Owls seek offensive punch
Paul Alberson had a relatively "easy transition" from assistant coach to field boss of the Marshall baseball team a year ago.
The Owls improved from eight to 12 wins and rose from the basement of the NCMC to the middle of the pack, although were disappointed by a first-round upset loss in the Class 4, District 13 Tournament.
"It was a lot of fun," Alberson declared. "We fought hard in almost every game we were in. I learned a lot about managing the game."
Alberson, a former Missouri Valley College pitcher, realizes he inherited a solid program with a boatload of seniors. Marshall's pitching among the best in the program's history, posting a 3.73 earned-run average.
"Our pitching staff did a wonderful job, but we were short on the sticks," said Alberson, whose team batted .229 and averaged only 3.9 runs per game. "That's something we've focused on this year."
Meanwhile, the Owls' top three pitchers are gone from the mound, all-conference performers Zach Maupin and Eric Brayman both graduating and Kaleb Bishop limited to first base due to a shoulder injury suffered in football.
"We're just trying to make sure we make better contact with the ball," Alberson said. "We have to get better at putting the ball in play."
Junior Kyle Weber and sophomores Duffin Makings and Isaac Yung had solid showings in a combined 50 innings of work last year, Weber appearing in a team-high nine games.
"They have good presence, understand the game and have good movement on their pitches," Alberson said. Due to MSHSAA's new pitch count rule, which is far more restrictive -- which requires a day's rest after 30 pitches and four days' rest after 75 pitches in a game -- "we have to pitch to contact."
Weber will play shortstop when not hurling, with Yung at second base and Makings in center field. Senior Edward Hecke, who has not played since he was a freshman, takes over.
Flanking Makings in the outfield will be junior Sheldon Embrey, who also possesses a nice pitching arm, and senior Caleb Harris. Sophomore Spencer Starr takes over at catcher and junior Cole Tucker will be used as a utility infield-outfielder.
"The biggest thing is their work ethic," Alberson said about his club. "They do everything we ask them to do, 100 percent of the time."
Doing the little things right consistently will be critical for a team which will have to manufacture runs -- and prevent them, because Marshall's pitchers do not possess throw-it-by-them heat and have to rely on defense to get most of their outs.
"This year we are going to choke up and put the bat on the ball," Alberson explained the emphasis on two-strike counts. "We hope good things happen with contact."
The Owls have a good core of young players, but how quickly they develop is the question.
"The talent is there," Alberson assessed. "We want kids who are going to work hard, listen and get better."
Contact Chris Allen at email@example.com