The fate of the 2013 Texas State baseball team might be determined by how quickly and effectively the inexperienced players develop as the year progresses.
“(The early competition) is going to put some pressure on (the newcomers) to play at a level they may or may not be ready for,” said Coach. “There are going to be tremendous challenges early for this team because of the lack of experience.”
The Bobcats look very different this season than they did last year. They lost several stars during the last couple of years but are hoping the presence of a closely united team will be able to overcome any obstacles standing in their path.
“Harrington has been very hard on (us) coming together as a team,” said sophomore infielder Colby Targun. “There are not as many big name superstars as there were last year. They told us we have to stay together as a team.”
Harrington acknowledged last season’s team left a little to be desired during the middle of the schedule. The Bobcats lost five games in a row and were swept twice by Southland Conference opponents Southeastern Louisiana University and Sam Houston State University.
“Last year will always be a tough one for me,” Harrington said. “I truly do not think I did as good of a job with those guys. They were with me for a while. The one lesson I learned is you have to adjust each year to the personnel and to the people.”
Jeff McVaney will be the hardest to replace among the players who have moved on to the professional ranks. McVaney led the team in batting average (.338), runs scored (46), hits (75) and RBI (48). He was tied for team leader in home runs with 10 and had 12 appearances on the mound with six saves before being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the eighth round.
“(We will) have to do the basics,” Targun said. “Moving runners over, getting guys in (and) doing the little things well to replace the power hitters lost from last season. I think there will be a mixture of both (small ball and power). We have worked on our bunting and the little things.”
The Bobcats lost another power hitter in Casey Kalenkosky, who had 10 home runs a year ago. Targun, who played designated hitter last spring, is the only returner who batted over .300 (.304). He was near the top on the team in stolen bases with seven. Targun will see the field in 2013.
“Targun is a football (and) baseball player,” Harrington said. “I think the role for him needs to grow other than just being the D.H. (Targun) brings a little toughness out there. He tackles the game of baseball. It’s kind of fun.”
Many returnees will be sought to make major contributions for this season’s offense. Senior catcher Andrew Stumph will be another key cog in the Bobcats’ offense. Sophomore Garrett Mattlage will be expected to take over at shortstop. Outfielder Morgan Mickan was having a productive season a year ago before being struck by injury.
The Bobcats will lean on returning starter Kyle Finnegan to ace the staff. He earned 75 strikeouts in 93 innings in 2012. The Toronto Blue Jays drafted Colton Turner, last season’s leader in earned run average (2.46). Travis Ballew, the team’s leader in wins (11), was drafted by the Houston Astros.
Sophomore Taylor Black will be the second starter in the rotation. Black pitched nearly 40 innings last season, while carrying a 3.63 ERA. Junior Scott Grist will finish the rotation as the third guy up, although he pitched 4.1 innings in 2012. Junior Hunter Lemke will move to the closer role, a position he is eager to grab.
“I like it,” Lemke said in relation to his new promotion. “I have a set role. Being the closer, you get a set inning, and you get to do your routine. It’s a lot easier. You don’t have to rush through warm-ups. You know what inning you are pitching.”
The newcomers will get a stern test this weekend at the ballpark from some very notable baseball programs. The CenturyLink Invitational features Tulane University and Missouri State University, two programs that have made it to the NCAA Division I championship at Omaha.
“There is the uncertainty and the unknown because we are new, inexperienced,” Harrington said. “(This weekend) is almost like studying for the first test you take. You don’t quite know what to expect. We are anxious to get out there.”
Texas State remains optimistic about the season, although it features a lot of question marks. The team has a mission to answer those questions before post-season play. The program has never been farther than the NCAA Regionals, but for Lemke, the goal is much larger than that.
“Oh yeah, it is definitely Omaha,” Lemke said when asked about their goal this season. “We have had that in our heads. I feel like this is a team that could do it, since we are definitely a team this year.”