Baseball Lions Open 2011 Camp
Wherland, Ward lead club; Jones recovered and ready
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The annual rites of spring feature the serenading of hope. The emotion and energy of new life and better things to come have prompted writers to say that "hope springs eternal in the human breast."
The building blocks of the college baseball program at Southwestern Assemblies of God University have been steadily assembled. The 2010 campaign was hindered greatly with key injuries and a dozen rainouts that prevented the squad from ever developing the rhythm needed to produce consistent play.
The veteran coaching staff of Greg Hayes, the head coach, and Clay Scarborough, an assistant and bullpen coach, will bring at least 33 players to camp. Players reported for pre-season training today, January 12. Coach Hayes says the club will have a few intra-squad scrimmages as they prepare for the 2011 home opener against Hillsdale College on Jan. 30. SAGU split four games with the Saints, who are from Moore, Oklahoma.
Former standouts Rance Melton and Brady James have come on board as grad assistants and have been warmly welcomed.
"We had 38 players trying out during our fall camp," Haynes said recently. "I really like the 33 who are expected next week. Ten of them are new recruits, plus we have six walk-ons."
As for the pitching staff, he said he'd like to keep 15 on the active roster.
About the 2010 Fall Camp
"We had a great fall," Hayes said of the weeks of conditioning, fundamentals and batting. "Camp went off without a hitch. The guys worked hard and many did quite well. There were really no disappointments. Camp helped those who just needed more experience. And they got that."
"It wrapped up with our annual World Series," he continued. "Those games went very well and provided a great opportunity for many guys to lead and to star."
Seniors Patrick Wherland and Cameron Ward served as captains for the two intra-squad teams. They coached a week's worth of games, with both units playing well. "Pat's team won the series," Hayes reported.
Insiders pointed out that centerfielder Dustin Jett, first baseman DuJuan Prater, catcher/leftfielder Jared Denton and Wherland, who mans the rightfield position, starred throughout the games.
2011 Team Overview and Season Goals
Southwestern met several goals since the end of last season. Building up the batting line-up was sorely needed in several spots. Indications are showing a deeper batting order, with new and improved hitters. Coach Scarborough feels confident in the growth and expansion of the pitching staff.
The Lions need to have a healthy Jett and pitcher/second baseman Jared Jones, and a bounce-back season by pitching ace Chris Stanley.
"Our line-up will be strengthened," Hayes chimed. "We're deeper, plus, we have solid speed at leadoff and at the two-hole. We've gained experience, added some good relief pitchers and have our starters back on the mound."
Improvement by pitchers will have a direct impact on the Lions' won-lost record. "Plus, our defense will have more range up the middle and we should be much better defensively in left (field)," Hayes added.
Solid Core Returns
The key returners on the diamond starts with Jett in CF. The speed merchant has a solid on-base percentage, is a base-stealing threat and his coverage in the field extends well into the gaps. Jett suffered a few injury setbacks last season, but has fully recovered.
David Gomez, the team's most versatile defender, stepped in at shortstop when Jones was lost for the season with a wounded wing (shoulder). He, too, adds quickness, range and playmaking abilities at this critical position. His personality is a huge plus.
Jones, who is a top-level pitcher, missed the last part of the 2010 campaign when he hurt his arm. The leathery tough sophomore has recovered and has earned one of the top spots in the rotation. When he is not on the mound he will likely play at second. He is a line-drive hitter with power.
Replacing Melton behind the plate will be chore. Dom Denny, a gritty backstop with experience, returns. He could also play at first base and designated hitter. Denton, whose bat has the potential of breaking into the #3 spot, might play behind the dish as well as leftfield.
Denton is making an impact as a batter who hits for power and average. Hayes pointed out that Denton is "team-first" player. As for his game, the coach quipped: "He has a chance to be a good one."
Ben Chavez: from the Land of Enchantment
Another candidate at catcher is Ben Chavez, a highly versatile transfer out of New Mexico. He is a prime example of the talent that Hayes will have on the roster. Chavez is stout in size and experience, where he can play in left, second as well as the squatting half of the battery. He is also a run producing hitter. Hayes describes him as "a robust player with a winning attitude."
Jared Terry, a fearless defender, was expected to handle the hot corner. The dependable left-hander with a solid bat has been battling some health issues and could miss the season. So third base could be open.
Wherland had one of the best offensive seasons in Southwestern history last spring. The brawny rightfielder has clout in the middle of the batting order. The steady veteran is the likely cog in the Lions' wheel.
Prater and Ward each share first base duties, depending on who pitches. The lefties are line-drive hitters with "pop in their sticks," according to Hayes. The energetic Prater is an able RBI producer. Both first-baggers are skilled with their gloves as well.
New players will be battling for playing time, just as the current cast has done since arriving on campus.
Hurlers on the Mound
The starting pitchers could see Stanley return to his previous form after a rough season in 2010. Michael Reeves has stepped up into a likely berth in the 4-man staff. Ward and Jones round out the hurlers circuit. In regards to Jones, Hayes was beaming about his mending. "He's ready to go," the skipper said.
Jon Savis, a veteran from a year ago, hurt his arm during the summer and will miss the season.
It appears that newcomers Nic Morgan, Weston Lippe, Brad Rogers and Tim Kolczak will all pitch meaningful innings.
Lions to Battle for a berth in the RRAC Tourney
The Red River Athletic Conference, which was divided into two divisions in the past, will be aligned into one, 11-team league this year. The top six teams during the regular season will qualify for the RRAC tournament.
The teams to beat figure to be LSU-Shreveport, Texas Wesleyan, Northwood University, UT-Brownsville and Bacone College.
After the RRAC tourney, Southwestern will play host to the Central Regional for the National Christian College Athletic Association.
The Lions complete roster and schedule are posted here. Scroll down and click to check out the players and the path of the Lions in 2011.
SAGU plays their home games a few miles from campus, off of Broadhead Road - just north of 287. All games feature music and the promo of public address announcer Joe Ward. The public is invited to the games, with free admission.