Coming off their best season since joining the NAIA and Mid-South Conference, the Patriot Baseball team looks toward 2016 with excitement. The Pats made school history last year, going 38-17 and playing in the NAIA National Tournament for the first time. With that run, the Patriots opening 2016 ranked #30 in the NAIA pre-season coaches poll.
"We had a fun run last year," noted Patriot skipper Luther Bramblett in his 15th season. "But this is a new year. Getting in the poll is great and says a lot about last year's team - this year's team has to play with the same heart and determination. We lost some really good players, but we feel like we've added some really good players. We're looking forward to getting the uniform on and seeing how we compete."
After losing two professional pitchers off of last year's team, pitching still looks to be a strength of this team. The Patriots return their entire bullpen, mid-week starters and a weekend rotation guy. 22 wins and 9 of 14 saves return to the mound. Daniel Lerma (Oxnard, CA) tossed in the weekend rotation last year and went 3-4 with a 3.88 ERA in 69.2 innings. Austin Willis-Greene (Manhattan, NY) logged a 7-1 record last year in a spot starter and relief role, with a 3.71 ERA. Conner Lindsay (Nicholasville, KY) went 3-0 with a 3.97 ERA in 45.1 innings last year.
In primary relief roles, Jake McCoy (Mesa, AZ) leads the way. Coming off a knee injury, he's tallied 10 saves in a little over a season with 4 wins. Nathan Getzin (Louisville, KY) went 3-0 last year with 2 saves and a 1.55 ERA. James Davenport (Louisville, KY) went 2-1 with 2 saves in 15 games last year and Tyler Jones (Huntingdon Beach, CA) went 2-2 with 2 saves. A number of other arms have looked good in pre-season workouts.
Newcomers Marvin Galarza (Arecibo, PR) and Joan Pena (New York, NY) look to add to the overall depth of the staff. They could be used in both starting and or relief roles. Peyton Johnson (Louisville, KY) adds strong back end relief support. Hector Quinones (Barceloneta, PR) will also add bullpen depth as a two-way guy.
"We feel that we have solid experience back from last year, especially in mid-week and relief arms," stated Bramblett. "Figuring out our best weekend rotation will determine both the mid-week and relief roles. We have a lot of options, but it may be a moving platoon for awhile."
At the plate, the Patriots have four hitters that were at .292 or better. Santiago Arce (Chula Vista, CA) batted .314 with 30 RBI's and looks to contend for a spot in the outfield. Alfredo Bohorquez (Maracaibo, Venezuela) batted .302 with 51 runs, 28 RBI's and a team leading 30 swipes. Bohorquez will make the transition from second base to short stop. Drew Kissel (Jeffersonville, IN) hit .296, with 13 doubles and 30 RBI's and will be the starting catcher. Josh Wenning (Palmyra, IN), making the move from third base to second base, batted .292 with 28 runs, 21 RBI's and 17 stolen bases.
Cody Kollenberg (PeeWee Valley, KY) and Tyler Devine (Harrodsburg, KY) both started last year. Kollenberg batted .286 and is competing for a spot in the outfield. Devine hit .254 with 2 homeruns and 18 RBI's and will compete at first base or DH. Evan Smith (Jacksonville, FL) is returning from an injury last year that limited his games. He will compete for time at third base. Carlos Cespedes (Santo Domingo, DR) saw a lot of time in the outfield last year and batted .241 with 7 doubles.
A handful of newcomers look to impact the club this spring. Hector Quinones (Barceloneta, PR) will compete for a spot in the outfield and can play either corner. He's a middle of the lineup type of hitter. Reid Battles (Denton, TX) will most likely be the everyday center fielder. He's a plus runner and gets great jumps on balls. Nicco Lollio (Brownstown, MI) will compete for time at both first base and the outfield. He's got some pop and should be a middle of the lineup hitter. Matt Higgins (Yuma, AZ) looks to compete for time at third base, but can play any of the three infield spots.
A trio of guys are competing to split time behind the dish. Sophomore Javier Torres (San Ysidro, CA) along with freshmen Chance Bodine (Bardstown, KY) and Koy Lindsey (Hodgenville, KY). Torres brings some pop at the plate, Bodine is closer defensively than the others and Lindsey has been swinging the bat well this pre-season.
"I like our core group of guys returning, they've done a solid job of getting the new guys to buy into what we do. We also have a handful of younger players that are pushing for time, but will start the spring on the JV roster. Overall, if we stay healthy, I like our chances and feel that we'll be competitive in a great conference."
The Patriots open this Friday at the University of Mobile in Alabama. They'll play a DH on Friday and Saturday.