Entering the 2012-13 school year, Billy Gernon embarks on his third season at the Bronco helm and his 12th season overall as a head coach. Formerly the head coach at IPFW, Gernon stands as the all-time winningest coach in Mastodon history.
A MESSAGE FROM GERNON: "It is my pledge that our coaching staff and players will bring an unprecedented level of energy and work ethic to the Bronco baseball program. Western Michigan University has tremendous potential and our entire program will begin pursuing conference championships immediately. President Dunn, Kathy Beauregard and her staff, have a genuine passion towards Western Michigan and its baseball program and I am very excited about this tremendous opportunity. I look forward to serving this great institution."2012:
Western Michigan continued to make steady strides in 2012, Gernon's second year at the program. The Broncos finished the season with an overall record of 26-29, going 14-12 in Mid-American Conference play, for the team's first winning MAC record since 2006. The Broncos also made a trip to the MAC Tournament for the second-straight year, posting a first-round win over Ohio.
The Broncos swept four MAC series and got off to its best start in conference play since 2005, winning their first five games. WMU closed out the season strong as well, winning seven of its last nine MAC games.
In non-conference play, Western Michigan notched wins over Notre Dame and Big Ten opponents Northwestern, Ohio State and Michigan. The victory over Michigan snapped a 10-game skid against the Wolverines and was WMU's first win against U-M since 2003.
The team finished the year with a .292 batting average, which ranked as the third highest average in the conference, and was WMU's highest in four years. Western Michigan remained among the nation's leaders in sacrifice hits and was aggressive on the base paths, totaling 43 stolen bases, the most for the program since 2005.
The pitching staff tallied 14 saves, second most in a single season, and allowed just 22 home runs, the fewest since 1993. Defensively, Western Michigan turned 54 double plays.
The Broncos collected four MAC weekly honors, as Patrick Duncan was twice named MAC Player of the Week, while Ryan McMillin earned the title once and Casey Webber was tabbed Pitcher of the Week. McMillin was a First Team All-MAC selection, becoming the first Bronco to garner that honor since 2008. McMillin finished the regular season ranked second in the conference with 49 RBIs and tied the school record with a 25-game hit streak.
One of Gernon's recruits, Brett Sunde, an incoming freshman in 2012-13 was named the Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year and was selected in the 35th round of the MLB Draft by the Oakland A's.
Western Michigan made significant strides in Gernon's first season, increasing its overall win total by 14 and its conference win mark by eight, going 12-14 in the Mid-American Conference. The Broncos advanced to the MAC Tournament for the first time since 2008, securing the No. 7 seed, and recorded the program's first postseason win since 1998, upsetting No. 2 seed Central Michigan, 9-7, in the first round. It was just the fourth time since 2000 WMU had advanced to the conference tournament.
Western Michigan recorded three MAC series sweeps, including the school's first ever shutout sweep, outscoring Akron 18-0 on the road the opening weekend of conference play. The Broncos swept Ohio for the first time since 1985 and took all three at Ball State for the first time since 1989. Western Michigan rattled off a six-game win streak in the month of May, the longest such streak for the team since 2005.
The Broncos found success in solid pitching and a small ball style of play. WMU improved its ERA from 7.62 to 4.03, its lowest team ERA since 1993 and the staff rang up 367 strikeouts, the most for the Brown & Gold since 2001. Western Michigan was even more impressive during Mid-American Conference play, dropping its 4.03 ERA to 3.46. Able to hold on to leads late, the pitching staff set a new school record with 16 saves, surpassing the previous high of 13.
Offensively, WMU finished ranked 16th in the nation in sacrifice bunts with 70 on the year. Junior second baseman Zach Thoma was named the Division I statistical champion for sacrifice bunts per game, WMU's first statistical champion since Greg Brake led the nation in ERA in 1982. Thoma averaged 0.41 sac bunts per game and with 22 on the season, ranked second in total sac bunts.
Several other accolades rolled in for Western Michigan. The Bronco pitching staff was named Insidepitching.com National Pitching Staff of the Week on March 21 after recording the three-game shutout sweep of Akron. The Broncos went 34.1 innings without giving up a run, not allowing a run in the final five innings to Cincinnati prior to the Akron series and holding Oakland scoreless for the first 2.1 innings following.
