Spring Hill College Head Coach Frank Sims freely admits that 2011 will be a season of unknowns for his squad. After the 2010 season, Sims graduated one of his largest senior classes in his 27 years of coaching and has only 24 returning players in 2011 with nine of those being redshirt freshmen.
"We have a lot of new people on the squad this year," Sims says. "Most of them need to gain experience at the collegiate level. So, this year we're going to focus on ‘small ball' and just teach our young players to move runners to the next base by running, bunting and through situational hitting."
Sims was pleased during his fall workouts that his players showed a willingness to learn that style of play and hit the ball where it needed to go. "We had a decent hitting ball team this fall," he says. "We're not showing as much power as last year, but that's not necessarily a bad thing."
Senior Brad Holstein of New Orleans, who has moved from first base to catcher, has continued to show his homerun power while junior outfielder Wayne Huell of Warrensburg, Mo., will add some pop to the line up after transferring to SHC from Motlow State Community College.
In the field, the Badger infield appears to be the strongest aspect of this year's team. All-Conference selection and Conference Gold Glove winner junior Ryan Cummings from McGill-Toolen Catholic High School in Mobile returns at shortstop while redshirt freshman Brooks Bobinger from Mobile's Baker High School will step in at third base.
Second base will be covered by freshman Brian Sims from Murphy High School in Mobile while sophomore John Hollingsworth of Daphne, Ala., will take care of the duties at first base. Last year's starting catcher, junior Fred Rossi of Shreveport, La., will split time with Holstein while sophomore Jeff Fennell of Miami, Fla., and redshirt freshman Joe Sykes of Atlanta, Ga., should see action.
Freshman Rick LaForce of Irvington, Ala., will gain valuable experience at third base as the season progresses as will freshman Brian Traina of Brandon, Fla., at the middle infield positions and freshman Robert Boudreaux of Lafitte, La., at first base.
The starting outfield positions are still wide open battles according to Sims after losing all three of his outfielders following a three-year stretch. "It's tough to graduate such a solid defensive unit all in one season, but we knew this day was coming," he says. "We're going to be very young out there, but I'm confident in our crew."
Junior Kendall Carvin, also from Murphy High, will move into left field after spending the 2010 season as the designated hitter where he brought consistency and an ability to find open space with the ball. Mobile Christian Academy's Jeff Johnston will share the left field duties with Carvin to open 2011 as Sims watches the competition for the starting role in left field unfold.
In centerfield, freshman Chris Foglia of Lighthouse Point, Fla., has won the starting nod, but Alex Bumb, a redshirt freshman from St. Louis, Mo., will see late-inning action for defensive purposes. It appears that Huell will begin the season in right field, but he can't get too comfortable as freshman Ben Nicastri of Miami has proven to be capable of handling the winds of Stan Galle Field's quirky corner just as well. Freshmen Matt Fuentes from Lawrenceville, Ga., and Baker High's Alex Summers will also join the outfield line up as the season progresses.
2011 was supposed to be a good year for Sims' pitching staff, but injuries and off-season surgeries have whittled his staff down to a precious few. "We have to stay healthy this season," he says. "I think we have a nice rotation, but we have to stay healthy."
Sophomore Casey Adams, a transfer from Bishop State Community College, will toe the rubber on Fridays while sophomore David Dupuy of McGill-Toolen and senior Joe Carter of Theodore, Ala., will handle the duties on Saturdays.
Relievers will be headed by veteran sophomores Stephen Herrington of Mobile's Mary G. Montgomery High School, Jeff Keenum from Biloxi, and James Maughn from Alpharetta, Ga. Sophomore Lawrence Trunk from New Orleans along with freshmen Devin Stewart of Destrehan, La., and Mason Hammond of Birmingham will handle both midweek starting roles and relief work. Also waiting in Sims' holster will be sophomore William Tillman of Theodore, transfer junior Mike Zimmermann of St. Louis, and freshman Tyler Hutson of St. Louis.
Joining the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) is also a hurdle for the young Badgers. "Moving into this conference is a challenge for us," says Sims. "It would be for anybody. This is definitely the NAIA version of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). There could be six, seven or eight teams from the SSAC ranked in the Top 25 by the end of the year and our West Division is just loaded with talent. We have to learn to move runners around the bases and just play our game to be successful."
The Badgers open the 2011 season at Thomas University in Thomasville, Ga., at 3 p.m. on Saturday followed by a Sunday doubleheader at noon. They start the home slate on Friday, February 4, at 3 p.m. versus Southeastern University (Fla.) on historic Stan Galle Field followed by a Saturday doubleheader at noon.