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Heading into his second year as the head coach of Olivet Nazarene University baseball, Jeff Mullikin is hoping to make his presence known for the Tigers now that he will have a chance to coach a full 53-game schedule.

The Tigers played in just 18 games before their season was cut short because of COVID-19 last season. And in those games, ONU finished just 3-15 (0-3 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference), which landed them in last place in the CCAC during its shortened season.

“I’m most looking forward to finally getting a chance to compete with these guys — they have so much, and they have been so resilient, so faithful and worked their tales off,” Mullikin said. “I just want a chance to put them in good situations and help them compete, win, succeed and honor and glorify God in the process.”

This year’s squad looks to be a lot different than last year’s. Outside of Tyler Fisher, who ONU lost to graduation, the Tigers don’t seem to be missing any key starters from last season.

Fisher started every game last season and finished with a .286 batting average in the middle of the Tiger’s lineup. He finished last season as one of the, if not the, best hitters on the squad, totaling two home runs, 13 RBIs and 10 walks drawn, which was good enough to lead the team in each category.

As for the starters from last season, only two of them are expected return in the starting lineup this season — senior right fielder Jacob Bulthuis and shortstop Nathan Moonen.

“Outside of those two guys, we are pretty much going to have new guys at every position,” Mullikin said.

Some of those key newcomers look to be transfer students. Centerfielder Terry Daniels, catcher Dylan Miller, catcher Tyler Wheeler, right-handed pitcher Ryan Jemar and right-handed pitcher Ethan Underwood are all expected to be routine starters or major contributors to the Tigers this season.

ONU also added eight freshmen — Alex Ortiz, Kian Baron, Griffin Sahli, Noah Bradshaw, Jacob Burt, A.J. Stepina, Braden Shelton, Peyton Bovie.

“We did get quite a few new guys this year, but I’m excited to see what all the new talent will bring this season, as we brought in a lot of good baseball players,” Bulthuis said. “I think they will help bring a new energy to the team and give us a better chance at winning conference and more.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say that I feel there’s a sense of urgency to get off to a hot start, but we are definitely looking to come back with a vengeance, as we had such a long time to sit on what happened last year,” Bulthuis said. “Especially getting the season taken away like that when I felt we were finally starting to come together as a team more, despite what the record may have shown.”

ONU will begin its 2021 season at 1 p.m. today, when they face off against Truett-McConnell College at the TMU Baseball Complex in Cleveland, Ga., for a doubleheader.

Cody is a sports journalist who's been with the Daily Journal since 2020. He's been a sports reporter since his days at the University of Iowa where he graduated in 2019.