The Tabor College baseball team is relying on a strong pitching staff to fuel its success this season.
Led by fifth-year coach Mark Standiford, the Bluejays graduated 17 seniors last year and were projected to finish second behind Sterling in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference.
“We’re preseason No. 2, which I think was fair because of what we lost,” Standiford said. “We lost a lot of very good players.”
The Bluejays ended last year’s season at the top of the KCAC with a 44-15 overall record. Tabor finished second in the conference tournament, but lost to Rogers State University in the NAIA Regional Baseball Tournament Championship game.
“We were very close to getting to the World Series,” Standiford said. “Very proud of our kids last year. We had a very good season.”
Pitching and catching
The Bluejays bring in 24 new players this season. Anchoring the Bluejays on the mound will be senior Josh Stone.
“Josh Stone is a shut-down type pitcher,” Standiford said. “He’s a guy who will go up against everybody’s No. 1, so he’s obviously going to be our guy.”
Also starting will be seniors Matt Lambert, Brian Kowal and Anthony Mendoza. Closers will be senior Alex Mann and freshman Jacob Webb.
“Alex Mann and Jacob Webb give us two shut-down guys out of the bullpen, which is key for us, too,” Standiford said. “(They are) two huge parts of our rotation for our pitching staff as well.”
Standiford has additional pitchers for specific situations.
“Our middle guys will be guys like Zach Richert and Alex Hill,” he said. “Our pitching staff’s pretty deep, so I don’t want to sit here and name them all. But those guys will all contribute sometime throughout the year.”
Behind the plate, senior catcher Wes Moody will be key, and is expected to provide power on offense.
“(Moody) red-shirted last year and has come back and will be a key part of our team,” Standiford said.
Junior transfer CJ DeDeaux is expected to share the catching duties.
Anchoring the infield will be returning second baseman Art Corona. The senior was a second team All-American selection last year.
“(Corona) needs to come in and be a big part of our team and lead our team,” Standiford said. “He really is the key to our offense, so he’s going to be a guy we rely heavily on.”
Junior Kevin Seeger will handle first base responsibilities and is expected to be a force at the plate.
“He’ll hit four-hole for us and be a big part of the middle of our lineup,” Standiford said. “He gives us a legitimate power source, so he’s a guy that needs to come through.”
Junior transfer Shaun Reid will take care of duties at shortstop.
Standiford said third base is still “up in the air,” but mentioned returning senior Paul Sciacca and junior Troy Torres as candidates.
Standiford expects juniors Grant Silva and Keenan Chanin to anchor left field, junior Kirk Rocha and senior Jake Landers to contribute at center field and senior Tyler Kozlowski to man right field.
“Our outfield’s very fast,” Standiford said. “I think we’re blessed with some speed; all have good arms.
“It’s probably the best outfield I’ve had from a defensive standpoint. Guys that can go get the ball, and they’re going to be a big part of our offense, too. I think we’re blessed with…guys that know the game and are going to do nothing but get better the more games we play.”
As expected, Tabor’s pitching has helped the Bluejays to a wining start in the early season.
“It’s probably the deepest (pitching) staff I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Standiford said. “We have guys that will keep us in the game.”
On the flip side, the Bluejays may lack heavy hitters on offense.
“We don’t have a lot of power this year from an offensive standpoint, but we do run exceptionally well, so I think we ought to be able to steal quite a few bases,” Standiford said.
The Bluejay coach said his team—5-1 in the KCAC and 14-8 overall through March 23—has struggled finding offensive rhythm.
“We’ve started slower this year than I anticipated,” Standiford said. “I think it was kind of because of the weather, and we just haven’t been able to get into a groove.”
Hitting was a strength of last year’s team, and Standiford said he thinks the Bluejays can improve in that category as the season progresses.
“If you look back at our teams in the past, hitting has been our strong point,” he said. “In fact, last year we led the country in hitting.
“This year, we’re not quite to that point, so that’s something that we need to improve on. I don’t perceive that as a weakness, though. I really think we have the talent here to do it. I think it’s just a matter of us being able to get to that point.”
Standiford said he has already seen positive strides.
“We’re starting to hit the ball better,” he said. “I think when it’s all said and done, we’re going to swing the bat very well.”
Another challenge has been team chemistry, Standiford said.
“Those type of things take awhile when you bring so many new guys in,” he said. “I think that will play out over time; I think we’ll be able to fix that.”
Standiford anticipates a strong conference this year.
“I think top to bottom, this could be the best league of the five years that I’ve been here—which I think is good for the league,” he said.
Topping the list of teams to watch is Sterling, the preseason No. 1.
“Sterling has an outstanding team,” Standiford said. “They’re going to be very, very good.
“They’re coached very well. Their pitching staff is very, very good, too, so it’s going to be a battle with them.”
Other teams in the hunt include Kansas Wesleyan and the University of Saint Mary.
“I think the talent level has gradually gone up in this conference,” Standiford said. “Last year was the first year this conference ever had two bids to go to regional, with us and Sterling. That says a little bit about the conference, too.”
Standiford has high hopes for conference play this season.
“I do think we have a very good chance to win it, and I expect to win it.”