By Zach Lucero
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
The University of the Incarnate Word baseball team has been practicing since Aug. 24 and its players are busy with individual position workouts to gear up for the spring season.
Full team practices started Sept. 22.
“This season seems to have more positive energy than last year,” said sophomore Tanner Wall, a business administration major from San Antonio. “We should be able to compete more than last year in conference and even against the big-time opponents.”
The biggest hurdle for the upcoming season will be replacing 319.8 of last year’s innings pitched with the departures of key pitchers due to injury, graduation and even to the MLB draft. – in the case of Geno Encino, who is pitching with the Bluefield Blue Jays, in the Rookie Appalachian League, a minor league team affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Cardinals are only returning three out of five of the team’s pitchers with the best ERAs. One of the returnees is John Shull, a communication arts major from San Antonio.
“This year’s focus needs to be on pitching because in the past it has been our Achilles heel,” said junior outfielder Mark Whitehead, a business administration major from San Antonio. “Our bullpen guys need to be able to get guys out.”
The individual workouts have allowed players to focus more on the little parts of our game. Senior catcher Weston Pitts, a business administration major from San Antonio, has used the individual practices to get a closer look at some of the new faces on the pitching staff. The team only has one junior college transfer from this year’s class, meaning the rest are freshmen.
“We really need to see some of the new guys mature and be ready to step up and be starters for the team this season,” said Pitts. “I’m excited to see (Shull) take on more responsibility and grow from his solid performance last season. I’m also excited about (junior college) transfer Lance Moszkowicz. He spots up very well and has a great change-up. This year should be a better year and the solid group of seniors we have this year is something people should be excited for.”
With the start of team practices, the Cardinals will work more on specific plays and important live team scrimmages. The scrimmages will be a big opportunity for pitchers to grab starting and bullpen roles from facing live hitters. The same goes for the hitters, as they will face live pitching for the first time this fall. There are heated position battles at the middle infield positions and behind the plate at catcher. The live scrimmages will help players win or lose the starting job at those positions.
“In order to take pressure off some of the new pitchers our lineup will have to produce more hits and more runs,” said Braden Martin, a senior utility player from Andrews, Texas. “This is to give out guys on the mound more confidence and time to rest.”
With the recent release of the 2016 schedule the Cardinals, once again, have a tough non-conference schedule where they face eight teams that made an NCAA regional. This matchup is exciting some of the players and they look forward to a challenge. The team has used the fall season to build chemistry for the upcoming season.
“This prepares us for the bigger stage of conference games,” said Martin, a business administration major. “It also helps people see us as a team that can compete with the top-tier teams nationally. The fall season has been all about the grind and everyone has grown into a very tight-knit group.”
Offensively the team looks to improve even more from last season’s team batting average of .254. The team brings back their two team leaders in hits from a season ago in senior infielders Matt Morris, a business administration major from Scottsdale, Ariz., and Austin Hoffman, a cultural arts major from Goodyear, Ariz. The team also brings back plenty of experience in Whitehead who has played in 98 games in two years with the team.
“I see a lot of promise in some of the newer members of the team,” Whitehead said. “The (junior college) transfer, Cory Duran, has so much pop in his bat it’s ridiculous. If we improve on the small things that need improvement, we should be in every game and will be in contention for a conference title.”