Bucs baseball team has high hopes | Sports | beloitdailynews.com

2022-08-13 18:06:01 By : Ms. Bonnie Wu

A.J. Parnell will likely get the ball for Beloit College’s opener.

A.J. Parnell will likely get the ball for Beloit College’s opener.

BELOIT—The destinations of Galesburg, Ill., and Beloit won’t often be confused with Florida in March.

But for all practical purposes, Beloit College’s baseball team is replacing its normal weekly-long spring trip to sunny Florida with back-to-back doubleheaders at Knox College on Saturday and The Ballpark at Strong Stadium on Sunday.

“The four games with Knox really is our Florida this year,” Beloit head coach Dave DeGeorge said. “Hopefully, we get out and have some success. We need to find some things out before we open up conference play the following weekend.”

Last season, the Buccaneers went 8-1 on their Florida trip only to have the season screech to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With three outstanding senior pitchers and a solid lineup, that may well have been one of DeGeorge’s best teams.

The lineup is back intact, but the pitching is basically unproven heading into a 2021 season which will include only Midwest Conference foes. This weekend’s matchup is with an MWC opponent, but will be considered non-conference.

“The lineup is the same as last season,” DeGeorge said. “That team’s statistics compared favorably to my best teams. We were averaging about 10 runs a game (outscoring foes 79-18) and hit .360.”

Senior left fielder Nick Schmidt leads off and he has started every year as a Buc. Senior catcher Bronson Balholm bats No. 2 in the lineup and the left-handed swinger can hit for power and average. He’s also fast.

“I think you’d have to look really hard to find a better athlete at the catching position in the entire country,” DeGeorge said.

Senior third baseman James Wicker bats third.

“He might make a mistake that makes me scratch my head and he might win a game all by himself,” DeGeorge said. “He has a great arm, great speed and can really hit.”

Junior shortstop Garrison Ferone isn’t your proto-type cleanup hitter at No. 4.

“He’s a dynamic athlete who hits the ball probably harder than anyone on the team,” the coach said. “He probably is more of a No. 2 or No. 3 hitter, but we’re trying to get all our best guys up in the lineup.”

No. 5 will be sophomore second baseman Matt O’Leary, a high school shortstop, he can play anywhere on the diamond.

No. 6 will be senior designated hitter Mitch Campbell, followed by Beloit Memorial graduate and senior Drew Freitag at first base. Eight will be a platoon between junior Austin De La Cruz and sophomore Deven Irwin in right field. No. 9 is like a second leadoff man with speedy junior center fielder Matt Crandall.

“I can say with confidence he is the finest outfielder in the history of the program,” DeGeorge said. “He tracks down fly balls like no one I’ve ever seen, better than Nate Edwards, Joe Herfel, Drew Oswald, Mike Gulve and Jalen Davis. He gets a great jump, has unbelievable speed and a great arm. If we can get him on base, he’s really going to be a problem for people, too.”

The real question mark is pitching after graduating starters Connor McCloskey, Justin Kopech and reigning MWC North Pitcher of the Year Danny Belling.

“I think those guys had six complete games in Florida,” DeGeorge said. “We essentially lost two-thirds of the innings pitched last year.”

The Bucs do return A.J. Parnell, who the coach said had perhaps the best pitching performance last season—a complete game win over Illinois Wesleyan.— and Jacob Sligar, a senior who was 2-0 in Florida last season.

Thomas Kosakowski, a hard-throwing 6-6 sophomore, is in the starting mix along with Tommy Murray, a freshman from Hononegah.

“Tommy is a good athlete and he does everything well,” DeGeorge said. “He has three pitches he can throw for a strike.”

Wicker and Bonham will also have opportunities because they both can throw hard.

“We may only be able to use each of them for an inning or two on a weekend because of how much they throw at their other positions, but if the situation warrants we’ll use them,” DeGeorge said. “Freitag will also pitch out of the bullpen.”

Others pitching out of the bullpen include freshmen Jake Matise (“deceptive motion and strange arm-slot who could be really good), senior Zach Miller (“he’ll either log tons of appearances or tons of innings pitched”) and sophomore Kaiya Nishino (“a strike machine who can go in at any time”). DeGeorge said sophomore Matthew Starr is another strike thrower with potential and junior Will Peterson has also shown a great deal of improvement.

DeGeorge said the Bucs were able to get outside for three recent practices for live hitting and pitching.

“It’s great to be on a real mound pitching and for our hitters the depth perception outside is so much different than inside,” he said. “So getting outside was very valuable. Not that the Powerhouse hasn’t been amazing. We’ve been able to do a lot of things in the facility. It’s just that we haven’t had the amount of reps we normally would because we’ve had less weeks to prepare.”

Based on last year’s success and what the pitching looks like on paper, the Bucs should be MWC contenders.

“The thing about baseball is that you have to do it right now,” DeGeorge said. “Even though they had that great short season last year and we have talent, it doesn’t amount to anything. It’s about coming out on game day and making the plays. The position players have to prove they can do it on weekends rather than just for a week in Florida. It’s a lot different with the pressure of school and the cold weather we have here.”

Finally, the Bucs must handle COVID. Fans won’t be an issue. There won’t be any at home games, at least for right now.

“I tell them not to congregate in big groups, wear their masks and if you need to go out to eat, get it to go,” DeGeorge said. “But they are college kids and we’ll see how they do.”

• UP NEXT: The Bucs travel to Knox Saturday with a twinbill at noon. They’ll have the same noon start for a double-header in Beloit on Sunday. No fans are allowed at either site.

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