For sophomore catcher and infielder Zach Gerch, there’s no doubt team chemistry is better this year than it was last year for the Southwestern Community College baseball team.
And Gerch believes that better team chemistry, along with better overall talent, could lead the Spartans to big things.
“We’re more of a family this year,” Gerch said. “We have better leadership, better overall talent. Our goal is to make it to the World Series, and there should be no reason why we don’t make it there.”
The Spartans finished 17-37 last year, but after being bitten by the injury bug early in the season on their way to a 3-20 start, finished 14-17 down the stretch after getting healthy.
“There’s been a huge improvement on the team from last year,” sophomore infielder Dillon Coates, who played high school ball for Martensdale-St. Marys, said. “I see this year as we can easily be 10 games over .500, 10 to 15 games over .500. We have a pitching staff that I’m sure coach Bull (Smith) has been dreaming about ever since he’s been here.”
One of the biggest issues for the Spartans over the past several season has been depth, and specifically, depth at the pitcher position.
That doesn’t appear to be the case this year.
Providing a big boost to the pitching staff will be Ethan Westphal, who returns after redshirting last season after undergoing back surgery.
Coach Brian “Bull” Smith said Westphal, who pitched for both Lenox and Martensdale-St. Marys in high school, has shown improved velocity during pitching sessions.
“Ethan will probably be the ace of the staff,” Gerch said. “He comes from all different directions.”
As a whole, Smith said he has seven guys who are hitting numbers on the radar gun that he hasn’t had anyone hit in previous years.
“This is the first year we’ve had some pitching depth that’s some really good, quality depth,” Smith said. “We were in here live the other night, and we had seven guys touching 88, which we’ve never had. We’ve had some guys 83 to 86. There’s some top-end rotation guys in there.”
Last year’s Spartan team was heavy on sophomores, so naturally, there is a lot of turnover when it comes to this year’s team.
But it’s been easy for the team to build chemistry together.
“For me, meeting them and playing with them, our chemistry has been easy,” said Omar Hotusing, a sophomore transfer catcher from Miami. “We’ve become friends real quick, so our chemistry is great right now, and it’s just getting better each time we play.”
Southwestern’s roster features more than 20 newcomers, coming all the way from Miami to Rhode Island to Pennsylvania to Canada to Iowa.
Smith worked a pipeline in Florida with the help of a friend who coaches high school baseball there, which allowed Smith to sign a number of players from the Sunshine State.
“Omar Hotusing is going to be a big one,” Coates, a returning second-team all-region player, said. “He’s a hell of a catcher. He can hit. We got Jordan (Reyes), and he’s 88 to 90 on the mound. We got about four or five other guys that came up from Florida that can all play ball.”
Southwestern also drops down to Division II after spending the past several season in Division I.
Southwestern no longer competes in the same division as Iowa Western, a perennial national powerhouse.
The Spartans now compete in a division with the likes of Iowa Central, Kirkwood, Ellsworth, Southeastern, Iowa Lakes and NIACC.
The change in divisions has the Spartans confident in how they can compete.
“We kind of showed the potential as freshmen, and playing Division I baseball, we’ve played a lot of good competition,” Gerch said. “We’re just going to try to learn from that and start even better this year.”
And the Spartans are ready to get the 2013 season under way, if they can ever get outside and play.
“We’re just looking forward to playing a game,” Hotusing said. “It makes you a little anxious to get outside. It’s hard to practice.”
“You get sick and tired of what a basketball court looks like,” Gerch added.
Southwestern was scheduled to open the season last weekend against Doane College’s JV, but that game was cancelled with the weather.
The Spartans are now slated to open up in Marshall, Mo., against the Missouri Valley College JV team on Monday, but that game is in doubt with the recent amounts of snow received in the Kansas City area.
The players just want to get outside and get a game in, and when they come back home to Creston for the home opener against DMACC at 1 p.m. on Sunday, March 24, they’d like to have a good crowd there to support them.
“I just want to invite all of Creston,” Gerch said. “We have high expectations. We’d like to have a good fan base come out and support us. We’re all here to try to win a championship and support the town of Creston and bring a national championship here.”
(* — redshirt)
Freshmen — Yariel Alvarez, IF, Kissimmee, Fla.; Ethan Westphal*, P/IF, Winterset; Drew Feuerbach, OF, Omaha; Brett Ramey*, P, Omaha; Corey Williams*, P/IF, Olathe, Kan.; Jordan Reyes, P, Miami; Tyler Engelhardt, P/OF, Ankeny; Trent Dooley, OF, St. Marys; Randy Garcia, P, Providence, R.I.; Victor Fermin, P, Kissimmee, Fla.; Cody Olson*, IF, Persia; Brock Daniels, P/IF, Pleasant Hill; JJ Marquez, IF, Kissimmee, Fla.; Alessio Pena, IF, St. Cloud, Fla.; Brett Bray*, P/IF, Excelsior Springs, Mo.; Chris McVey, P, Atlantic; Sawyer Ocheltree, P/IF, Casey; Karlin Palidwor, P, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; Alex Lawson, P, Easton, Penn.; Lawrence Moore III, OF/IF, Alton, Ill.; Aaron Hixson, IF, Omaha.
Sophomores — JD Urban*, OF, Omaha; Omar Hotusing, C, Miami; Dillon Coates, IF/C, Indianola; Seth Lieser, P/IF, Olathe, Kan.; Michael Cendrowski, P/OF, Smithfield, Va.; Zach Gerch, C/IF, Omaha; Colton Clark, C, Omaha; Jack Folsom, P/OF, Omaha; Jory Keuten*, IF, Lincoln, Neb.; Kyle Pruitt*, C, Olathe, Kan.
Coaches — Brian “Bull” Smith (head coach, fifth year); Steve Westphal (assistant coach, third year); John Oler (assistant coach, first season).
March 4 — at Missouri Valley College JV, 3 p.m.
March 9 — at Southeast Nebraska CC, 1 p.m.
March 10 — at Southeast Nebraska CC, 1 p.m.
March 16 — at Carl Albert State, 1 p.m.
March 17 — at Carl Albert State, 1 p.m.
March 18 — at Carl Albert State, 12 p.m.
March 23 — at DMACC, 1 p.m.
March 24 — vs. DMACC, 1 p.m.
March 28 — at Grand View JV, 2 p.m.
March 30 — vs. NIACC, 2 p.m.
March 31 — vs. NIACC, 12 p.m.
April 2 — vs. Indian Hills, 2 p.m.
April 4 — at Indian Hills, 3 p.m.
April 6 — at Iowa Lakes, 1 p.m.
April 7 — at Iowa Lakes, 12 p.m.
April 8 — vs. Grand View JV, 2 p.m.
April 13 — vs. Southeastern, 1 p.m.
April 14 — vs. Southeastern, 1 p.m.
April 17 — at Grand View JV, 2 .m.
April 20 — at Ellsworth, 2 p.m.
April 21 — at Ellsworth, 12 p.m.
April 25 — vs. Marshalltown, 3 p.m.
April 27 — vs. Iowa Central, 2 p.m.
April 28 — vs. Iowa Central, 1 p.m.
April 30 — at Marshalltown, 4 p.m.
May 2 — at Muscatine, 3 p.m.
May 4 — at Kirkwood, 2 p.m.
May 5 — at Kirkwood, 12 p.m.
May 9-13 — ICCAC Regional Tournament (Waterloo)