If numbers are an indicator, pitching should be a strength when Kansas City Kansas Community College opens the 2017 baseball season Friday.
When healthy, the Blue Devils' roster boasts 15 pitchers as KCKCC hosts Maple Woods in the home opener Friday at 3 p.m. before beginning a six-game spring road trip to Texas Feb. 17-20.
The pitching question mark, however, is experience. Only one starter returns from Matt Goldbeck's first season as head coach, a 41-20 season that included a third place finish behind Jayhawk Conference champion Neosho County and Region VI champion and World Series qualifier Cowley College. "We had a chance going into the final weekend," remembers Goldbeck.
In addition to losing the bulk of the starting pitching staff, the Blue Devils lost a quartet of middle of the lineup hitters who accounted for 44 home runs and 245 runs-batted-in (more than half of KCKCC's 478 RBI's for the season).
"We lost a lot of power from the middle of the order so we're going to have to be a little more mobile this season, more bunting and hit-and-run to put pressure on the defense," says Goldbeck. "However, I think we've upgraded ourselves on the mound with more depth and top end guys."
Jake Purl, a 6-3 righthander from Park Hill, returns to anchor the starting rotation. Purl led the Blue Devil mound staff last year with a 9-3 record. He'll likely be followed by Chad Cox (4-1), who appeared in a 16 games in relief last year, and southpaw Shae Stephens, a transfer from Cowley via Mill Valley
The fourth and fifth starters will come from a quartet of sophomores Cam Bednar of St. James Academy and Corey Cowan of Turner and freshmen Max Storch of Olathe South and Cole Gacke of Liberty. Luke Ostenson, a redshirt freshman from Shawnee Heights, will be the closer.
Middle relief will come from a corps of sophomores Jarret Cronin, a transfer from Indian Hills; Colton Kenagy (Gower, Mo.), Gunner Vestal (Piper) and Elijah Baig (St. Joe Benton) and freshmen Allan Brown from Olathe Northwest; Jake Bartshe of Liberty North and Julian Rivera of Kissimmee, Fla.
Experience, however, will be a plus on the infield where the Blue Devils return three starters, catcher Drew Holtgrieve of St. Charles, Mo., and the up-the-middle duo of shortstop Albert Woodard and second baseman Easton Fortuna. Holtgrieve hit .347 with six home runs and 49 RBI in a dual role catching and serving as designated hitter. He'll be backed by Adam North, a freshman from SM South.
Woodward hit .314 with 38 RBI and Fortuna .342 with 21 RBI and provided the Blue Devils with solid middle of the infield defense. Woodward also stole 14 bases. "The fastest player in Kansas," says Goldbeck after Woodward won a 60-yard dash in a state-wide tryout camp.
They'll be joined on the corners by freshman Brandon Still of Springdale, Ark., at first and sophomore Zack Mahoney of Bishop Miege at third. Mahoney played in 46 games last season, hitting .273 with 23 RBI. They'll be backed up by freshmen Rider Harris of Blue Valley, Van Oswald of Truman, Brigham Mooney of Blue Springs South and sophomore Alex Phillips, a first baseman and designated hitter who transferred from Northwest Oklahoma.
Chase Redick, a sophomore from SM North who hit .362 with 36 RBI last season, will get the starting nod in rightfield with swift Blue Springs freshman Tyler Pittman in center. The starter in left will come from a corps of sophomore Ty Bradshaw of Winnetonka and freshmen Josh Schumacher of Aurora, Colo., Dade Wheeler of St. Joe Benton and Rorey Combs of Truman. Bradshaw hit .441 in 20 games last season. "You can make a case for all four of them," says Goldbeck. They are joined by sophomore Tyler Mars of Mill Valley, who is also a candidate at first and designated hitter.
Defensively, the Blue Devils could be outstanding with veterans Woodard, Fortuna and Mahoney on the infield, Holtgrieve behind the plate and Redick in right with the speedy Pittman in center. "Pittman has game-changing speed," says Goldback. But as usual, it will come down to pitching. "More of a strength than last year; we have quality arms at the top and depth-wise throughout the whole staff."
Goldbeck will again be assisted by former Blue Devil standout Bill Sharp, who is in his eighth year on the staff; Lendsey Thomson, second season; and first year coaches Dean Long, Zane Mapes and Ryne McDonald.
The Jayhawk Conference again will be loaded headed by Cowley, the team the Blue Devils open the conference season against Thursday, March 2. Neosho, Johnson County and Allen are among the other expected powers in a conference that ranks among the nation's best. Each team will play a 36-game schedule with doubleheaders against the same foe each Thursday and Saturday.