Spring Grove grad Nick Spangler is hitting .357 for Shippensburg with nine RBIs this season. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL SMITH, SHIPPENSBURG UNIVERSITY)
Before Dalton Hoiles, Nick Spangler, Tyler Butcher and Grant Hoover became teammates on the Shippensburg University baseball team this year, they were rivals or teammates on York County diamonds first.
Hoiles and Spangler led Spring Grove to a York-Adams League Division I title last year, while Butcher guided Dallastown to a fourth-place finish in the same division and Hoover’s Dover squad finished fourth in Division II. All four had impressive high school careers, but have since taken their individual talents and teamed up with the Raiders in college.
It’s also there where they joined up with Austin Allison, a redshirt junior who graduated from Central York in 2011, creating, in a sense, a Fab Five of York County baseball players on Shippensburg’s roster. And, with the exception of Butcher, who’s redshirting this season, all of them are having a major impact on a program only two years removed from a trip to the NCAA Division II College World Series.
Freshmen stepping up: When you watch Hoiles, Hoover and Spangler play, their composure at the plate and in the field makes them look much more experienced than a typical freshman. Aside from their notable production at the plate, all three made their presence known from the moment they arrived on campus, willing to try new positions to help the team any way possible.
“We’re (26) games into it and just seeing their development from watching them play Legion ball and high school ball to where they are already as freshmen is impressive,” head coach Matt Jones said. “… All three are really versatile and have just figured out ways to work hard and find ways into the lineup.”
When they’ve found themselves in the lineup — which is more often than not — they’ve been major contributors in helping the Raiders right the ship after a slow start to the season.
Hoiles: Hoiles quickly made himself noticed among his teammates and the rest of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, playing and starting in 25 of Shippensburg’s 26 games. He’s fourth on the team in batting average at .357, with 11 RBIs and .440 slugging percentage. On defense, he hasn’t committed an error yet this season.
“He’s had an amazing year, so far,” Allison said. “He’s hitting the balls very well. He’s playing the field well. We’ve even asked him to play the outfield for us this year, which I know isn’t one of his strong positions, but, he’s been ready and stepped up to all the chances and opportunities he’s had so far this year.”
Spring Grove grad Dalton Hoiles is hitting .357 for Shippensburg with 11 RBIs this season. (PHOTO COURTESY OF BILL SMITH, SHIPPENSBURG UNIVERSITY)
Spangler: The same can be said for Spangler, who, after a slow start to the season, is on a tear as of late. Primarily playing second or third in the field, he’s committed only three errors on the season, while completing 30 putouts. At the plate, his hitting skyrocketed over the past two weeks, going from .296 up to .357 (fourth on the team), with nine RBIs and a .464 slugging percentage. Spangler has played in 21 of the team’s 26 games, starting in 18 of them.
“Nick, didn’t really struggle, but he had an adjustment period to where we were and he worked through it,” Allison said. “He just kept sticking with it in our practice and training programs and worked through it. And now, he’s hitting the ball real well and has been a big contributor.”
Hoover: Hoover’s path to playing time was a little different from his freshmen counterparts. After experiencing some arm problems in the fall, he began the season playing mostly outfield and serving as a designated hitter. But, as the regular season progressed, his arm grew stronger, so the coaching staff began having him throw off the mound.
Over the course of the last couple weeks, Hoover has been used out of the bullpen for the Raiders. He’s appeared in six games this season and while his four earned runs in only 4 2/3 innings pitched (7.71 ERA) aren’t overly impressive, he’s been used in tight situations for a team that’s played a condensed schedule over the past 10 days, including three doubleheaders in as many days early last week.
“Grant’s versatility, that’s his thing,” Jones said. “We DH him and save his arm for innings pitched. But, then if we don’t think we’re going to need him for a day or two, we have no problem putting him back out in the outfield.”
Butcher: Butcher is in a different boat than the other York County freshmen, sitting out this year while he develops his game. Still, aside from the fact that he doesn’t travel with the team to away games, he still goes through all the same workouts and practices as the rest of the team, supplying the team with live batting practice during off days, which serves as a way to get in his pitching practice. Even with the lack of game experience, Jones still sees the potential in Butcher.
“He’s going to be a good pitcher,” Jones said. “He’s gotten a lot better. … And I think next year, when he’s going to be playing for us and getting innings, I think he’s going to do a good job because he’s gotten a lot better in the six or so months since he’s been here.”
Veteran leader: And if there was ever an outlier in the group, it’s Allison.
Not only is he the only member of this group that is not a freshman, but he came into the program as an unrecruited walk-on, doing anything he could just to make the team.
“I would’ve done absolutely anything to be on the team,” Allison said. “So I took the opportunity that was presented to me, which was pitching, and I wasn’t the greatest pitcher, but I took what was given to me at the time and just tried to work and I worked as hard as I could as a pitcher.”
It was a rocky start at first for Allison, who played sparingly during his redshirt freshman season, but his commitment to the team continued to pay dividends. His playing time steadily increased during his redshirt sophomore year, when he shifted into the outfield.
Now, as a redshirt senior, Allison cemented himself as the team’s starting center fielder. He’s started every game for Shippensburg this season, hitting .379 (third on the team), with 21 RBIs and has three assists in the field.
“Considering he was unrecruited and now he’s our starting center fielder and flirting with a .400 batting average is pretty amazing,” Jones said. “But, we’re thrilled for him. He’s a good athlete and he deserves whatever attention he’s getting right now.”
When Allison first made the team leading up to the 2012 season, there were only two other players from York County on the roster. In each of the next two seasons one left, leaving him as the only York product on last year’s team.
After starting the season 4-12, the Raiders are 7-3 since and improved their record to 11-15 and 7-5 in the PSAC East.
Allison, along with his fresh group of hometown reinforcements, are each contributing to the team’s turnaround in their own impactful ways.
“This year, getting four York guys to come in, it’s pretty cool to see,” Allison said. “I really enjoy it because it’s good to see that York County baseball is putting out good competition through high school and then putting guys, that are able to continue baseball careers, into college.”
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com