Fri, Oct. 30, 2009 - [Baseball]
After winning the first conference title in 57 years, many feel the Loras College Baseball team has a lot to prove this season after being eliminated from the Iowa Conference (IIAC) Tournament in two games. Thus many throughout the IIAC may still question legitimacy of the Duhawks conference championship; and to try to prove the doubters wrong, Loras will rely heavily on a pitching staff returning every starter from last season.
2009 IIAC Coach of the Year, Carl Tebon, said, "The staff has more depth than we have ever had before going into the season, and I think it will show through later on into the season."
The core of the staff will be anchored by juniors Kyler Laurie, Cole Boge, Kevin Moriarty, and sophomore Austin Safranski. Those four combined to have a 22-6 record for the Duhawks last year and figure to tout the rubber often this coming season.
With the returning depth of the staff, it also leads to heightened expectations. Pitching Coach Dan Wellik says, "I have much higher expectations [this year]. Last year I thought we only had nine arms and we had 4 or 5 guys that shouldered the load. We have much more depth, ability, and what we can do with that is up in the air. My expectations are for us to be the best staff in the conference."
Boge says the teams expectations have been raised but doesn't know how other teams will view them. "I know people want to see if it was a fluke. For us expectations are high but I don't think we get the respect we should after last season, but we expect more out of ourselves."
With so many returners coming back, they obviously have a lot of strengths, but to win another conference championship, they still realize they must make improvements.
Laurie, who tied the Loras baseball record for most wins in the season (9 wins) said his best attribute was overcoming difficult situations. "I am able to get out of tough situations, I was thrown into some of the games and had to hold the score."
On the other hand, the junior from Elgin, IL said he needs to improve on his approach at the onset of games. "Getting out the first inning is something I had a tough time with; just always starting on a strong note."
Austin Safranski burst onto the scene as a freshman for the Duhawks. Safranski went 7-1 in his inaugural campaign to earn First Team All Conference honors. As a sophomore, Safranki offers an evaluation of what his strength is and what will need to be improved for a repeat all conference performance. "I think my mental approach is my best phase of my game. For improvement I think the thing I need to focus on is getting all three pitches [fastball, curveball, changeup] over for strikes."
Moriarty found similar success in his freshman season to Safranski-winning six games. He didn't have the type of season he would have envisioned last year, with only two wins despite having the lowest ERA on the team at 4.95 runs per game. The Duhawks will definitely once again turn to the 6'1" pitcher to take the ball throughout the season and he will be ready. "I like to go out and compete; I'm a competitor in everything."
Moriarty said sometimes that competiveness can lead to frustration. "My biggest weakness is probably when things aren't going our way; I beat myself up."
Boge transferred to Loras last season after playing his freshman year at fellow IIAC member Cornell College. Boge found himself thrown into the rotation last year starting seven games and coming away with wins in four of those games. This year, the Dubuque native feels he needs to continue what he did last year and make some small refinements to his repertoire. "My strength would be the ability to throw strikes and make guys hit the ball. Sometimes that worked out there, other times it didn't. I think in order to improve my success I need to work on adding velocity to my off-speed pitch."
With a well-rounded staff, people always want to know who is the go-to-guy or the ace that is going to get the ball in pressure situations. Wellik said, "We may not have an ace but we have three of a kind. Mo[riarty] had a great beginning of the year, then Safranski had a great middle of the season, and Laurie down the end was our best."
Tebon echoed this sentiment. "If I started a game tomorrow, I think we have three aces. I would say I would have to go with Kyler as he has more experience, but Safranski and Mo[riarty] could beat anyone."
With the all the starters coming back, a staff still must have depth in the pen. They must have guys that can step up and start a game if called upon in a situation like the Iowa Conference Tournament. True depth of the staff will be tested if a team wishes to make a regional.
Wellik explains the Duhawks have plenty of arms to watchout for, "Eric Rife is kind of a newcomer. He was with us last year but was coming off shoulder surgery. David Nowaczyk has a high ceiling; if he can put it all together he can be special. Nick Panvino is a kid that has a chance to be very good and early as he has three pitches. Ben Cottrell has a chance to be good. Josh Kwasny probably has the best stuff but it depends if he can put it all together. Spencer Radabaugh can pitch out of the bullpen as a sidearm guy, and when he challenges people and throws strikes he can be very good. We also have numerous other newcomers and returners who could help us out as well."
Moriarty offered the same tone as Coach Wellik saying this staff has a chance to be special. "I feel real good about the staff, we got a lot of guys returning that had good year, and we got a lot of good new guys. I would say it is the best staff we've had since I've been here."
Loras will be out to prove themselves once again this season. If they are going to prove the doubters wrong they will need another strong year out of the starting rotation. While other teams may place a target on the Duhawks back, they won't feel any added pressure explains Laurie. "We now have a target on our back, I personally don't feel any added expectations, but I feel a lot of other teams in the conference thought it was a fluke."
Safranski feels the Duhawks also have drawn the attention of the other conference teams. "I think that people didn't expect us to win it all, and I think they will take us more seriously and we have a bullseye now."
The target has been placed on their backs, and to replicate the success of last year's conference championship; the Loras pitching staff will be ready to brush off challengers in 2010.