BY: TYLER PHILLIPS
The defending OVC champion Colonels will open the 2013 season being picked to finish fourth in the conference, but returning with an abundance of talent from the 2012 team.
Some gaps need to be filled after losing several seniors after graduation last year. Senior All-American Ritchie Rodriguez, who was drafted by the New York Mets in last year’s MLB draft, and Matt Fyffe are examples of skilled players that graduated and left significant gaps in Eastern’s lineup.
But both experienced and young players will get their chance to shine for Eastern by filling the holes in the lineup.
“We lost a lot in pitcher Matt Fyffe,” head coach Jason Stein said. “But we have three really talented guys to fill in for us.”
Those three starters for the Colonels will be seniors, Anthony Bazzani, Shane Grimm (a preseason All-OVC pick) and Junior Brent Cobb, Stein said.
“Anthony Bazzani will be our Friday night guy,” he said. “He is the one we will look to take over for Fyffe.”
Bazzani and Cobb are new to the starting rotation this season after being in the bullpen last season.
Some younger pitchers that Stein said would really help the Colonels would be freshman Chris Cervantes (Shelbyville, Ky.), Eric Nerl (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Trey Salisbury (Ashland, Ky.).
Stein noted juniors Matt Lynch and Jake Hall will help the Colonels tremendously this season.
One of the Colonel’s strengths will be their defense.
“This is the best three catchers I’ve coached as group,” coach Stein said.
Juniors Shaun Hagan, Steve Ferraro and sophomore John Wilson make up the elite group of catchers for the Colonels.
Stein said the Colonel outfield was the best defensive outfield that he had ever coached.
Two freshmen, Doug Teegarden (Florence, Ky.) and Kenny Hostrander (Maine, N.Y.) continue to battle for the starting job at second base. Coach Stein indicated that a decision would come soon, but both players were playing exceptionally.
Last season, the Colonels relied heavily on the home run to produce runs. But this season, Stein says that the Colonels will have to manufacture runs to get across the plate.
“Last season we just relied on the home run,” he said. “We can’t do that anymore. We will have to manufacture runs through stealing and hit-and-runs. We will be a really aggressive team and fun to watch.”
Offensively, third baseman Ryan Soloman (another 2013 All-OVC preseason selection) will be looked to drive in runs for the Colonels.
Stein said first baseman Alex Hughes needs to be a run producer for Eastern this season.
Stein said that he is still messing with the lineup, trying to figure out where to put certain guys, and where each player fits best.
A definite lineup probably won’t be decided until March 8 when Eastern plays its first conference game against Tennessee Tech.
The Colonels will have plenty of competition this season in the OVC. Front runner, Austin Peay will have loads of talent and OVC-newcomer Belmont will come into the conference with high expectations.
“There’s a lot of good Friday night matchups this season,” coach Stein said. “I would love to have our student body come out and support us throughout the season.”
Stein said that he would like to see more students come out to support the team.
“There are a lot of 3 p.m. games that will be fun to watch,” he said. “In between classes, come out and watch. Our guys play a fun style of baseball. We are aggressive and it will be really fun to watch, especially for college students.”
Stein said a great way to make the games even more entertaining would be for the stadium to have lights installed for night games.
“Lights would be an unbelievable way to get everyone in the community out to the games,” he said.
The Colonels will have their first three-game series of the season Feb. 15 at Charleston Southern in Charleston, S.C. and will have their first home game March 1 against a Indiana State team.