Young baseball team aims high for upcoming season
February 27, 2006 —
Consistency will be key for the SVSU baseball team this year as coach Walt Head enters his 24th season sporting a young team ripe with potential.
The Cardinals enter this season picked third in the GLIAC Preseason Coaches Poll along with Ashland, behind second-place Wayne State and preseason favorite Grand Valley State. The third-place projection comes despite the fact that the Cardinals have only 10 seniors on their roster. Still, Head is hopeful that after graduating several key players from last year's 31-17 team that his young team can fulfill their promise.
"Reality says we probably shouldn't do that well," Head says. "But my expectations are always a lot higher then what they probably should be."
Part of Head's expectations comes from an experienced starting rotation led by senior Steve Liebrecht. Liebrecht finished last season with a 4-3 record with a 3.47 ERA in nine contests. For his career, the three-year letter winner has posted 11 victories and has struck out 118 in 152.1 innings.
Behind Liebrecht is a pair of Second Team All-GLIAC pitchers from a season ago. Junior Scott Schlaff and sophomore Scott Roy both had identical 5-3 records last season with Roy posting a 2.39 ERA to Schlaff's 3.34 ERA.
In particular, Head is excited about Roy, who combines the promise of improvement that youth brings with the results of a veteran. While Roy was wild at times, walking 35 in 60.1 innings, he held opponents to a .223 average, pitched two shutouts, and struck out 53.
Overall, though, Head is pleased with what each pitcher brings to the team.
"Those three guys right there can win every time they go out there," he says.
The remainder of the pitching staff will include seniors Elijah Martin and Jim Kelly, who each earned three wins last season, along with transfers Tom Seehafer and Matt Parker.
One pitcher Head is also excited about is freshman John Herendeen out of Northwest High School in Jackson. Head says the 6'1" lefty is "pretty good for us," and believes he could make a mark on the staff at some point this season.
"Our freshmen and sophomore class is a pretty good class," Head says. "As good as anybody else in this league."
While the strength of the team is pitching, Head believes the team may struggle to score runs.
"Offensively, that's the question mark," he says. "We lost a lot of RBI production when we lost Dan Jones and Chris Norton."
Jones batted .336 last season, slugging four home runs and driving in 28 runs to earn Second Team All-GLIAC honors.
Norton, an Honorable Mention All-GLIAC shortstop a year ago, led the team with 50 hits and had 29 RBIs and a .314 batting average.
Despite the team's significant loss of offensive clout, there are some bright spots returning for the Cardinals.
Sophomore Brandon Fanion returns in left field after posting a team high .343 average in 39 games, including a stellar .373 average in league play.
Also returning is senior Justin Doughty. Doughty came out of nowhere last year to earn the starting second base job after having only nine at bats in 17 games in his first two seasons on the team. After a solid performance during the spring trip, Doughty went on to start 35 games, batting .308 with an on base percentage of .447, earning Honorable Mention on the All-GLIAC team.
Another player who looks to contribute offensive firepower is senior first baseman Dale Marsden. The big senior committed himself to an offseason workout, dropping over 20 pounds in hopes that he can improve upon last year's numbers. Marsden batted .273 but led the team in home runs, RBIs, total bases, and slugging percentage.
Youth at the other positions, however, could scale back the Cardinals' run production from years past.
"We may have to bunt a little bit more, steal some more bases, do a little more hit and run," Head says. "I don't think we're going to win a lot of 12-1 ball games."
Head believes that his squad is still capable of winning and that a conference championship and NCAA tournament bid are not out of the question. But to do that, Head believes, the team must win a minimum of 30 games.
The Cardinals' quest for those victories begins when the squad travels to Ft. Myers, Florida on March 4 to begin their spring trip. While many teams face weaker schedules during their trips to start the season on a winning note, Head says this year's trip will be far from easy.
"This is one of the tougher one's we've had in a while," Head said of the upcoming trip.
While the Cardinals' opponents on the trip had a modest combined record of 163-160 last season, the last three teams on their spring schedule are all coming off winning seasons. This includes a March 10 contest against Florida Gulf Coast University, which went 37-18 a season ago.
Things will only get harder for the team, though, when they head back north. Beginning March 22, 10 of the team's first 13 contests are on the road, including a pivotal two-week stretch in which they travel to Grand Valley, Wayne State, and Ashland, the three teams sitting atop the conference alongside the Cardinals.
While Head says those games will be tough, it is also an opportunity for them to beat some of the teams they know they have to beat to win the conference title and a chance for the team to improve.
"I'd like to say right now we want to work towards an undefeated season," Head says. "That's not reality, but that's probably how every coach feels this time of year."