Indians plan to contend again
Feb. 18, 2004
CAPE GIRARDEAU - Southeast Missouri State University baseball fans better have a roster handy this season, especially early. They'll need it to identify all the new players.
The Indians 28-man squad features 16 newcomers, including 11 junior college transfers. Even some of the returning players either redshirted or didn't see much action last year.
"They better have a program when they come to games," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said, smiling. "We've got a lot of new faces."
But Hogan, whose squad opens the season Saturday with the start of a three-game series at Oklahoma -- just part of a brutal non-conference schedule -- isn't about to term this a rebuilding year, even though the Indians have just four seniors.
Hogan expects the Indians to be as competitive as they have been in recent years. Southeast has averaged nearly 35 victories over the past four seasons, including 31-20 last year.
"Even though our club is basically new, we feel like the talent pool is there," Hogan said. "We feel like we had a great recruiting class."
Graduation gutted the Indians around the field as they lost some of the top statistical performers in school history, including shortstop Zach Borowiak, third baseman Denver Stuckey, second baseman Justin Christian, left fielder Brian Hopkins and catcher Tristen McDonald. All were either first- or second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference.
Southeast returns just two full-time position starters in senior Gary Gilbert (.301), who played first base last year but has been moved to third; and sophomore right fielder Aaron Fangman (.276). The Indians lost all but six of their 70 home runs from last year and all but 50 of their 332 RBI.
Two of the Indians' top juco recruits, first baseman Freddy Lopez and center fielder Frankie Montiel, were projected to comprise the meat of the order but will miss the first several weeks of the season with injuries.
"We may not have the big power guys we've had in the past, but we've got solid average hitters, guys who can drive the gaps and speed," Gilbert said. "I think we'll be fine."
Hogan expects Southeast to be more than fine on the mound. Even though the Indians lost OVC pitcher of the year Tim Alvarez, who won 14 games, they return their next four hurlers and have added several key newcomers.
"This staff has a chance to be really good," Hogan said. "Early I think pitching and defense will be our combination. The big question mark is how this club hits."
Clayton has clocked in the mid-to-upper 90s, but he was bothered by a bad shoulder all of last season. Offseason surgery has him feeling fine again, he said. Nourie struck out 65 batters in 50 innings a year ago.
"We've got a lot of new faces, but good chemistry," Clayton said. "We have 56 games to prove we're not a bunch of no-namers and shock some people."
Senior right-hander Ryan Forsyth (5-2, 5.14) and senior left-hander Stan Skakalski (4-1, 4.50) were solid last year both as spot starters and middle relievers and will be counted on to fill those roles again.
Juco transfer Mike Fitch, a right-hander, has been impressive in workouts and will start the season opener, with Nourie and Clayton to follow this weekend. Hogan is also high on juco transfers Anthony Maupin, a righty, and Derek Herbig, a lefty.
"I think we'll have a real good starting rotation," Hogan said.
Another returning pitcher, junior right-hander Brad Smith, redshirted last season with an injury but Hogan said he has been impressive and is penciled in as the Indians' closer.
"We feel very fortunate to have him," Hogan said. "He'll be a great addition."
n The Indians have just one local player, freshman pitcher Mark Wittenborn from Central High School, who redshirted last year. Hogan said Wittenborn has been bothered by an injury but could contend for a relief role.
Last year: Southeast was 31-20 overall; 14-6 and second in the Ohio Valley Conference; and went 1-2 in the OVC tournament.
Position, name (last year's stats, or previous school)
CF -- Eric Horstman (Jr., Danville, Ill., C.C.)