FROM CBB NEWS SOURCE
SAN MARCOS – Most coaches are jaded by the loss of instrumental players entering a brand-new season and most coaches do not welcome the change. However, Texas State baseball head coach Ty Harrington is not like most coaches. As he embarks on his tenth year with the program, Harrington welcomes the change and says his strengths do not lay with a few standout players, they rest in an entire team and the chemistry they can build.
The 2009 crop of Bobcats have had to create the chemistry, as 18 newcomers are welcomed to territory claimed by 16 returning members. The current lettermen finished 30-27 last year and claimed a second-place finish in the Southland Conference with its 19-11 league mark. Expectations are set for a higher prize this season so an accelerated acclimation is certainly being forced on the rookie members. Harrington has no doubt his team is up for the challenge.
“I think, better yet I actually know that one our main strengths is that our team likes, respects and works hard for each other,” states Harrington. “We represent a true team and we’ve learned that even as individuals, we represent each other as a unit.”
“Coming out of the fall segment of our practice schedule, I felt we had the chance to be a very balanced, athletic and offensive team.”
Offensive Fireworks: Hard-Hitting Potential
Texas State will rely on nearly the same offensive sparks as last season, as it returns five of its top seven batters that hit over .310 to conclude the season. The loss of Thomas Field (2008 draft – Colorado Rockies) as the lead-off batter and Elliott Babcock (graduation) as an instrumental middle-man does leave gaps for the newcomers to fill, but the majority of the groundwork is still present.
“On paper, offensively, we could be as athletic as we have been in a years at all of our positions,” claims Harrington. “We think we will have some power along with foot speed and the combination of the two gives us multiple ways to score runs and win ball games.”
The offensive power Harrington speaks of is led by junior Paul Goldschmidt. The power hitter claimed the title 2008 SLC Hitter of Year after belting a league-best 17 home runs and finishing in the Top-Ten of eight offensive categories. The slugger earned recognition, landing on the SLC preseason squad and is joined by senior Lance Loftin. Loftin held his own after coming to Texas State from Temple College last season, batting .354 with 12 home runs himself. The Waco, Texas native tallied 59 RBI for a No. 6 place in the conference and ranked No. 9 at the season’s end, slugging .617.
The bats file out with the return of Adam Witek, Ben Theriot and Laurn Randell, all key components to the Bobcat offense.
“I am very comfortable with where our offense is heading into the season and I know the new guys coming in will adapt to our style of play and take our offense up one more notch,” said Harrington. “This team will be great to watch at the plate.”
Backing up the Bite: Defensive Expectations
Although the loss of Field in the lineup may seem minor, replacing the defensive specialist on the field is a much bigger task. The gap between second and third base was secured with the Waco, Texas junior who concluded the season with a .963 fielding percentage and spots on the Southland Conference and South Central Regional teams. After accepting an offer in the Major League first-year player draft, the hole was open and a peg to the infield chemistry was out.
“We will be replacing arguably, one of the best shortstops in Texas State history,” said Harrington. “That replacement will dictate the solidification of our defense and I believe it will improve once it becomes more apparent who will be playing at each position.”
Goldschmidt will return at first base, while Witek is coming off an All-Conference season at second base. Kyle Kubitza will back up Goldschmidt at the corner and Kyle Livingstone will spend time with Witek on the base.
“Kubitza is a very versatile player and Livingstone has speed,” added Harrington. With one side of the field secure, the remainder is up for grabs.
“It will be fun finding out who will play the shortstop position, because we have a long list of options.” “Loftin, Clint Vest and newcomer Tyler Sibley will all be working out at that spot and Sibley has the ability to move over and play second base or even the outfield.”
“Loftin will figure in some time on the mound as well, so there will be room for a nice rotation until the position is established.”
Jason Martinson, who divided his time last season between baseball and football, returns as a concentrated baseball player only this year. Martinson rotated between third base, left field and behind the plate, but will spend most of his time filling out the third base corner.
Behind the plate, Texas State returns two-year starter Ben Theriot. Theriot was named in a selective poll of league head coaches as the “Arm to Watch” after back-to-back successful seasons. Theriot’s .988 fielding percentage will be backed up by a pair of newcomers in Jordan Kopycinski and Marshall Burford.
The infield seems to have endless possibilities with veterans paired with fresh faces on the dirt, but the Bobcat outfield is completely different. Just one returning starter in Laurn Randell at centerfield returns for 2009.
The Austin, Texas native suffered a minor injury last season that may shift his efforts to right field, which will move sophomore Bret Atwood in position at centerfield. Newcomer Shaun Garcia could possibly fill the void, as well. In left field, returnees Spenser Dennis and Cody Gambill, along with Rory Myers will take a portion of the action.
On The Mound: 2009 Pitching Force
Two-year starting pitcher Mike Hart joined classmate Thomas Field in the 2008 draft, accepting an offer with the Oakland Athletics, and the graduation of Saturday starter Steven Siers leaves holes in the pitching rotation for 2009. However, recruiting coordinator Derek Matlock filled the incoming class of 18 newcomers with nine fresh arms and red-shirt junior Tim Heath will be primed for action this season as well to cover all the bases.
“The idea of replacing two starting pitchers with ten prospects puts our team at a great advantage,” said Matlock. “Coming out of the fall, we felt like we had several options on the mound and we are very optimistic.”
The newcomers will mix with returners Zach Tritz, Kane Holbrooks, Brian Borski and Tyler Brundridge, vying for a starting role and relief pitching in Aaron Taylor and Loftin gives the team a solid base to pull from.
“We are looking for 10 to 12 of our pitchers to come to the forefront and provide the performances it takes to win championships,” said Harrington. “Tritz is our only weekend starter returning, but we are looking at a number of people to have a great year and take on the remaining roles.”
“The newcomers will add depth and strength as starters and relievers,” added Harrington. “Michael Russo, Garret Carruth and Tim Heath all have starting potential and we may even see some freshman find their way to the mound.”
“After watching the arms develop throughout the fall, I feel the entire bullpen will be able to contribute in a positive way.”
Ready for the Challenge: 2009 Schedule
The 2009 schedule is stacked with competition for the Texas State Bobcats as Harrington continues to bring in a robust slate of opponents to face the squad. Highlighted by four top-ranked teams and a 2008 College World Series contender, Texas State is set for an aggressive campaign.
Competition opens Feb. 20-22 at Southland Conference-host UT Arlington at the Hilton Invitational tournament, facing Sienna and Arkansas State and the team will remain on the road visiting TCU, who received votes in the USA/ESPN Polls. The Bobcats open league action at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Feb. 27, just one week later.
The Bobcats will host No. 9 Texas Longhorns on March 3 in its 2009 home opener and will pay return visits twice to the I-35 rival before the season end. Texas State will bring in Baylor, Texas Tech and Purdue along with the Horned Frogs and will travel to No. 3 Rice, No. 5 Texas A&M this season, as well.
League opponents Sam Houston State, Stephen F. Austin, Southeastern Louisiana, McNeese State and Nicholls will all travel to Bobcat Field, which means trips to Lamar, Central Arkansas and Northwestern State are all on the table. Mid-week action between Texas State and Prairie View A&M and Houston Baptist will round out the 2009 schedule.
“If I expect the team to compete at a high level, I need to bring in high level opponents,” said Harrington. “I feel like this schedule is filled with talented teams, a number of them ranked, which will give us a chance to compete with the best in the nation and see just what we can do.”