Years ago the St. Catharine College Patriots’ baseball team took on the sobriquet of Bat Pats. And while that would conjure up images of offensive prowess, SC head coach Luther Bramblett is counting on strengths in other areas to boost his team in the 2013 campaign that begins Friday (February 1st).
“We should be better defensively than last year,” said Bramblett who will take a career record of 394-175 into his 12th season at St. Catharine. “We are stronger on the mound also, and will have better team speed than last season.”
Not that the 2012 season was a bust for the Bat Pats. Bramblett’s bunch finished fourth in the ultra-competitive Mid-South Conference. In compiling a 32-25 record, the 10th consecutive season in which they have won at least 30 games, St. Catharine hit a respectable .273. The Patriots were fourth in the MSC in earned run average (3.62), fifth in opponent batting average (.272) and fifth in fielding percentage (.950).
But the Bat Pats’ mentor sees another aspect of the game as the continuing identity, and strength, of his team – and that is base running. Last year St. Catharine led the conference and was ninth nationally in stolen bases with 135 (2.37 a game). Their steal attempts were successful 84 percent of the time.
“We like to run and that will come as a surprise to no one,” added Bramblett. “Plus this year we will have better production in the middle of the lineup that will hopefully drive in more runs.”
Bramblett projects the starting lineup to be a concoction of quality returnees, some coming off injury riddled seasons a year ago, talented junior college transfers and a few true freshmen. It is a combination that Bramblett is counting on to lift his team higher than the pre-season ranking that has the Bat Pats picked to finish sixth place in the 11-team MSC.
“Our conference was already tough and this year with Bluefield and Cumberland (Tenn.) joining it will be even stronger,” said Bramblett.
Cumberland is a perennial NAIA powerhouse, having won the national title in 2004 and 2010 and finishing as runner-up in 1995 and 2006. They are picked third in the pre-season poll, behind Lindsey Wilson College, last year’s champion, and Georgetown. Campbellsville was picked fourth in the poll with Shawnee State fifth.
Bramblett continued, “I feel like we’ve gotten better but so has everyone else. Really, any of nine or ten teams could win the title this year.”
If St. Catharine is to be the team to win it, the Bat Pats will need to find replacements for some key hitters lost to graduation. Gone from last year’s squad are leading hitters Andrew Garcia (.333), Juan Moriel (.316), Cody Miller (.303) and Luis Zeledon (.299).
“It is tough to replace those guys, both in terms of numbers they put up and the other positive things they brought to the team,” Bramblett said. “But overall, I think we have upgraded athletically this season.”
That upgrade starts with some returnees who last year spent many innings on the bench with a variety of maladies. Senior designated hitter Tyler Mischel (St. Louis, Mo.) (.286) played in just 37 games due to a concussion and hamstring issues but is back healthy to add power in the middle of the lineup. Left fielder Jeremy Turpin (Lawrenceburg, Ky.) (.280), also a senior, battled injuries last year but still played in every game. At full speed this season, Turpin is counted on as a top of the lineup guy who last year led the team in stolen bases with 22 steals in 26 attempts.
Last year’s most glaring injury was a hamstring injury suffered by center fielder Carlos Hernandez (Fresno, Calif.) in the first game, causing him to miss the entire season. In 2011 Hernandez led the team in hits, batting average, doubles and stolen bases while also providing excellent defense.
Other returnees expected to make an impact include three seniors, first baseman Joey Xavier(Selma, Calif.) (28 RBI), right fielder CJ Englestad(Rohnert Park, Calif.) (.273, 20-21 SB) and catcher Joey Andrada (Visalia, Calif.) (1.000 fielding percentage in 25 games). Eric Standafer (Shelbyville, Ky.) returns with the best average from last year as the junior first baseman hit .292.
Adding depth to the expected starting outfield of Turpin, Hernandez and Englestad will be sophomore Lamont Calloway (Louisville, Ky.) (10-11 in steal attempts last season), junior transfer Josh Whitmer(Taylorsville, Ky.) and freshman Cody Kollenberg (Pee Wee Valley, Ky.). Xavier could also see action in left field in addition to his time at first base.
New faces abound throughout the infield as the Bat Pats look to replace departed players at second base, shortstop and third base. KC Mejia (Vail, Ariz.) and Adrian Garcia (Anaheim, Calif.), junior transfers from Pima Community College and Santa Ana College, are interchangeable at shortstop and second base and will compete for the starting spots at those positions. Also in the mix are sophomore Trevor Schneider (Louisville, Ky.) and junior Joel Cooper (Windsor, Ontario), both who played sparingly last year. Garcia and Cooper may also see time at third base as will freshman Evan Smith Jacksonville, Fla.).
The mound crew will also include a combination of veterans and newcomers. They must fill the void left by Tim Reed, Jake Waardenburg and Javier Perez who combined to win 15 games last season. Ryan Rizzi (Lansing, Ill), a senior right-hander, is back after posting a 6-2 record and 2.92 ERA last year.Those returnees are joined by a quartet of new Bat Pats. Bruce Tolliver (Whittier, Calif.), a junior transfer from Santa Ana College where he was 4-1 last season with 44 K’s in 46 innings, was honored by Collegiate Baseball magazine along with Hernandez and Rizzi as 2013 NAIA Players to Watch. Southpaws Andrew Nelson (Eureka, Calif.), a junior transfer from Santa Rosa College, and redshirt freshman Dylan Shoffner (Elizabethtown, Ky.) will also compete for a spot in the starting rotation as will right-hander Eddie Rivera (Anaheim, Calif.), a junior transfer from Fullerton College.
The SC bullpen welcomes experienced arms led by Cory Klinger (Rushsylvania, Ohio), a junior, who last year was 3-1. Senior Matt Wagner (Brooks, Ky.), a Player to Watch in 2012, looks to a return to form after posting a 1-5 record last season. Trenton Claunch (Burgin, Ky.), a junior who was 1-1 last season, redshirt junior Cody Alvey (Upton, Ky.) and CJ Gant (Louisville, Ky.), a junior who saw limited innings due to injury last season, add depth to the relieving corps.
The Bat Pats begin the season this weekend with doubleheaders Friday and Saturday at Thomas University in Thomasville, Ga. Following eight games on the road to begin the season, the home opener is scheduled for February 16th against Ohio University-Chillicothe.