Despite winning 86 games the past two seasons, the Crowder baseball team turned in their gear at the end of each campaign feeling like it had nothing to show for going 42-18 in ’11 and 44-17 in ’12.
Well, the 2013 season can’t begin soon enough for the Roughriders. A bad taste still lingers that dates back to May 12, 2012, when after leading 6-0, Jefferson College rallied with eight unanswered runs and defeated them 8-6 in the NJCAA Region 16 Championship in Joplin.
After reaching the JUCO World Series two years prior, the 2012 season ended with a thud as Grand Junction sat on the horizon. So they regrouped, worked harder this offseason, added a few pieces and, they hope, filled their gas tanks enough to reach Colorado this time around.
It won’t be easy.
With 58 games slated, the Roughriders, who enter the season ranked No. 18 in the NJCAA Division I Top 20 preseason poll, will do battle with four teams ranked inside the top-20, accounting for a total of 14 games. That includes four games against the 2012 national champion Iowa Western Reivers (ranked No. 1), four against Jefferson College (4), two versus Seminole State (5), and two more with Neosho County (11).
It gets even deeper once you look at the Perfect Game preseason top-50 junior college poll where Seminole State (3), Iowa Western (8), Jefferson (25), Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (34), Crowder (41), Eastern Oklahoma State (44) and Connors State (50) all rank. The Roughriders have scheduled them all, so they’ll certainly be battle tested once May rolls around.
“Our schedule is, we feel, like the toughest we can play in our area,” Crowder head coach Travis Lallemand said. “We’re purposely trying to put together some of the best schedules to prepare us for the postseason.
“We racked up 86 wins the past two years and turned in our uniforms at the end of the year with a bad taste in our mouths. We’re trying to prepare ourselves the best we can for the (region) tournament. We feel like we’re equipped to handle it. With our schedule you’re not going to be able to go out and play a mediocre game and expect to win every day.”
Put it this way; the Roughriders could easily finish with a worse regular season record than they had a year ago and still be a much better team.
Though Lallemand hesitates to admit it, the talent on this Crowder team more closely resembles the 2010 roster that had them playing under the western sky. He hesitates, of course, because projections are just that — projections — until the team steps on the field and proves its mettle.
But the comparisons are easy to see.
A quick glance at the roster shows a team that should be deep all over the diamond. The Roughriders have an impressive stash of pitchers, both starting and in the bullpen. The lineup compliments itself with power and speed, and the bench should be deep in reinforcements.
Page 2 of 3 - “I feel like our pitching staff is as deep as it’s ever been,” Lallemand, who’s in his eighth season at the helm for the Roughriders, said. “This year our depth is as good as it’s ever been.
“Our opening day lineup has never been the same come tournament time. There’s a bunch of guys that are going to be contributing come tourney time. There’s several other hitters that are going to play a part in it, and several other players that are going to play key roles that are going to help us achieve one of our main goals of getting back to Grand Junction and reaching a national championship.”
The Roughriders are wasting no time in getting to the grind this season. They’ll open play Feb. 6 at home against NEO A&M with a nine-inning affair slated for 2 p.m. That’s the first of two games against the Norsemen this season, who finished 33-12 last year.
Preston Tarkington, a 6-foot-2, 200-pound sophomore right hander from Searcy, Ark., is slated to get the start on the hill for the Roughriders after transferring from Panola (Tex.) College. He’ll be supported offensively by a lineup that should feature Cody Althouse (6’1, 195 sophomore infielder/outfielder) in the leadoff spot, followed by 2, Josh Johnson (6’1, 170 sophomore outfielder), 3, Tony Sandifer (6’1, 220 infielder), 4, Matt Burgess (6’4, 230 freshman infielder), 5, Ty White (5’8, 170 freshman infielder), 6, Jordan Dey (6’2, 185 infielder/outfielder) or Chris Scroggins (5’8, 150 freshman outfielder), 7, Lucas Feddersen (5’9, 170 sophomore shortstop) 8, Cody Webster (6’1, 200 sophomore catcher) or Samuel May (6’2, 230 catcher/outfielder), 9, Ryan Lazo (5’9, 160 freshman infielder).
“We feel like our top five can hit with anybody,” Lallemand said. “Offensively we’re very versatile. We’ve got power at the plate and got some runners around them. I think our lineup meshes well together.
“We had a very strong nine-to-10 last year, but we’re a lot more offensively like we were in 2010 where we can beat people in a lot of different ways.”
Tarkington should be followed in the rotation by Jon Woodcock (6’0, 190 sophomore left hander), and Chris Caudle (6’4, 200 sophomore righty). That should leave sophomore righty Cody Jackson (6’4, 210), Trey Watson (6’0, 195 sophomore lefty), and Cody Jones (6’0, 150 freshman lefty) to battle amongst others for rotation spots.
The bullpen will be anchored by sophomore right handed closer Andrew Schwaab (6’1, 170) at the back end where he’ll be joined by Neosho native Jacob Barnes (6’3, 205 sophomore) and Ryan Smith (5’9, 165 sophomore left hander) to fill what Lallemand coined the “non-hero” innings in middle relief.
Lallemand and his staff, assisted by Rob Vessell, Tyler Sawyer, Kyle Williams and Robert Holtz, have put together a mix of players that he hopes will get the team over the hump this season.
Page 3 of 3 - “One goal I have is when we come out of the month of February we’re going to see an incredible part of our schedule,” Lallemand said. “We’ll be battle tested when Iowa Western comes to town March 3, and then two weeks later we’ll start our conference season.
“When we get to March we’re going to obviously look back to what we did in the month of February and make changes and plunge into conference season, and then again evaluate and plunge into the postseason.”
And hopefully plunge into the heart of Colorado.
Notes: Highlighted by 24 sophomores on this 2013 team, last week the Roughriders began the process of replenishing their system for the 2014 season and beyond when they inked 17 high school players Saturday on the Crowder College campus.
Among those signing with the Roughriders were seven pitchers and 10 position players, highlighted by the school’s first Japanese player, Hirotaka Aida, an outfielder from Tokyo. Others who signed with Crowder were: Seth Beckner (OF, Carthage, Mo.), William Mahnken (3B, Kansas City, Mo.), Branden Bohuslav (RHP, Mansfield, Tex.), Aaron Patton (LHP, Monett, Mo.), Ethan Clark (RHP, Greenwood, Ark.), Drew Pearson (C/OF, Cabool, Mo.), Brady Cox (C, Fort Worth, Tex.), Brett Price (RHP, Fayetteville, Ark.), Bryant Haralson (RHP, Hector, Ark.), Winston Rasmussen (C/1B, Springdale, Ark.), Hayden Harvey (IF, Greenwood, Ark.), Carson Shaddy (IF, Fayetteville, Ark.), Christopher Hunt (RHP, Greenwood, Ark.), Henry Tietz (IF/OF, Marshall, Mo.), Blake Wilfong (C/OF, Jerseyville, Ill.), Lucas Infante (RHP, St. Jacob, Ill.).