A pair of Bronco pitchers were selected in the Major League Draft, RHP Brian Stroud going to the Detroit Tigers in the 31st round and RHP Eric Heckaman going to the Tigers in the 35th round. The Broncos' Friday ace, Stroud returned from an injury plagued 2010 season and posted an 8-4 record with a 3.20 ERA in 2011, garnering Second Team All-MAC honors. Moving from a starter role to the team's closer, Heckaman had the most productive season of his career, posting 10 saves, second most in a single season in WMU history. Heckaman was lights out during the early part of the season, going 26.0 innings before giving up his first earned run against Eastern Michigan on April 24.
Five different Broncos earned MAC weekly awards and senior Tim Cross represented WMU on the Academic All-MAC Team. Stroud was twice tabbed Pitcher of the Week, while junior third baseman Ryan McMillin twice collected Player of the Week honors and junior outfielder Jack Scanlon was named Player of the Week once.
WMU ranked 189 on the national RPI scale. Notable non-conference victories included a pair of wins over 2011 Big Ten regular season champion Michigan State, as well as Big Ten foe Ohio State, Great West regular season and tournament champion Utah Valley, Atlantic 10 regular season runner-up Rhode Island and Big East opponent Cincinnati.
In addition to the improvement on the field, Gernon focused on restoring the culture of one of the most historic programs in the MAC and the Midwest. In January, Western Michigan held the inaugural Leadoff Dinner, which joined the team with family members and Bronco supporters. Dave Dombrowski, CEO and General Manager of the Detroit Tigers, as well as 1979 WMU alumnus, was the keynote speaker at the event. Gernon also implemented the Bronco of the Week series, in which former Bronco greats, such as former major-leaguer John Vander Wal, visited the team weekly leading up to the beginning of the season. Western Michigan was also highly visible within the community, as the team volunteered with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Highly regarded for the academic success of his program, his teams maintained over a 3.0 cumulative grade-point average in his nine years and in the 2007 fall semester, the team posted a 3.25 GPA, which was the highest among all male programs and highest in program history. In 2007, shortstop Chris Venvertloh was named the Student of the Year from the Communication and Athletic Department for graduating with a 4.0 GPA, while Zach Wilson, who now works in the front office as Manager of Scouting for the Colorado Rockies, received the prestigious Doc Skelton Award for his academic excellence and community service. Under Gernon, the Mastodon program was also recognized for its involvement in the Fort Wayne community, as the team helped Habitat for Humanity and the United Way Big Brothers Program.
Gernon has had five of his own players offered professional contracts while working with over 20 in his coaching career. He tutored the highest draft pick in IPFW history, shortstop Ryan Steinbach, who was selected in the 20th round of the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft by the Baltimore Orioles.
Before being named the head coach at IPFW, Gernon was the pitching coach for the Mastodons for two years (1996-97).
PRIOR TO WMU:
Gernon began his playing career at Indiana University Southeast, where he played three years (1986-88) and earned team MVP honors as a sophomore.
Gernon's respect in the coaching community is evident by his speaking and camp experiences. He was the featured speaker at the IHSAA state clinic in 2004 and 2007.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT GERNON:"We are very pleased to have Billy Gernon as our head baseball coach at Western Michigan University. Billy is a proven leader and we are confident he will reestablish our storied program as a top caliber team in the Mid-American Conference and Midwest. Billy led the IPFW program during its transition to Division I status and left there as the all-time winningest coach in school history and has had two very successful years as an assistant at Michigan State. With the improvements that have been completed at our stadium and under the direction of head coach Gernon, I foresee a lot of exciting Bronco baseball in the coming years. We look forward to winning, championship baseball, along with success academically and a priority on student-athlete leadership and community partnerships."
-- Kathy Beauregard, WMU athletic director
"As a WMU alumnus I'm excited to have Billy running our baseball program. Billy is a tireless worker, a man of integrity, a motivator, and is very passionate in making a difference in the lives of his players. I’m confident Billy will carry on the great tradition of our baseball program."