TERRE HAUTE —
Fans might want to purchase a program at Rose-Hulman games this season to identify all the new baseball and softball players.
Turnover is inevitable in college sports, but the two programs arguably lost more key players due to graduation in recent memory.
Rose baseball (30-14, 14-8 in HCAC last year) is replacing key contributors from a team that participated in the NCAA Division III National Tournament the past three seasons, and were Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament champions the past two seasons.
How many players departed? Rose coach Jeff Jenkins rattled off a lengthy list, “Our starting catcher, our backup catcher, our first baseman, our shortstop, our third baseman, our right fielder, our designated hitter and five pitchers.
“One of those pitchers [Derek Eitel] was the 17th-round draft pick [Major League Baseball draft], a catcher [Keenan Long] was an All-American, three other Academic All-Americans in that group and one’s in med school now. So it was an extraordinary group.”
Rose softball coach Brian Shearer did not lose quite as many players to graduation. But his team did take a couple big “hits” with the departure of No. 1 pitcher Jordan Gonslee and the school’s career leading hitter in Brittany Bernthold.
Gonslee was a workhorse in the circle — 104 2/3 innings, 14 complete games, 122 strikeouts and just eight walks last year — while Bernthold paced the Engineers (16-14, 9-7 last year) with a .408 batting average.
But that was then, and this is now. The following are previews of this year’s teams:
“We’re very, very young this year,” Jenkins described his 2011 squad. “We knew we’d have some growing pains.”
While last year’s team was solid in all categories, especially as a big-hitting team, this year’s team will rely prominently on fielding and pitching. “If we don’t do one of those two, we could be in a little trouble,” Jenkins said. “We’re not going to knock the fences down with our hitting.”
With a few exceptions, there has been plenty of competition for playing time in the early going this season. “In nine games [in Florida], we used nine different lineups and we used 15 different pitchers,” Jenkins noted.
Three key offensive players include seniors B.J. Zobrist (second base), Michael Kovacs (center field) and Chris Stemple (left field).
“Zobrist has been kind of a role player his previous years, never been an everyday starter. He’s doing that now,” Jenkins said. “Kovacs is a fourth-year starter and we’re looking for a little power from him. Stemple is a career .400 hitter and he didn’t hit very well [3-for-29 in Florida]. We know he’ll break out of it. Hitters are eventually going to hit.”
Jenkins proved prophetic as Stemple was 3 for 6 vs. Alma on Sunday.
Catching will be handled by a pair of sophomores, Matt Turk and Terre Haute North graduate Nick Pilipovich. Other key players include juniors Will Burchett (shortstop), Derek Dauenbaugh (utility), sophomore Bobby Newman (third base) and Andrew Benitez, a talented freshman from Hawaii.
Newman tops the Engineers with a .432 batting average and 13 RBIs thus far. Other leading hitters are Kovacs (.405), Dauenbaugh (.381) and Zobrist (.370).
Jenkins described his team’s pitching as “hit and miss” early in the season.
“Andrew Oakley has three wins for us, Gannon Sadzeck had one good outing, two not so good outings, Nick Rumpke is coming off knee surgery and hadn’t pitched in over a year,” Jenkins commented on three of his senior hurlers.
Junior Jim Bob Schuler has two wins and a save, while sophomore Ethan Post “has made great strides,” Jenkins mentioned. “Right now he fits into our third spot in the rotation.
“Our goal is to be one of the top four teams in the conference tournament,” Jenkins said. “Every time out we have to improve at something. At the end of the season if that’s 20 wins, if that’s 15 wins, if that’s 25 wins … we’re not really looking so much at that as the overall improvement of our team.”
Rose was 5-4 on their annual spring Florida trip, improving to 6-4 after winning their home opener vs. Alma College on Sunday.
“Do we miss the seniors last year? Yeah, we miss them,” Shearer stated. “But I think this year’s squad is a very cohesive group. So we’re not going see much of a dropoff, I think.
“We’ve got some good senior leadership this year … five seniors on the squad, which is more than we’ve had in a while. We also have a strong freshman contingent this season. We’re seeing the freshmen already really contribute.”
While Gonslee has departed, the other three pitchers from last season have returned.
Shearer declared his No. 1 pitcher to be senior Kyla Lutz, who had a 1.82 earned run average in limited action last year.
“Kyla Lutz has been very versatile,” Shearer praised. “As a freshman, she also played shortstop. Last couple of years she’s been at first [base] and has played third base. But in the circle, she’s going to be our No. 1.”
Backing up Lutz will be sophomores Brianne Widmoyer and Alysse Mueller. Widmoyer, who also plays third base, “threw some good games in Florida, so we look for her to backup Kyla in conference play.” Mueller will be the third pitcher and “has one of our biggest bats.”
Because of the versatility of his pitchers, Shearer’s lineup will reflect changes due to who is pitching a particular game. “Depending on who’s throwing at the time will decide on where a lot of people will play,” he said.
Shearer describes this year’s pitching staff as being more of a mixture.
“Jordan was a very good pitcher,” Shearer said. “We wanted to utilize her as much as we could. So she threw a lot for us last year. This year in conference, Kyla and Brianne will be throwing a lot … Alysse will come in in relief probably. Non-conference [games], the pitching rotation will be there.”
Ally Faber is a senior, in her third year as the starting catcher. “She’s hitting now like she’s wanted to her whole career. She’s always been a good catcher, so now she’s got both going.”
A top freshman is shortstop Jenna Martinek “she’s our leadoff hitter, very fast” who could also play some at second base.
Thus far, Faber is hitting .441 with a home run and 11 RBIs, followed by Widmoyer (.350), Martinek (.326) and Lutz (.320).
“This year we weren’t picked very high in the conference,” Shearer noted. “It seems like a lot of teams are kind of overlooking us, and I think that that’s wrong. We’ve got some talented girls still.”
Rose is 4-8, winning their final two games at the Centre Invitational on Sunday.
Rose-Hulman baseball (6-4)
Wednesday — Fontbonne, 5:30 p.m.
Friday — North Central College, 5:30 p.m.
Saturday — North Central College, noon
Sunday — North Central College, noon
Mar. 25 — Defiance, 6 p.m.
Mar. 26 — Defiance (DH), noon
Rose-Hulman softball (4-8)
Saturday — Bluffton (DH), 1 p.m.
Sunday — Spalding (DH), 2 p.m.
Mar. 26 — at Transylvania (DH), 1 p.m.
Apr. 2 — Mount St. Joseph (DH), 4 p.m.
Apr. 8 — Grace (DH), 5 p.m.
Apr. 10 — Blackburn (DH), noon