With so much turnover from last year’s team that finished 12-30 overall and 5-21 in ICCAC Division II play, even the Southwestern baseball team isn’t quite sure what to expect this year.
“We don’t really know what to expect yet, because we haven’t been out on the field,” said redshirt freshman Ethan Westphal.
“It’s hard to promise wins and losses,” sophomore outfielder Drew Feuerbach said. “But I know we’re going to show up every day and we’re going to compete. That’s all you can ask for.”
Part of the reason there’s so much uncertainty surrounding the Spartans this year is that the team has been stuck inside since practices began. And, Southwestern lost several players since the fall, while also adding a few new players into the mix this semester.
“We lost some guys for various reasons, so there’s a little bit of I don’t know what to expect right now,” head coach Brian “Bull” Smith said. “I still think we’ve got a chance to be competitive. It all depends on health and depth. God help us we don’t have another deal like we did last year, losing seven guys on the mound.”
One plus for the Spartans this year is that they’re entering the season, which is scheduled to start Friday at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, healthy.
Last year, the Spartans lost several pitchers to injury during the fall, and took more hits early in the season, including losing Westphal to Tommy John surgery.
After starting the season with a 4-2 record, suddenly the Spartans were suffering from a shortage of arms.
“It killed us,” Smith said. “Between fall and the first two weeks of the season when Ethan went down, we had lost seven guys on the mound we were counting on. Surprising we didn’t have more with the increase in workload for some of the other guys.”
Having Westphal, who played his high school ball at Lenox and Martensdale-St. Marys, back will provide a boost to the rotation.
“I’m ready to go,” Westphal said. “I’m not going to say I’m 100 percent, but I’m definitely in the 90 to 100 percent range. Rehab was pretty long, but feeling pretty good. Kind of getting anxious to get back on the field.”
Smith said with Westphal and sophomore Karlin Palidwor of Manitoba, Canada back in the rotation, the Spartans should be able to compete with anybody.
“Ethan, he’s a No. 1 guy,” Smith said. “That kid can go out and beat anybody. It’s just getting his strength and stamina back up. Same with Karlin Palidwor. He’s coming off labrum surgery. You get those two guys back, those are conference rotation-level guys if they can get back to where they were.”
Alex Lawson, Jason Roberts, Zeb Noel, Tyler Englehardt and Parker Magneson also look to see time on the mound for the Spartans this year.
Smith said he believes his team has a solid corps of players to build around in the field in returning sophomores Alessio Pena, Feuerbach and Sawyer Ocheltree.
Pena will see time in the middle infield, while Feuerbach will roam the outfield and Ocheltree will man first base.
“Alessio is great with the bat,” Feuerbach said. “I’m excited to see what he can do on the base paths.”
Devan Wicks, a redshirt freshman, has impressed during practices and has worked his way into playing time, Smith said.
Newcomers who will likely make an impact this year are Matt Mayden of Kansas City, Eric Bueno of Bronx, N.Y., and Gage Gavin of Martensdale.
“Gage Gavin is a guy I like, too,” Smith said. “Probably going to play some short, some second. Good player. Eric Bueno is a kid that transferred in out of a four-year school in Texas. He’s looked really good. We had a hole to fill in the fall in center field when we lost a guy. He’s a good team guy.
“Matt Mayden is another guy,” Smith said. “He’ll probably hit in the middle of the order for us. Power potential, he’s just got to go figure it out.”
Ready to go
Now, it’s just a matter of getting on the baseball field for the Spartans.
“We’re just anxious,” Feuerbach said. “We’re ready to get out onto the field. We’ve been inside this gym a lot and we’re kind of sick of it.”
Lawson said the team is ready to go now that it’s healthy.
“The mindset now that everyone is healthy, we’re looking to go out there and be defensively sound,” he said. “Hit the ball hard, line drives on the ground and have great pitching.”
For Westphal, the goal this year is to make a deep run in the Division II Region XI tournament.
“One of my goals is to go deep in the tournament, try to be there at the end and win the last games that we play,” he said. “Just get better every single game as a team, as a whole.”
The Spartans are scheduled to open the season Saturday and Sunday with a pair of doubleheaders against Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College in Miami, Okla.
Those games may be in jeopardy, as there was five inches of snow on the tarp at the field in Miami on Tuesday.
“We feel like caged animals right now,” Smith said.
Even if the Spartans are not able to play in Miami, Smith said he’ll find someone for his team to play this weekend, finally letting the animals out of their cage.
Freshmen — Eric Bueno, OF, Bronx, N.Y; Ethan Westphal, P/IF, Winterset; Jason Roberts, P/IF, Alton, Ill.; Landon Camp, P, Winterset; Ty Porterfield, C, Denver, Colo.; Devan Wicks, IF, Des Moines; TJ Foster, P, St. Charles; Wyatt Borkowski, UT, Indianola; Cole Maharry, P, Des Moines; Blake Esbeck, UT, Atlantic; Justin Eubanks, P, Kansas City; Matt Mayden, C, Kansas City; Zach Anderson, OF/1B, Kansas City; Chris Heustis, C, Kansas City; Ian Dyer, P/OF, Arvada, Colo.; Parker Magneson, P, Urbandale; Gage Gavin, IF, Martensdale.
Sophomores — Alessio Pena, IF, St. Cloud, Fla.; Drew Feuerbach, OF, Omaha; Sawyer Ocheltree, 1B, Casey; Tyler Englehardt, P/OF, Ankeny; Aaron Hixson, IF, Omaha; Zeb Noel, P/IF, Martensdale; Alex Lawson, P, Easton, Pa.; Karlin Palidwor, P, Manitoba, Canada.
(No. of games)
March 7 — at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, 1 p.m. (2)
March 8 — at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College, 1 p.m. (2)
March 12 — at Iowa Western, 2 p.m. (1)
March 15 — at Carl Albert State, 1 p.m. (2)
March 16 — at Carl Albert State, 1 p.m. (2)
March 17 — at Carl Albert State, 12 p.m. (1)
March 20 — at Indian Hills, 2 p.m. (2)
March 22 — at NIACC, 2 p.m. (2)
March 23 — at NIACC, 1 p.m. (2)
March 26 — at Missouri Valley, 3 p.m. (2)
March 29 — vs. Ellsworth, 2 p.m. (2)
March 30 — vs. Ellsworth, 1 p.m. (2)
April 2 — at Maple Woods, 2 p.m. (2)
April 5 — at Iowa Central, 2 p.m. (2)
April 6 — at Iowa Central, 1 p.m. (2)
April 9 — vs. Grand View JV, 2 p.m. (2)
April 12 — at Southeastern, 2 p.m. (2)
April 13 — at Southeastern, 1 p.m. (2)
April 16 — vs. Missouri Valley, 2 p.m. (2)
April 19 — vs. Kirkwood, 2 p.m. (2)
April 20 — vs. Kirkwood, 1 p.m. (2)
April 23 — vs. Indian Hills, 2 p.m. (2)
April 26 — vs. Iowa Lakes, 2 p.m. (2)
April 27 — vs. Iowa Lakes, 1 p.m. (2)
May 1 — vs. Maple Woods, 2 p.m. (2)
May 3 — vs. DMACC, 2 p.m. (2)
May 4 — vs. DMACC, 2 p.m. (2)
May 9 — at Region XI Tournament in Waterloo, TBD