Last year was a historic year for the Western Oklahoma State College baseball program.
The Pioneers were ranked number two in the country at one time, finished the season with a 52-12 record, won the regional title plus the Southwest District Championship and for the first time since the program began in 1971, they earned a spot in the NJCAA Division II World Series.
The scary thing about the 2009 team is that they have a chance to be better than the 2008 bunch.
A good nucleus of last year’s team returns.
Back are outfielder Danny Almonte who led the team in hitting last season with .497 batting average. Also returning are catcher/dh Thomas McAlpine, shortstop Jose Cuevas, third baseman Josh Green and infielder Newt Compton.
Three starting pitchers are back including Almonte, Mike McLaughlin and Jeremy Penn.
Here’s breadown of the club.
Jose Ramos will be the starting catcher. McAlpine will be the backup. McAlpine will also DH and plays some first base.
Bryce Miller will get the start and probably will hit in the four hole.
Cuevas will start at shortstop and hit in the three hole. Cuevas is a pre season All-American selection. “He has a chance to be a real impact guy,” Russell said.
Second base and
There will be a rotation between three players. It will involve Compton, Green and Jose Thompson.
Ben Garcia could also see sometime in the infield.
Randolph Obuder will be in leftfield, Almonte in centerfield and Luis Uribe will be the rightfielder and hit in the five to six hole.
Almonte was also a preseason All-American pick.
Osvaldo Santanna should also play in the outfield as well as Freddy Soto.
There is no question, the Pioneers should be deeper on the mound.
Penn, who has signed a letter of intent to play at Oklahoma State University will be at the top of the rotation. Then comes Dimitri Camareno, Almonte, Jermaine Cotton, Dillon Wilson, Kevin Kellij. McLaughlin will fit in but he has experienced some arm problems.
The first left-hander out of the bullpen will be Dionsio Paredes. The first right-hander will be Casey Sadler.
The closure role goes to Chris Byford.
“We can sustain injuries on the mound,” Russell said. “I think that the difference on the mound between last year and this year, is that these guys are mentally tougher. These guys went through more of a military camp than last year. We put lot of stress in there. These guys came are more physical on the mound. They are big physical guys.”
Audri Costa should see time in the DH spot. Freddy Soto also could see duty there.
It was tremendously productive year in 2008. The Pioneers as a team hit for .403 average, had 145 home runs and scored an average of a little more than 10 runs per game.
Yet Russell said this team could be comparable to last year’s group.
“Very comparable,” Russell said.
“Top to bottom there is more consistency, assistant coach Matt Kruse said. I think we had a lot more streaky guys last year.”
Russell said he has only one question that needs to be answered.
“Last year’s club was a very tough club (mentally) Russell said “That’s what’s the question mark about this club is. That’s what it’s going to come down too. Just how tough are they? I think they are going to be fine. I think the pieces are there. This club has worked harder (than last year’s).
Russell couldn’t help but talk some about last year. When you talk about last year, you have to begin with Juan Carlos Perez. Perez, who courageously played the entire season with a blown out ACL, broke the Division II home run record and was named to the All-American team.
“I never seen anybody come out like Juan Carlos did,” Russell said. “He introduced himself right off the bat (19 home runs in the first 19 games). He was an instant impact.”
Perez signed with San Francisco Giants organization over the summer, but despite his absence, Russell said there is someone on this year’s team that reminds him of Juan Carlos.
“I think Randolph Oduber has got the same type of mental make up with more tools than Juan Carlos,” Russell said. “I don’t think you will see him get started the same. Juan Carlos tapered off at the end but he still was a great player I think you will see Odibur be what Juan Carlos was from the middle (middle of the season) on.”
“We’ll have to see how this club gets started,” Russell said. “I want to think patience. Let them get their at bats in and be patient with them. I think we are going to be a good club.”
Talking World Series
Things are set up almost perfect for the Pioneers in their attempt to make it back to the World Series.
The districts have been realigned. That means Arizona will not be a part of the district. Missouri replaced them.
Usually the Oklahoma champion hosts the District (Super Regional) every fourth year. Western hosted last year.
But since the realignment, a coin flip decided who would host this year’s tournament. Oklahoma won that flip. If Western can win the regional tournament at Enid and then the district title at home they will return to World Series which will also be played in Enid.
“It’s set up for us.” Kruse said. “The opportunity is there and they (the players) know it’s there.
Russell added Aaron Brink as the strength and conditioning coach., “He’s done an outstanding job,” Russell said.
Western opens its season on Wednesday when they travel to Fort Worth, Texas for a 1 p.m. doubleheader with Texas Wesleyan. The first home game will Feb. 23 against Vernon, Texas. The Pioneers are ranked fourth nationally in the preseason polls.