WALNUT RIDGE, AR (WBC) - For college baseball fans, the start of baseball season means a lot of things. Warmer weather, longer days, the ping of aluminum bats, mitts popping and sunflower seeds being consumed in mass quantities are just some of the things that baseball fans look forward to when the start of the season rolls around.
At Williams Baptist College, that season gets underway Saturday, as the baseball Eagles host Evangel for a doubleheader.
For the Eagles' 2011 baseball season, Head Coach John Katrosh is optimistic that fans can look forward to a veteran, experienced squad. Katrosh cited strong leadership in the offseason for the high expectations for this season.
"We have had great leadership from not only our team captains, but also from our returnees from last season. They have worked extremely hard to improve this offseason and we believe that it will turn into results once the season starts," the coach noted.
Katrosh mentioned how important the squad's two team captains, seniors Jordan Smith and James Mitchell, have been this season. Katrosh said being a team captain for the WBC baseball team is a high honor because it means you were voted in by your peers.
"James and Jordan have shown great leadership for our team during the fall and since we have come back to start preparations for the upcoming season. Jordan and James are two of our hardest workers, which is important because it sets a precedent for our younger players on what it takes to be successful," Katrosh said.
Katrosh feels comfortable being able to know when he is not around that that there still is discipline in his team's work ethic. "These two guys lead on and off the field. They make sure everyone is taking care of their business and working as hard as they can," he said.
The 2011 baseball Eagles will have a different look on the mound this season compared to last year. WBC has only one conference starter returning, having lost two starters to graduation and one to a season ending injury in Dustin Crane.
Williams will rely on returnee Shawn Selph, a 6'5" junior right hander, to anchor the weekend rotation. After Selph there are a lot of question marks as to who will take over the other three weekend rotation spots. "We only have one weekend guy returning," Katrosh said. "We have no experienced starters that have pitched in a conference game."
The coach also noted that losing Crane to Tommy John surgery was a blow to WBC. "Crane was going to be one of weekend guys and would have helped solidify our rotation."
Although there is a lack of experience, Katrosh is very confident that others will step up and help fill the void left from last year. "We have had good competition for our other three spots and we have a lot of potential," Katrosh said.
Others vying for weekend starting spots are freshman right handers Tyler Lathan and Sheldon Edmondson, freshman lefty John Smith, sophomore right hander Adam Montgomery, juniors Dakota Melton and Josh Brown and senior Dylan Karnes. Katrosh is very pleased with the depth of the staff and added, "They all will get their shot, either as weekend guys or mid-week starters."
WBC will look to senior catcher Jordan Smith to help with a young pitching staff. "Smith is a team captain and a leader on this team. He will help the staff out so much with him being behind the plate," noted Katrosh. Smith batted .268 last season while handling most of the catching duties.
Backing Smith up this season will be senior Caleb Orosz. Katrosh noted that Orosz is a great backup catcher and will help in handling the pitching staff this season.
All three outfield spots are up for grabs going into the season. Katrosh has been pleased with the competition for those spots and feels like that has made the players better. "During the offseason our guys pushed each other hard and competed for playing time, which makes each guy try and outwork the other guy," he said.
Competing for the leftfield job is junior Garrett Broadway and sophomore transfer Tyler Williams. Williams transferred from University of Arkansas at Monticello. Broadway is a returner and hit .348 in 46 at bats last season.
Looking to anchor the outfield will be junior Tyler Herring and freshman Mitchell Dennis. Herring brings good speed for WBC and patrols "lots of ground," according to Katrosh. The coach has been very pleased with Dennis and thinks he will be able to help Williams this season.
Looking to lock down the other corner outfield position is junior Justin Hawkins and redshirt freshman transfer Paul Welch. Welch is a transfer from Arkansas Baptist College.
If there was ever one good thing a young and inexperienced pitching staff could hope for it would be solid defense up the middle in the infield. Luckily for WBC, that is exactly what they have. Returning to play shortstop for Williams this season is reigning American Midwest Conference Defensive Shortstop of the Year James Mitchell.
Katrosh is very pleased how Mitchell has led this offseason, commenting, "James has really taken his leadership role seriously. He has looked to improve himself so he can help the team win." Mitchell batted .258 last season while playing a great shortstop.
Mitchells' double play partner returns this season in senior Chris Marcum. Marcum started 27 games at second last season and looks to help solidify the right side of the infield. Backing up Marcum is freshman Kendall Fay. Katrosh has been impressed with how Fay has been able to push both Mitchell and Marcum and says he will be a willing backup for either position. Behind Mitchell on the depth chart is senior Caleb Dudley. Dudley will be counted on to be more of utility back-up this season.
It is always nice to have a returner at the hot corner, especially if he was the team MVP a season before. Returning to play third base is honorable mention all-conference performer David Shultz. Shultz, a junior, will look to bring a steady bat to the lineup and play good defense at the hot corner. He hit .333 last season while driving in 21 runs to help anchor the WBC lineup.
Katrosh has been very pleased with the progress that Chris Miller has made and said, "He is a very capable backup behind Shultz at third base. He has worked extremely hard this offseason and could have an impact as a pinch hitter this season."
Manning the opposite corner of the infield will be senior Tyler Trover. Katrosh noted Trover has "a steady glove and bat and is a good leader." Pushing Trover for playing time is freshman Caleb Mitchell. Katrosh expects Mitchell to bring some pop to the WBC lineup and help drive in runs.
Katrosh also expects some added depth coming over from the hardwood this season, as senior Marcus Massey, junior Dustin Osment and freshman Derek Wooten will look to hit the diamond once basketball season is over. Massey and Wooten will help bolster the pitching staff while Osment will add depth in the outfield, a left handed stick and speed to WBC.
Katrosh noted that the AMC will be strong again this season. He said the favorites will be Missouri Baptist, McKendree and William Woods, but after those three "anyone can beat anyone." WBC will be looking to make a trip to the post-season, and Katrosh said there are a few things that have to happen for that to transpire. "We have to become more consistent with the little things and make sure we do them right. We have to get good pitching and defense night in and night out," Katrosh said.
Katrosh also thinks that WBC had a lapse during conference play last season and must avoid that this season, commenting, "We peaked too early last year and hopefully we will peak at the right time this season."
Williams opens the 2011 campaign by hosting Evangel on Saturday, Feb. 5, for two seven-inning contests, starting at 12:00 noon.