Written by Katie Morford Tuesday, 27 March 2012 15:02
A Tabor baseball team that was barely edged out of the KCAC championship last year by Kansas Wesleyan is well on its way in their hunt for the elusive title this season.
The senior-heavy Bluejays are already flexing the muscle of their experience, going 18-4 heading into spring break, including a 4-0 conference start.
All four of Tabor’s losses were against nationally ranked teams. The Bluejays have also defeated some ranked teams, including Fort Hays State, an NCAA Division II school.
“We started off well and we played an outstanding schedule,” coach Mark Standiford said. “I’m very excited about it. But we do have an injury that we’re going to have to work through.”
He was referring to senior standout shortstop Andrew Perez, who was an all-conference player last year. Perez claimed the second spot in hitting and put up an outstanding performance on defense, but will be out four to six weeks with a broken finger.
“I’ve seen a lot of shortstops, and he’s probably the best I’ve ever had,” Standiford said, adding that he wouldn’t hesitate to put him up against NCAA Division I players.
“But,” Standiford was quick to add, “we have very good people behind him, so we should be OK.”
Many of those who will look to fill Perez’s shoes are newcomers.
“We have a lot of transfers who have come in and they’re going to contribute quite a bit,” Standiford said. “For the most part, most of them have done pretty well for us.”
A prime example is junior second-baseman Art Corona, who has provided a spark on both offense and defense.
“He’s been very hot,” Standiford said. “He’s not very big in stature, but I tell you what, he’s a very big bat. He’s come through big. He plays outstanding defense, and he may be the one who slides over and plays shortstop (for Perez).”
Other newcomers expected to have an impact include juniors Paul Sciacca and Tyler Kozlowski.
“Sciacca has come in and has done very well for us,” Standiford said. “Kozlowski’s done an outstanding job for us in the outfield.”
The Bluejays also added juniors Anthony Mendoza and Matt Lambert on the mound to help compensate for losses at the pitching position.
“We lost a couple at break, which affects our depth a bit,” Standiford said. “I looked at it as an opportunity for some guys to get the chance to pitch now.
“I think our depth is there, it’s just a matter of us giving them some experience so they feel more comfortable going out there.”
Tabor returns junior Brian Kowal and seniors David Ormiston and Nicholas Reif to the mound, all of whom made contributions last year and are looking strong so far this season.
“Our defense has been up and down a little bit,” Standiford said. “It’s better than what we’ve played, as far as what we did last year, so I expect it to be solid.”
On offense, in addition to Perez, Corona and Sciacca, the Bluejays will look to returners Adam McCormick, a senior third baseman, and Koby Temple, a junior second baseman, to round out the batting order.
“All those guys will contribute somehow,” Standiford said. “We need to be more consistent at the plate, as far as our approach. We don’t have as much power, but we do run very well. We have 70 stolen bases on the year already, and 90 total last year.”
He said the smaller dimensions of Tabor’s home field encourages his players to try for homers even when they’re not built for it.
In order to compete well with a tough schedule, they will need to find balance.
“Our conference, for the most part, is probably the strongest this year than it has been since I’ve been here,” Standiford said. “We do have a tough schedule. But our conference is going to be a true test, there’s no doubt.”
Kansas Wesleyan should emerge as a conference leader, as will Sterling, but Standiford thinks his players are up to the challenge.
“One thing about our team, I will say this—we are exciting to watch. We play hard, and what I’ve been most impressed with lately is that even when we’re down, we have a tendency to climb back.
“It just shows a little bit of the character we have, so I’m excited about that.”
Tabor will get its chance to test its mettle Saturday when it hosts University of Saint Mary in a KCAC matchup.