Baseball Lions taking shape for 2013
Three Red Oak pitchers could start
Elles, Denton, Davis, Sheffield look to lead Lions
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- The first pitch will not be thrown for another five weeks, but the new-look Southwestern Assemblies of God University Lions baseball team is beginning to emerge.
Under second-year Head Coach Jonathan Shockley this year’s squad will be replacing a host departed seniors with a bevy of young talent.
Most positions will be filled with underclassmen, many of whom will earn a starting role for the first time. The entire outfield graduated, as did the team’s third baseman and a host of the pitching staff.
When the team begins practicing in early January for the 2013 season there will likely be a few new additions that enroll during the break. The original cast numbered 35 during fall camp.
“We anticipate signing some players for the spring semester,” Shockley said last week. “There are opportunities for returning players and newcomers to compete, and it should bring out the best in the team.”
SAGU (14-28) improved markedly last year, yet it translated into a less-than-desired rise in victories from 10 to 14. Heading into their final season as a member of the Red River Athletic Conference, the Lions still have an uphill climb.
One of the teams they will face is last year’s #1 ranked team in the nation, LSU-Shreveport (54-6 record), who will play a three-game series in Waxahachie the first weekend in April.
The Lions are also excited to be playing some of their 33 home games on their new campus park. While 17 will take place across town at the Waxahachie Sports Complex, 16 are set to take place on campus, adjacent to the Sheaffer Center, flanking the new softball field.
Perhaps the position that will have the most unfamiliar players will be on the mound, where the pitching staff will introduce three new starters to the rotation.
Returning is sophomore left-hander Robert Elles (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS). He is strong and could be the workhorse of the group, which includes three from nearby Red Oak High School;
- Hayden Killebrew (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS) is a stout righty with good control
- Jarrod Pisors (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS), a 6’7, lanky right-hander, is developing his skills into what Shockley believes will be a solid starter.
A fourth member of the group is a second southpaw in Skyler Gilstrap (Smithville, Tx / Smithville HS). During his autumn debut he showed a penchant for getting stronger with each passing inning.
Which one earns the title of ace is yet to be seen, and Coach Shockley says there are others who could unseat some of the four, including two new recruits.
“I expect anywhere from 15 to 18 pitchers in January,” he added, “and the jury is still out on who will earn innings on the hill.”
A native of Wichita, Kansas, Shockley is very confident in the Lions closer, sophomore Rockie Davis (Santa Fe, Tx / Santa Fe HS). A gritty right-hander, Davis revealed the goods during a handful of quality starts in 2012.
His M.O. on the mound is similar to his style as a starting linebacker for SAGU: fearless. During his freshman season on the hill he walked 18 and struck out 42 while winning a pair of decisions.
His highlight was a two-hit, complete game win over the University of the Southwest.
This year’s hurlers, though green, appear to be much deeper than last year’s club. Shockley likes much of what he has seen in the pitchers, including a teammate of Davis’ from the Lions football team.
Nick Cox (Lufkin, Tx / Lufkin HS), a back-up quarterback, will vie for a spot on the team as a lefty with a strong arm. His sister, Kassy, is also playing two sports for the school.
When the team reports in January, the roster and team captains will be announced.
The season is slated to begin in late January, when three doubleheaders are on tap for the 25th, 26th and 29th, all at home.
Weather permitting, the Lions' first 15 games are at home.
There are battles still going on at each position.
Catcher looks the most talented in terms of depth. Expect to see Jared Denton (Mission, Tx / Sharyland HS) and Taylor Froelich (Lee’s Summit, Mo / LS West HS), the incumbents, leading the way.
However, T.J. McIntosh (Dayton, Oh / Byron Steele HS) and Lance Marks (Nevada, Tx / Community HS) could press their way into the mix. McIntosh has an arm that, allegedly, is second only to the Statue of Liberty.
Denton and Froelich (FRAY-lik) are boot-strap tough and bona-fide leaders. The former batted .305 last spring while his on-base percentage, .402, was third best on the squad.
There is a logjam at first base, where power hitters Rusty Hensel (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS) and Billy Mee (Fayetteville, NC / Copperas Cove HS) could emerge, or force their way into the line-up somewhere due to their bat.
Hensel, the younger brother of former SAGU player, Riley, is a transfer from Dallas Christian College. He led the Crusaders in home runs and will help fill a line-up that was devoid of power.
The Lions hit only four dingers, by four different players, in 42 games last season. Froelich and Elles are two of the foursome.
Enrique Rodriguez (Ft. Worth, Tx / Ranger JC, Nolan Catholic HS) got off to a great start in the fall, and is gearing up for a productive season. Ricky endured a few hurdles as a freshman.
One player who raised eyebrows during the seven-week long fall camp was Nick Sheffield (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS), a 6’2 sophomore. He can play at first, third and pitch, though it was Sheff’s elevated progress at bat that drew the most praise.
Shortstop and second base, strengths a year ago, may see a shuffled line-up in 2013.
Jacob Spivey (Georgetown, Tx / Harker Heights HS), who played at both, may return to the pivot this spring, while Micah Thompson (Waco, Tx / Gatesville HS) works to win the nod at second.
Spivey batted .318 last season, fourth best on the team. In two pitching starts he posted a 1-0 mark with an 1.80 ERA.
The outfield’s starting threesome has yet to be announced. Elles (pronounced like Ellis) and Davis, when not pitching, along with Tyler English (Abilene, Tx / Gatesville HS), a spot starter on the mound, are players capable of manning the deep pastures.
Elles swung a .274 bat a year ago.
Davis reportedly turned in the squad’s best catch of the fall when he gloved a deep drive in the gap that had inside-the-parker stamped all over it.
“There was no way that ball was going to be caught,” Coach Shockley said. “I’m still amazed that he got there, fully extended on the run, and made the play.”
Observers said it was similar to the circus catch in centerfield last spring by Dustin Jett (Patterson, La / Patterson HS). That blast, towards the warning track in right-center, was snared with a Superman-like leap that the aptly named Jett almost made look routine.
Shockley’s coaching staff includes Tommy Benningfield and Derek Fortner, both former SAGU standouts, along with Andrew Rickman.
Benningfield, back for a second year, will work with catchers while serving as the hitting coach. Fortner’s role will include the infield, while Rickman will handle the outfield and cover the team’s strength and conditioning.
Rickman, from Evangel University (Springfield, Mo), is also an assistant coach with the Lions football team.
SAGU improved their team batting average to .284 last year, a figure that ranked fourth in the RRAC.
The pitching staff’s earned run average of 5.37, was two runs per game less than in 2011 (7.38). That was good enough to rank 5th in the 10-team league.
Defensively the team reduced their errors from 122 to 95 and increased the number of bases they stole from 44 to 94.
Those advances were often undone by an offense that left runners on base in the clutch. Six games were lost on days in which they yielded less than their ERA (5 runs or less). They also dropped five one-run decisions.
Lion pitchers held opponents under 10 runs in 30-of-42 games. The year before they kept the enemy to nine runs or less in just 18 games, while allowing double-digit scoring 22 times.
Improved clout at the plate this year will be a great boost to a program seeking their first-ever winning season.