From OBU Sports Information

With back-to-back trips to the national postseason in the back pocket, Oklahoma Baptist looks at a 2013 season with optimism and a load of new faces.

The Bison were 47-14 last season but lost five All-Conference players from last season. OBU had a strong fall, then added five players prior to the start of the spring semester.

“We’re excited about this team,” said Associate Head Coach Chris Klimas. “This team is extremely talented.”

If nothing else, the Bison pitching staff has quality depth.

“The pitching is solid,” said Bison associate head coach Chris Klimas. “Usually you’ll have one or two pitchers who are your front line guys. We have 11 that are all pretty much on the same level.”

Klimas said the rotation would shake itself out during the early part of the season.

Returning starting pitchers are Johnathan Christensen (5-0, 5.31 ERA) and Chris Rogers (6-2, 3.80), while Jesus Carlos (9 saves, 2.38) will probably anchor the back end of the bullpen again this season after earning All-Conference honors last season. Michael Fisher also returns this season.

Newcomers include junior transfers Les Northcutt, Julian Merryweather, Jordan Morales, Brandon Willard, Kyle Dickerson and Richard Lucas, along with senior transfer and the lone lefty on the staff Eric Fredrick.

Christensen, Rogers, Lucas, Dickerson, Fredrick and Morales look to contend for starting spots while Northcutt, Willard and Fisher appear to be valuable tools in the bullpen with Carlos.

“Nobody’s role is defined yet,” Klimas reminded.

The offense and position defense is as strong as it is deep. Klimas said OBU can juggle its lineup to face right or left-handed pitching with seven lefty hitters, two switch-hitters and nine right-handers on the roster.

Handling the staff will be a trio of incoming catchers. Mason Ankeney and Garett Gallacher are junior transfers while Rafael Villar begins as a freshman.

Ankeney’s bat will make him hard to keep out of the lineup and Gallacher has proven to be solid behind the plate. Villar joined the club at semester and will start off behind those two as he works himself into baseball shape.

At first base, OBU awaits the recovery of Daniel Howell from surgery. Howell is expected to be a power supply when fully healthy. In the mean time, Matt Page and Jeff Johnson will try to earn everyday spots. Johnson is a senior transfer who had 30 home runs in two seasons in junior college while Page is a junior transfer who gives the Bison a left-handed option at the position.

Up the middle, the Bison return the slick-fielding tandem of Yale Colon at shortstop and Greg Nelson at second base.

“Yael and Greg give us high energy guys who will get on the ground for you to make every play,” Klimas said. “They’ve been outstanding on offense and defense.”

Garrett Roberts, a junior transfer, looks to have solidified a spot at third base and should be able to get to a few more baseballs than the usual corner infielder.

“He’s not the traditional clodder over at third base,” Klimas said. “He’s more typical of a middle infielder.”

Freshman Anthony Almonte will look for opportunities to contribute on the infield as well.

The outfielders include returners Mitch Warne and Kenny Wall, along with junior transfers Kevin Hatch, Brandon Laubhan and Kyle Wagner, and freshman Tyler Melton.

Warne played in 47 games and Wall in 36 last season. Warne will battle for a starting spot and Wall’s speed makes him a valuable asset.

The Bison plan to count heavily on Laubhan from the left side with Wagner as a right-handed option. Hatch will be counted on for some right-handed pop.

Melton also will be hard to keep off the field as well, especially when the Bison are looking for a left-handed lineup.

That group will go through the baseball battles of the Sooner Athletic Conference this season and while the league has changed and includes only eight teams, the gauntlet still exists. Instead of playing nine three-game series in the conference action, there are seven four-game sets in the SAC, which retained its traditional powers of OBU, Oklahoma City, Lubbock Christian and Rogers State for this season while losing Southern Nazarene and Oklahoma Christian, which finished a combined 18-42 in the league last season.

“There are no easy wins,” said Klimas. “Everyone in the SAC is tough. It’s different this year, but it isn’t easier.”

The season begins Feb. 2 at Southwestern with the first home game set for Feb. 8 against York. The postseason conference tournament, as it was last year, will be at OBU and OCU, with the Stars hosting the championship game this time around.

 

Ray Fink is the Sports Information Director at Oklahoma Baptist University.