From RSU Sports Information
CLAREMORE, Okla.-In 2012, the Hillcats reached the NAIA World Series for the first time in program history while becoming the first RSU athletics team to compete in the championship game. With a 49-16 record and a No. 2 finish in the postseason poll, the Diamond Cats registered their best finish to date. Although the Hillcats made a magical run through the World Series in 2012, the 24 returners and 12 newcomers would like a second chance at the championship game in 2013.
The Diamond Cats return six starting position players and four starting pitchers from last year’s club, including World Series Gold Glove winner Eric Baker along with standout pitchers Shawn Spainhoward and Brandon Bargas.
Coach Bradley has compiled a talented group of newcomers to complement the veterans and believes the team has shown it is capable of big things in 2013.
“We’ve got a quality club coming back,” Bradley said. “The difference will be how many close games we can win. Looking back on last season, we lost several close games in extra innings that decided the series. Our kids had a lot of resilience and won several close games down the stretch to put us in the World Series. It’s going to come down to getting that big hit or that big out. “
With the graduation of everyday catcher Lance Rymel, behind the dish might be the place where RSU has the most question marks.
“The catcher position is the biggest hole we have to fill on our roster this season,” Bradley said. “I look for us to go with a two-catcher system which is what we have done in the past; last year was an exception with Lance Rymel being the quarterback of our club. We have two kids coming back who saw limited time. (Emmanuel) De La Cruz had more at-bats than (McKenzie) Matthews but I think they will split time early.”
Emmanuel De La Cruz played in 35 games last season, starting 25 times, primarily as the designated hitter. He tallied 14 hits with six home runs. McKenzie Matthews played in 16 games last season and made six starts. He had a .278 batting average and a perfect fielding percentage.
Coach Bradley added Ramcy Lora to the roster at semester. The Boston, Mass. native is a player who could make contributions at catcher, first base and the designated hitter position.
“We did bring in a catcher at semester,” Bradley said. “Ramcy has proven he can provide quality depth and before the season is over I think he could be in the mix.”
Cody Campbell returns for his third and final season on the Hill. The senior from St. Cloud, Fla. was the Hillcats’ everyday first baseman and started in all 63 games he played in a season ago. He finished the year with 96 RBI, 14 doubles and six homeruns.
“Cody Campbell is definitely penciled in as our everyday starter this season,” Bradley said. “We are looking for him to be a RBI guy, hitting in the five-hole. His offensive year wasn’t as good as it was his sophomore season but he had some big at-bats down the stretch in the postseason that really contributed to our success. He is a clutch hitter and I am looking for him to have an outstanding senior season for us.”
Ramcy Lora will back Campbell when he needs a day off.
Hector Rivera returns for his senior season after a solid year in 2012. The Manati, Puerto Rico native played in all 65 games last season, starting all but one contest. A mainstay at second base, Rivera finished second on the team in batting average (.353) and hits (79). He tallied 13 doubles, two triples and a pair of homeruns.
“Hector definitely established himself as a quality second baseman last season,” Bradley said. “He was also good offensively, which was a pleasant surprise. He brings in a lot of leadership and experience to our club.”
Sophomore Blake Heston and junior Nick Malter will also vie for time at second base. Heston played in 30 games as a true freshman while Malter redshirted with the Hillcats in 2012.
Coach Bradley will look to Seminole State College transfer Jose Olazagasti to replace two-year starter Randy Ramirez at shortstop. Olazagasti was a two-time Gold Glove award winner and was named to the NJCAA All-Region II team twice. Redshirt freshman Johan Ochoa and senior Hamilton Hernandez could also see time at shortstop.
“Jose brings the experience we need at shortstop,” Bradley said. “He is penciled in as our starting shortstop.”
Newcomer Tyler Wheeler transferred to the Hill after one year at Cumberland University (Tenn.). Prior to his time at Cumberland, Wheeler played two seasons at Connors State (Okla.) under head coach Perry Keith. At Connors he earned a gold glove at third base, he was first team all-conference and named to the All-Region II Tournament Team.
