The 2011 Spring Hill College baseball season was one of close calls and few of them were in favor of the Badgers. Head Coach Frank Sims admits that his 2011 edition suffered a lack of middle- and late-inning relief pitching from the Badger bullpen. "We lost too many games last year where we were either tied or on top late in the game and we just could not hold the lead," he says. "That was our Achilles Heel and we couldn't find a way to overcome it. This year, however, we should have the depth in our pen to avoid those late-inning collapses and finish games like we should."
Sims points to a proven corps of returning starters reinforced with a more experienced and stronger relief staff as evidence for his optimism. "With our starters, we now have the offense, defense and bench that we need to reach our goals," he says. "In the West Division of the Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC), there are so many teams that compete at the highest levels of NAIA play that just making our conference tournament is a challenge. This year, I think we have a team that will qualify for the postseason. If you can do that in this conference, historically there is a solid chance for you to be selected for the NAIA World Series Opening Round."
The Badgers' line-up of starting pitchers anchors a roster that Sims says will rank among the best in the past 10 years of SHC baseball. Casey Adams of Brooksville, Fla., returns for his junior season after a sophomore year in which he posted a 2.65 ERA over 85 innings of work. "Casey was phenomenal last year and is an All-Conference caliber player for us," says Sims.
Joining Adams in the weekend rotation will be two junior college transfers in leftie Michael Moch of Cumming, Ga., and Nick Schmiemeier of St. Louis, Mo. "Moch is a confident pitcher while Schmiemeier has come in and really nailed down our No. 3 position for the weekends," says Sims.
In the bullpen, Sims can point to the experience of juniors James Maughn of Alpharetta, Ga., and David Dupuy of Mobile's McGill-Toolen Catholic High School along with sophomore Tyler Hutson from St. Louis to either come off the bench or serve as mid-week starters. Junior Jeff Keenum of Biloxi, Miss., and redshirt freshman Daniel Pitfield of Mandeville, La., join freshmen Cyrus Beerman of Tampa, Fla., Jack Howard of Decatur, Ala., and Austin Patton of St. Charles, Mo.
Sims also has the added luxury of having a position player that he can use on the mound if needed in sophomore infielder Alex Summers from Mobile's Baker High who saw some relief time last season. "That's a nice advantage to have," Sims says. "It's more cards to play with and allows me to mix things up on opponents."
Around the infield, the inexperience of last year finally becomes the experience of this season with a veteran line-up on the field. Senior Ryan Cummings of McGill-Toolen steps back into the shortstop role for a fourth consecutive campaign while sophomore second baseman Brian Sims of Mobile's Murphy High School returns with his .976 fielding percentage and a team-leading .320 batting average. Junior John Hollingsworth of Daphne, Ala., takes over fulltime at first base after splitting time at the position in 2011. At third base, Summers and Rick LaForce of Irvington, Ala., will share time with freshman Justin Martin from Tampa.
Sims has a bench loaded with eager young infield talent in sophomore first baseman Robert Boudreaux of Lafitte, La. and a freshman class that includes Keller Douglas of Covington, La., first baseman Jacob Mattrella of Hoover, Ala., and Ryan Schweppe of Ballwin, Mo.
Senior Fred Rossi of Shreveport, La., returns to the catcher's slot for a third year of calling the shots behind the plate. Behind Rossi, junior Jeff Fennell of Miami, Fla., will see playing time as he prepares for the future along with sophomore Joe Sykes of Atlanta, Ga., and freshman Ryan Stevens of Theodore, Ala.
Early season injuries hampered the Badger outfield last year, but this season a cast of veteran players return to patrol the fences of Stan Galle Field. Summers will handle the duties of right field when not on third base while seniors Kendell Carvin of Murphy High and Wayne Huell of Warrensburg, Mo., return to left and center fields respectively.
Sims has warned all three of the outfield starters not to get too comfortable in their positions, however, as sophomore Alex Bumb of St. Louis and freshman Andy Robbins of Kirkwood, Mo., have been pushing hard for starting roles. "Nobody in our outfield can be lackadaisical this year," Sims says. "I have too many talented players for that to happen."
In addition to Bumb and Robbins, Sims also has sophomore Matt Fuentes of Gainesville, Ga., sophomore Jeff Johnston from Mobile Christian Academy, freshman Bryan Brinker of Boynton Beach, Fla., and freshman Brandon Krus of Houston, Texas, that he feels can be plugged into his outfield with little if any drop off in performance.
"We have more pitching arms this year and I'm happy with the experience we have on defense," says Sims. "At the plate, we'll be a lot like we were last year in that we have to use our speed to our advantage. We will run the base a lot this year with more bunt-and-runs, hit-and-runs and steal attempts. We also have to use the bunt as a weapon and we have to move runners along the base paths. Power is not our game."
Overall, Sims is pleased with his team and looks forward to an exciting 2012 season. "With the conference slate we face and a list of strong non-conference opponents, we have one of the toughest schedules in years," he says. "But if we learn to keep the bases in motion and manufacture runs this will be a great year."
The Badgers open the 2012 season with a doubleheader at the Thomas University Night Hawks (2-1) in Thomasville, Ga., at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and start the home season versus the Blue Mountain College Toppers (0-3) on Friday at 5 p.m. on historic Stan Galle Field.