The Port Arthur News
BEAUMONT – This 2013 version unveils the illusion of becoming one of Lamar’s best baseball teams ever on paper.
Of course, the previous paragraph’s final phrase reveals volumes about the past two disappointing Cardinals diamond campaigns.
If Lamar’s premier arms and bats are injured and disabled, the Redbirds suddenly revert to very ordinary – as in 22-30 last year and 29-27 in 2011.
“If we stay healthy, we will be good,” assistant head coach Jim Ricklefsen. “The past two years we haven’t.”
Those mediocre numbers of their recent past explain why LU was assigned a middle-of-the-pack wintertime status by Southland Conference observers.
Lamar can be quite good again if it dodges injury bugs, sore arms and shoulder ailments. They can be competitive enough to revive their prestigious history in the sport.
Baseball should be Lamar’s strong suit again due to history if nothing else. No SLC school has won as many league titles, NCAA tournament games or sent as many players to the big leagues.
No SLC school has a coaching staff with the experience and stability of 16th-year assistant Ricklefsen, 13th-year assistant Scott Hatten and 37th-year leader Jim Gilligan who looks more fit and hungry to win than ever.
“This is going to be a good group,” Gilligan chirped last week with his customary pre-season optimism.
Ahh, but Gilligan uttered one early February line never heard from his voice in many, many years.
“If you look at the numbers, offensively we had a pretty good year (in 2012) but we just didn’t pitch it,” the former Lamar lefthander said last week.
Lamar’s pitching soared to an unacceptable 4.52 team earned run average. The Cardinals’ pitching depth looked fine in January but failed to measure up by the middle of March. Lamar finished in a three-way tie for eighth place, without one member on either the first or second All-SLC baseball honor team.
“It was unusual for us to have that, especially for our pitching to be down, but the know-how-to-play factor came into play last year and a lot of kids gained some confidence,” Gilligan reflected.
A year later, Gilligan sees the fruits of a productive off-season, the return for five of last year’s top six hitters and a pitching trio of weekend starters which already seem to be intact.
If they reclaim their usual lofty perch, Lamar’s pitchers — namely Jonathan Dziedzic, Collin Chapman and Eric Harrington — probably will be the ones to lead the way. They already have been penciled in as the likely weekend starters for the nine conference weekend three-game series. Those 27 league games start with next-door neighbor McNeese on Mar. 22.
Gilligan has to untangle the rest of his pitching roles, though, and he has eight other possible candidates to observe. They include lefty newcomers David Carver and Travis Moore, as well as Orangefield product Chase Angelle. The right-handed hopefuls include the lanky Friendswood duo of Will Hibbs and Jayson McKinley, Nederland rookie Brett Brown, and JC transfer Ben Coram and Hunter Perry.
“We certainly hope and believe they can be a good staff,” said Gilligan, who doubles as LU’s foremost pitching instructor of all time. “Their mechanics are more established. Last year we didn’t have this kind of arm strength.”
The regulars start with a pair of pre-season all-conference hitters, senior first baseman Brad Picha and senior left fielder Darian Johnson. Those two batters led the 2012 averages with .320 and .344, respectively. Designated hitter Seth Dornak and center fielder Garret Autrey followed closely behind with respective averages of .310 and .299.
Lamar was much more of a line-drive hitting group than a home-run smacking squad but Nederland junior right fielder Jude Vidrine led the 2012 power supply with five home runs.
Those five names give Lamar much more confidence in its ability to hit than in the recent past. There are a few potentially strong hitters which LU would love to fill in around those five.
Gilligan will choose from three seniors to likely fill his second and third base jobs. Andrew Dewey or Vidorian V.J. Bunner will start at second. Bunner or Aaron Olivas will start at third. They will surround transfer Sam Bumpers who is expected to be an infield fixture at shortstop.
The catching duties right now are between senior returning letterman Zach Luevanos and former Port Neches-Groves standout, sophomore Brandon Provost.
A 55-game regular season begins Friday in Vincent-Beck Stadium at 6:30 against Northern Kentucky.
No matters what happens, the Cardinals already have passed the pre-season test. They look great on paper. Gilligan knows how many games that helps them win, though. It’s the same number Lamar’s baseball team has won so far in 2013.