Images

One of the more underrated stories in college basketball is going on in Fort Worth. The TCU basketball program has been largely ignored since entering the Big 12, and it was hard to argue against that. The Horned Frogs had a 15-71 conference record going into the 2016-17 season, including a 0-18 record in 2013-14.

After finishing 12-21 last season (2-16 in Big 12), the Frogs looked to their past to help lead them towards the future. Former TCU standout Jamie Dixon helped turn Pittsburgh into a Big East powerhouse as the Panthers head coach during a time when the Big East was considered the best overall basketball conference. Dixon decided to leave Pitt last March to return home to TCU.

The program has seen a turnaround quicker than many expected. TCU is 16-7 overall and 5-5 in Big 12 play with eight games left in the regular season, the first time they’ve won five games in conference since joining in 2011.

“I think our team didn’t know what we had,” said Dixon. “I saw when guys would get better and I saw the work ethic. I think there were some things in place that some people weren’t aware of and things we added to as well.”

Two of those wins are against Texas, which is the first season sweep of the Longhorns in 30 years. Dixon was a senior guard at TCU at the time, and now has single-season sweeps of Texas as a TCU player and coach.

“I think it means something, no question about it,” said Dixon after his second win over Texas during his first-year as head coach at TCU. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been caught up in beating one team. But it is Texas and we are in the state. They have their own network so there is some meaning to it and some history there. We are trying to make statements and show that we belong.”

With a few more “statement” wins in a power conference like the Big 12, TCU could be dancing in March. It would be their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1998.

“That is our goal every year,” said Dixon. “I made it real clear to our players that our goal was to get to the NCAA tournament. I tend to have higher expectations. I know at Pitt, I had higher expectations than anyone there and with that people raised their expectations, so that’s what I want to do here. We expect to win. We’ve got a good group here that really cares.”

That group includes freshman Jaylen Fisher, the No. 1 ranked player in Tennessee last year and sophomore Alex Robinson, a Mansfield Timberview product. Both guards have over 100 assists, the first time a pair of TCU teammates passed that mark in the same season since 2002. Junior forward Vladimir Brodziansky is also doing his part, averaging 14.3 points and 5.9 rebounds a game.

But it’s the senior class, which includes Chris Washburn, Brandon Parrish, Michael Williams and Karviar Shepherd, that Dixon says has been the key due in part to making much-needed sacrifices in order for the team to be successful.

“Some guys haven’t played as much as they’ve played previously,” said Dixon. “I think they knew they wanted to leave on good terms and be a part of the group that helped turned this program around and made them Big 12 contenders.”