“Replacing our left side of the infield with the graduation of Cade McKewon and Randy Ramirez was a big hole to fill,” Bradley said. “Senior Tyler Wheeler is our penciled in everyday third baseman. He hits from the left side and I look for him to step in and contribute offensively while doing an adequate job defensively.”
Sophomore Jean-Francois Dumais-Fyfe could also see time in the hot corner.
A trio of veterans return to the outfield for the Hillcats. Senior Eric Baker burst onto the scene in 2012, earning a Sooner Athletic Conference Gold Glove and the World Series Gold Glove. The Fort Gibson, Okla. native started in all 65 games last year and locked down the starting job in centerfield after leading the team in several offensive categories in 2012. As the leadoff hitter, he set the single-season record for hits (95), doubles (19), triples (6), at bats (239) and total bases (138) last season.
“Eric Baker had an all-American year from his Gold Glove in the World Series to leading our team in hitting,” Bradley said. “He is an all-around player. His leadership, passion for the game and experience will be something we will rely on, especially in tight games. He is a difference maker. With his speed and experience he will carry the outfield with his gap-to-gap coverage.”
Colton Campbell will return for his senior season in left field after starting in all 65 games last season. He earned a conference Gold Glove, led the team in home runs (7) and drove in a team-leading 59 runs.
“Colton Campbell had a great year in left field a season ago; defensively he had an outstanding year,” Bradley said. “He is a lot better defensively than you would think; he is a big kid that runs well. He is a hard worker and I look for him to have another great year offensively for us.”
Senior Keith Poverud was RSU’s everyday starter in right field last season but after an injury sidelined him for much of the fall, the position was opened to some competition.
“Keith is penciled in as our everyday right fielder,” Bradley said. “Other guys in the mix are Blake Heston and Alex Cochran, who had really great preseasons. Whoever gets hot will play in right field. The versatility will help with matchups and we will be able to modify the lineup to our strengths.”
On the mound is where the Hillcats return the most experience and will serve as strength for the 2013 team. RSU returns seven hurlers from a season ago, including all three weekend starters who combined for 27 wins. Coach Bradley is expecting big things from the veteran pitchers who are paired with a talented group of newcomers.
“Our pitching coach, Robert Brown, has been with me since we started the program and he does not get the recognition he deserves,” Bradley said. “I think a team is only as good as the players and staff and he has been a true key to our success. I really appreciated the job he has done for our program.”
“You are only as good as your pitching,” Bradley said. “If you want to win a championship you have to have quality pitching. Fortunately, we have a quality pitching staff. Looking back on last year, that was the difference in our ball club.”
Senior left-handed pitcher Shawn Spainhoward compiled an 11-2 record in 106 innings pitched with a 2.72 ERA for RSU last season. His 11 wins and 106 innings pitched were both RSU single-season records.
“Shawn Spainhoward carried most of the bulk inning wise on our pitching staff, starting most of the nine-inning games,” Bradley said. “We look for him to be the same guy he was last season, every time he goes to the mound we know we are going to get a quality start.”
Brandon Bargas, a south paw from Owasso, Okla, tallied seven wins with a single-season record 114 strikeouts. He tossed 95.1 innings but his most memorable appearance came in the second round of the NAIA World Series where he helped the Cats upset No. 1 LSU-Shreveport, striking out a RSU single-game record 18 hitters in the complete game performance.
“Brandon Bargas has the flash,” Bradley said. “He lights up the radar gun and is a strike out guy. His performance on the mound against LSUS at the World Series was the best I have ever seen and maybe the best I will ever see. Brandon is a competitor. Every time we go out we know those two lefties (Bargas/Spainhoward) are going to give us a chance to win.”
