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Redhawks face big changes, challenges in 2013 season
The Southeast Missouri State baseball team faces plenty of question marks after losing most of its best players from last year and having arguably its top two pitchers slated to miss the season with injuries.
But interim coach Steve Bieser thinks the Redhawks have potential and he believes they can do much better than expected during the campaign that begins Friday at New Orleans.
"I definitely feel like we can surprise a lot of people," said Bieser, whose first Southeast squad was picked to finish eighth in the 11-team Ohio Valley Conference during the league's preseason poll released Friday. "I knew we'd be picked at the tail end of the conference because of our inexperience. On paper we don't look very impressive."
Bieser takes over the program after Mark Hogan retired following 18 seasons as Southeast's all-time winningest baseball coach.
The 2012 Redhawks compiled the program's worst record (23-36) and worst OVC finish (seventh) during Hogan's tenure.
But Southeast was able to overcame a horrendous start to win nine of its final 15 league games and extend its OVC record of consecutive conference tournament appearances to 18. The Redhawks placed third in the tournament despite being seeded sixth.
"I thought the way we finished was good," said Bieser, Southeast's pitching coach the past two years. "A lot of our younger guys got valuable experience, but we basically only have a couple of guys going into their third year of Division I baseball. Even our seniors, most of them are only in their second seasons."
Southeast's senior class last year featured just six players, but they represented many of the Redhawks' top performers and their entire infield.
Among the departed are All-American third baseman Trenton Moses, the two-time OVC player of the year, and second-team all-conference shortstop Kenton Parmley.
Moses led the OVC in batting average (.408) and home runs (19) while ranking among the top five in RBIs (61) and runs scored (58). He led the nation in on-base percentage (.531) and slugging percentage (.761).
Parmley, whose 47-game hitting streak tied for the third-longest in NCAA Division I history, broke several career school records. He was the OVC's fifth-leading batter (.363), tied Moses with 58 runs scored and was second on the squad with 13 homers.
Southeast's other four seniors -- first baseman Kody Campbell, catcher Jesse Tierney, second baseman Taylor Heon and relief pitcher Ryan Prickett -- also were major contributors
The same goes for second-team all-OVC pitcher Shae Simmons (7-4), Southeast's ace as a junior who did not return for his senior season after being selected in the amateur draft. He and Moses, also drafted, both are playing in the Atlanta Braves organization.
"We lost some great players. We lost our entire infield, including our catcher," Bieser said. "Our Division I experience is very limited.
The Redhawks return 20 players, along with three freshmen who redshirted last year, and have added 11 newcomers.
But three of those returnees -- all anticipated key members of the pitching staff -- are out for the season with elbow problems.
Senior Dylan Lynn (4-1) came on strong late in the season, while junior left-hander Christian Hull (4-7, 4 saves) became a dominant reliever after moving from a starting role midway through the campaign.
Bieser planned to have those two anchor the starting rotation.
Sophomore Cody Spanberger pitched just 15 1/3 innings as a true freshman, but Bieser considered him a closer candidate. Spanberger also hit .297 in 37 at-bats.
"They all had Tommy John surgery in November. They were all different -- when they happened, how they happened," Bieser said, shaking his head. "Any staff, you lose your projected No. 1 and No. 2, it's tough."
Bieser said junior college transfer Luke Shearrow now projects as Southeast's No. 1 starter.
"He's looked outstanding," Bieser said.
Also currently competing for weekend starting spots are senior left-hander Zack Smith, sophomore left-hander Will Spitzfaden and true freshman left-hander Alex Winkelman.
"He's going to be a very good pitcher in our program," Bieser said about Winkelman.
Smith (2-8) struggled much of his rookie season after transferring from junior college. However, he had a big summer with the Plaza Tire Capahas, and Bieser believes he could be ready to break out.
Spitzfaden (2-2) was a late-season bright spot as a true freshman after being inserted into the starting rotation.
Other returning hurlers are senior left-hander Ryan Kendall (0-4) and fellow seniors Tony Zerrusen (1-2), Bobby Hurst (0-2, 2 saves), Trevor Kill (1-1, 1 save) and Michael Patman (0-3). All primarily threw out of the bullpen last year, with some starts mixed in.
Also in the mix are junior Hank Williams Jr., who had Southeast's top ERA of 3.38 in just 5 1/3 innings before missing the rest of the season due to labrum surgery; juco transfer lefty Skylar Cobb, a Scott City High School graduate; true freshman lefty Alex Siddle; and true freshman Tyler Thomas.
Around the field, Southeast returns several players who started as rookies last year, led by first-team all-OVC junior left fielder Derek Gibson and three OVC all-freshmen selections: outfielder Andy Lennington, outfielder Jason Blum and DH Ryan Barnes.
Gibson ranked ninth in the conference with a .338 average as a sophomore. He was fourth on the Redhawks with seven homers and 38 RBIs.
Lennington, who also played several infield positions in addition to outfield, batted .289 with three homers and 32 RBIs. He is slated to play third base this year.
Barnes, who batted .248, displayed power with four homers. He is battling for playing time either at catcher or DH.
Blum, who also hit .248, has been moved to second base.
Junior center fielder Cole Bieser, another first-year starter last season, batted .238. Junior Matt Tellor, a touted transfer from Lindenwood University, is slated to open the season at first base although Southeast is still awaiting word from the NCAA regarding Tellor's eligibility.
Bieser said Lindenwood, which is transitioning to Division II, expected to be eligible for postseason play this year, but that turned out to not be the case so players in the program were allowed to transfer.
Transfers normally have to sit out a year, but Bieser said Southeast was under the assumption that would not apply with Tellor. However, the NCAA deemed otherwise and Southeast appealed.
"We're hopeful. We should find out very soon," Bieser said.
Tellor, if he can't play this season, still will have two years of eligibility left. He was named the Prospect League player of the year and co-top prospect during the summer, when the 6-foot-5, 210-pound switch-hitter batted .341 with 18 homers and 66 RBIs in the collegiate wood-bat league.
"I'll put him up with anybody in our league," Bieser said.
Freshman Andy Lack, a Kennett, Mo., native who redshirted last year, will open the season at shortstop.
Sophomore Alex Burridge, who made five starts at catcher last year as a true freshman after having his redshirt lifted due to injuries, is slated to open behind the plate. He hit .048 in 21 at-bats.
While Gibson and Bieser are solidified in left and center, several players are waging a tight battle for the third outfield spot.
Sophomore Dalton Hewitt opened last season as the right-field starter as a redshirt freshman before missing most of the year with an injury. Hewitt, who hit .111 in 36 at-bats, will also see time at catcher.
Other right-field candidates are juco transfer Tyler Mikrut and true freshman Clayton Evans.
Junior middle infielder John Logan Zink, who made 16 starts last year and batted .208, will again provide depth at second and shortstop.
Among others in the mix for playing time are true freshman middle infielder Branden Boggetto; juco transfer first baseman Josh Meade; true freshman catcher Tyler Boxwell; sophomore outfielder Nolan Fisher, hitless in three at-bats as a true freshman last year; and redshirt freshmen outfielders Steven Still and Bob Clark (a Jackson High School graduate).
"We still have a lot of questions to be answered, but we're excited to get going," Bieser said.