It is that time of the year again. The field is swept and the ‘Breds are ready to compete.
The Murray State baseball team kicks off its season today with a series against the University of Central Arkansas.
In the two teams’ last match-up on March 2-4, Murray State won two out of three games. The ‘Breds won the first game after striking out 20 batters in a 17-inning game. The second game featured an exciting ninth inning comeback win after senior Brandon Elliott from Plymouth, Ind., hit a two-run double to third base to bring home seniors Dylan Wheeler (Vestavia Hills, Ala.) and Paul Ritzheimer (Trenton, Ill.).
Last year, the ‘Breds finished ninth in the OVC, which is where the team was picked to finish this season in the preseason poll. The team finished last season with a record of 23-33 overall and 8-19 in conference play,
Senior pitcher Will Handlin from Houston, Texas, said after two seasons the team has a newfound hunger this season.
“The last two years haven’t been as good as we’ve wanted them to be,” he said. “We had some injuries, but that is not an excuse for what has happened. We want to show the world that is not how we come to play ball here.”
Heading into his 10th year as head coach, Rob McDonald said he believes his team is prepared to start the season today. Because of good playing conditions, there are less question marks than in past years. He said the players are excited to play against another team, instead of inter-squad scrimmages, and McDonald is excited to see how his team compares.
“I feel good about where we are right now,” he said. “We are ready to go play a game. We are probably in a better position right now than we have been in a lot of years because the weather has been a little bit better, and we have been on the field more than usual as we go into our first game.”
McDonald said he feels confident in the players he has on the team this season. Many of the returning veterans have proven themselves to be good Division I baseball players.
“I think a lot of our older guys do a great job of leading,” he said. “We have got a good group of leaders and I think our guys are working hard and doing the right things. We don’t pick captains because I feel like leaders need to lead and I don’t want to narrow it down to a couple or three guys and say that you guys are leaders and the others aren’t.”
Last season, the ‘Breds lost some powerful hitters, including Travis Isaak and Jacob Rhodes, due to graduation. However, this does not trouble McDonald because, as he said the team is going to hit the ball and score runs. It won’t be up to just one player to provide all the power.
He said he has many players who are good hitters, though senior Mike Kozlowski from Crown Point, Ind., is probably the team’s most powerful hitter. Last season, Kozlowski led the team in hits with 68 and was second in RBIs and runs scored.
“I hope that we will come at the other team in waves and attack the other team as a team,” he said. “I think we have got a lot of guys who can hit a lot of doubles that would be my desire more so than home runs.”
The team worked on fundamentals to prepare for the game against Central Arkansas and for all the other schools they will compete against. McDonald said he tries to keep his team solid and does not try anything too fancy. He just wants them to play the game.
“You know you’ve got to pitch and catch and hit the ball and run the bases. You can make it sound real complicated but if you do the fundamentals well, you have a chance of having a very good team.”
The first game of the series is today, at 6 p.m. in Conway, Ark.
Story by Jaci Kohn, Sports Editor.