Senior Kyle Duncan rounds out the trio of weekend starters. The right-handed pitcher tallied an 8-2 record last season with 83 innings of work.
“The biggest surprise of the year might have been Kyle Duncan, giving us quality starts every time he when out from the right side,” Bradley said. “He has worked hard in the preseason and I look for him to pick up right in where he left off. He gives us three quality starters and now we are going to a four-game conference series we will need a fourth starter. We were able to sign two quality pitchers over the summer that will have a chance to make a big impact on our club.”
The Hillcats picked up a pair of pitchers who will vie for the fourth starting role during conference play. Jesus Del Rosario, a senior left-handed pitcher who transferred from Azusa Pacific, and Jesse Baird, a junior right-handed pitcher from the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, will look to step into the No. 4 starter role.
The Hillcats will have a variety of pitchers in the bullpen, including a host of lefties. South paw Casey Cassity returns for his fourth and final year on the Hill. The senior from Barnsdall, Okla. could start midweek and come out of the bullpen on the weekend.
“Casey Cassity had some big starts and relief efforts for us last year,” Bradley said. “He has a mind for the game; he is a leader on our pitching staff and a great student. He can come out of the bullpen or start.”
Hailing from Broken Arrow, Okla., sophomores T.J. Law and Mason Marquette could become crucial relief pitchers for the Hillcats.
“TJ Law is knocking on the door to become a key difference maker out of the bullpen,” Bradley said. “He had a good fall and he has matured over the last two years. Mason Marquette is one of those guys with the mindset he can get anyone out. That is the type of approach you want in a relief pitcher.”
Junior Kyle Deaton and freshman Zach Tyson could will compete for time as well.
The closer might be the place where RSU has the most question marks.
“Coach Brown and I have discussed the closer role a lot and I feel like it is going to be determined as we go through the season. Consistency will be the key and hopefully someone will step forward and take control of that opportunity. Two young pitchers who could develop into the role are Shawn Patton and Colton Weeks.”
Patton and Weeks, both left-handed pitchers, redshirted last season with the Hillcats.
The Hillcats will open the season with their first seven games on the road before returning home for a seven-game home stand. RSU’s home opener will come against Baker (Kan.) for the second consecutive season. The four-game series is set for February 16th and 17th.
Four teams from the Sooner Athletic Conference, including the Hillcats at No.5, are ranked in the 2012-13 NAIA Baseball Coaches’ Preseason Top 25 Poll. The Diamond Cats open their 28-game conference slate at home on March 7th against St. Gregory’s (Okla.). RSU will then play back-to-back series against preseason No.10 Oklahoma Baptist and Mid-America Christian.
RSU will round out the conference slate in April as the Hillcats face USAO, Wayland Baptist, No. 16 Lubbock Christian and No. 4 Oklahoma City. The conference is laid out a bit different in 2013 with each series moving to four games rather than three and all games will be seven-inning contests. Last season’s regular season champion Oklahoma City and tournament Champion Oklahoma Baptist will co-host the SAC Tournament, May 1-4.
“The four-game series is going to be tough on our conference and is going to tag more losses on all the teams,” Bradley said. “It’s a challenging schedule this year. We have several NCAA DII school on the schedule in preparation for the transition next year. The four-game conference schedule is going to affect our midweek games. It will come down to pitching. Those midweek games are going to be important.”
RSU will face three schools from the NCAA Division II Heartland Conference which the Hillcats will be joining next season. The Diamond Cats will also take on Northeastern Oklahoma State at ONEOK Field in Tulsa, Okla. for the second consecutive season on April 16th.
“It’s been a goal of our program since the beginning to make it to the World Series and now that our team has had the opportunity to experience it they want to get back there even more than before,” Bradley said. “But it is a long season and I have cautioned our team that we need to be concerned with the everyday challenges. They need to take care of each game. We will have to stay focused.”
For more information about RSU Baseball visit www.rsuhillcats.com.