The team bus pulled away from Cronin Center around 2 p.m. Monday. The Dayton Flyers baseball team headed to the airport for a flight to New York City, where it will start play in the Atlantic 10 tournament at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Fordham University.
Only seven of the 13 A-10 teams quality for the double-elimination tournament, so just getting to the event for the first time since 2014 is a sign of progress for Dayton baseball.
The Flyers finished 20-35 overall and 9-15 in the A-10 in 2017, Tony Vittorio's last season as head coach, improved to 21-31 and 10-14 last season under new coach Jayson King and are 29-24 and 16-8 this season. Dayton is the No. 3 seed in the A-10 tournament and will play No. 6 seed Rhode Island (23-27, 14-9 A-10) in the opening round.
Asked Monday whether he was surprised the Flyers have made such an improvement over the last two seasons, King said, “No, not really. We’re fortunate to be at a great institution. What we’re capable of doing, I think we’re just scratching the surface of that. As a coach, you’re always a little impatient, and actually, I wanted it to happen faster than it did, but to see it all unfold and see the work ethic and the leadership and the commitment and the buy-in from everybody involved in the program from the players to the support staff has been great for us.”
Dayton entered the last weekend of the regular season with a chance to move into first place in the A-10. Two losses in three games to Fordham at home dropped it three games behind Virginia Commonwealth (39-17, 19-5) and two back of Davidson (26-19, 14-6).
Still, this was Dayton’s best finish in the A-10 since 2012 when it tied for first with Saint Louis at 17-7 and then beat Richmond 3-0 for the program’s first — and so far only — A-10 tournament championship.
“I’d say the future is very bright,” said senior left fielder Connor Echols, a Sidney High School graduate. “Coach King has got everybody to buy in. He’s just now getting some of his recruits in, and he’s got some of the guys who were here before him bought into what he preaches. I think the future of Dayton baseball is one to be reckoned with, and it’ll be at the top of the A-10 in just about every single year. In his second year, we had a chance to win the conference. That says a lot about what he’s done and what the players have bought into. I look forward to following Dayton baseball the rest of my life.”
King’s first recruiting class in 2018 ranked 94th in the country, according to PerfectGame.org, and second in the A-10. The 2019 roster, while heavy on Ohio talent, has players from 11 states and two foreign countries.
“Recruiting’s really the lifeline of the program,” King said. “Not only are we getting really good players, but we’re getting really good people. I think the University of Dayton attracts players like that. I really like the makeup of our team. We have a bunch of guys from different places. I think that’s very healthy. I think recruiting’s only going to continue to improve and just make the program better as a result.”