Slater doing some numbers crunching
SLATER -- Slater is young and thin this season, with freshmen and sophomores accounting for eight of its 10-player roster.
Yet, Wildcats head coach Tony Stoneking sees a promising future -- if not immediately, then certainly in the long term. He's also pleased that he's guiding with a dedicated group.
"They're working hard," he asserted. "They're reliable and show up because they know everyone's counting on them to be there."
Unlike a year ago, though, there's a little more consistency to the lineup -- although shuffling players may still cause some of defensive worries.
"We only have to move four people, but that may take a toll, too," said Stoneking, whose squad committed 73 errors while posting a 2-14 record. "We were in a lot of games, but errors killed us.
"When you've got a young club, you're going to make those mistakes," he admitted. "Hopefully, we can work through that."
The Wildcats lost some potent bats to graduation: all-Lewis and Clark Conference hitters Alex Copeland (.413), Daniel Allegri (.404) and Scott Wiseman (.396). The return of sophomore shortstop Dustin Hays (.353), another all-conference selection, is a boon.
What Slater needs is for its most experienced player, junior catcher Maclyn Durham (.108), to find the stroke he had as a freshman -- when he hit .227 and drove in five runs. Durham has the ability to improve his average.
"He'll have to pick it," Stoneking said. "He'll have to be the team leader, offensively and defensively."
A trio of sophomores showed promise as rookies: third baseman John Jackson (.275), center fielder Andy Boggs (.250), second baseman Kale Brucks (.243). Sophomore utility infielder Britt Smith knows how to play the game and freshman outfielders Eric Ward and Nick Palmgren got plenty of work last summer. Freshman outfielder Zach Krueger is looking for a spot in the rotation and senior first baseman Clay Vogl returns after a year's absence.
Hays (7.74, 0-5) and Jackson (9.72, 1-2) pitched well at times last season, although both will have to improve their location after posting walk-to-strikeout ratios of more than two to one. "Just throw strikes and let your defense work," Stoneking advised.
"They're a little bigger, with a little more weight," Stoneking noted. "They hit the weight room and have done a lot of running. That should build up their stamina."
The whole team will have to be in peak condition, because there's no reserves to provide rest. The nice thing about that, at least for those who love to play, is that they'll get a lot of action. With added innings, Stoneking sees his squad developing rapidly.
"I expect to be competitive in every game," he declared. "If we stay close in the late innings, maybe we'll have a chance to steal a couple of wins."