BARTLESVILLE, Okla. — Head Coach Matt Parker and the Oklahoma Wesleyan University Eagles are officially one week out from the first pitch of the 2013 baseball season.
Last year, Coach Parker’s inaugural year, the Eagles set a school record for wins with 42, and had one of the top ranked NAIA offenses in the country. The Eagles will be looking to extend the winning tradition that has landed back to back NCCAA championship title appearances, claiming the title in 2011, and making a run into the NAIA National Tournament.
This year’s assistant coaching staff features one returning coach from 2012, infield coach Jason Frost. Kyle Phelps returns to OKWU after a year as an assistant at the University of Central Arkansas to serve as the outfield coach and recruiting coordinator for the Eagles.
Caleb Longshore, former assistant at Trevecca Nazarene University, joins the program as the pitching coach, as does Garan Qualls, an Oklahoma native and graduate of USAO, who joins the program to work with the catchers.
The 2013 season will be filled with a couple of question marks early in the year. The Eagles will look to replace All-American Cory Ford in the outfield, as well as an anchor in the middle of the line-up, outfielder Shane Elliot. An early season forecast predicts ample playing time for a couple of incoming freshman as well as a few returners to replace Ford and Elliot.
Freshman outfielders Asa Manship, Josh Donato, and Hunter Meyn will look to push Josh Hemsoth (Sr.), Chris McElderry (Sr.), Nick Palese (Sr.), Landon Cloud (Sr.), Cody Riley (Jr.), Giancarlo Sironi (Jr.), and sophomore Austin Peck for starting roles in the outfield.
Returners Nick Palese and Landon Cloud, along with junior college transfer Cody Riley, will look to replace Elliot’s pop in the line-up, while the rest of the outfielders will battle to replace the speed and versatility of the All-American, Ford.
The Eagles return all of the starters on the infield from last year’s club, plus some added depth from newcomers and returners. Josh Davis, an All-Conference third basemen, and Jerett Hardy, an All-Conference first baseman as well as the MCAC Gold Glove winner, will anchor the corners of the infield and the heart of the OKWU line-up, but not without competition from several other competitors on the team.
Sophomore Fernando Beltran will provide a viable option to push Hardy, as well as incoming freshman Michael Hernandez. All-Conference DH Nick Palese and Cody Riley will add depth to first base as well. On the other corner, an experienced senior, Jake Palese, will push to share time at third base with Josh Davis.
Up the middle, All-Conference second basemen, Jose Ruiz, will look to build off of a strong sophomore season, and he will be accompanied by senior Mason Feeler at shortstop. Junior Andrew Murphy will provide depth up the middle at short and second along with sophomore Gunner Joyce.
Senior Lance Black will serve as the utility infielder for the Eagles, providing depth up the middle and at third base.
Behind the dish, senior Nick White, junior college transfer Niko Christ (So.), and returner Jake Good (Jr.) will battle throughout the season to earn time as the defensive anchors for the Eagles pitching staff. White, Christ, and Good each bring different elements to the defensive and offensive line-ups, allowing for their roles to keep them fresh throughout the year.
The Eagles pitching staff will be looking to replace the four conference starters from the 2011-2012 season. Seniors Dusty Phelps, Trevor Cook, and Thomas Kellner finished their senior seasons as MCAC All-Conference pitchers, leaving a high mark for a new staff in 2013.
The Eagles will be looking to fill those roles in a few ways this year. Returning to the pitching staff from the 2012 season is LHP Brendin Vogt (Sr.), LHP Chris McElderry (Sr.), RHP Landon Cloud (Sr.), RHP Nick Palese, (Sr.), RHP Oliver Johnson (Sr.), RHP Zach Hendrix (Jr.), and LHP Evan Holmes (Jr.).
Pitchers that are new to the 2013 staff are right handed pitchers Robert Santana (Jr.), Andrew Smith (Jr.), Chad Backward (Jr.), Chris Hubocan (So.), freshmen Tyler Hampton, CJ Gregory, Connor Garcia and southpaw sophomore Cody Stafford.
The staff is a good mixture of young and old, as well as a mixture of experienced and non-experienced. The experienced will be looked upon to lead the staff early in the year, giving a very talented freshman and sophomore class the ability to grow throughout the year.
The 2013 season looks to be an exciting season for Eagles baseball fans. There has been a buzz of excitement around campus and the community as fans and players are getting anxious for the season to get under way. The Eagles open up on February 1st at Lyon College.
The home opener will feature both Varsity and Junior Varsity teams in action on Tuesday, February 5th against Bacone College. The JV will begin a doubleheader at 12:00 PM at the OKWU campus field while the varsity will play at single game at Doenges Memorial Stadium beginning at 2:00 PM.
NOTE: Please come out and show your support for Eagles baseball!
Follow us on Twitter @OKWU Baseball