By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
After a couple of years of seasoning, the Concord University baseball team fields a veteran lineup for the 2013 season.
The Mountain Lions captured the WVIAC championship two years ago. Concord finished the 2012 season with wins in 11 of its final 13 games to post a 26-27 record and earn the final spot in the conference tournament, where the team went 2-1.
Head coach Andrew Wright said on Friday, “It’s year three for a lot of these guys that we brought in, who we were able to be pretty successful with as freshmen.
“We’re not in a position to call ourselves young anymore,” he said. “Our guys have grown up, but we still have freshmen and sophomores who are going to play pretty big roles.”
Last month, the preseason poll of conference coaches selected the Mountain Lions to win the WVIAC South Division. Concord got 11 first place votes and a higher point total (113) than any other league school. Seton Hill was tabbed to top the North Division and to win the 2013 tournament.
Concord has 18 returnees from 2012. Seven started in 38 or more games in the field. Outfielder Bret Blevins, infielder Ryan Johnston and shortstop Josh Wenger have been recognized as “Players to Watch in 2013” by the website D2BaseballNews.com.
The Athenians also once again get the services of Jacob Mays, who lasted just three games last year.
In 2011, the left-handed pitcher/outfielder led Concord in batting average (.382), slugging percentage (.529) and on-base percentage. He drove in 36 runs and stole 16 bases. On the mound, he threw 80 innings, authoring four complete games and a 4-5 record.
Wright said, “Getting Jacob Mays back again is going to be huge for us. Offensively, he is the prototypical type of player that we look for.
“Jacob is going to lead off for us. That can all change, (but) as of right now, we’re seeing Jacob leading off because his presence in the lineup changes the way different teams attack us.”
Wright said, “We’ve also added two junior-college pitchers and two Division I transfers, which hopefully will add a little more depth, as well.”
Two newcomers on the mound arrived from Frederick Community College in Maryland. Tim Leather had a 1.09 earned run average in 2011; Chris Baker recorded a school-record seven saves and had an ERA of 1.13 that season.
Drew Spear comes to Concord for his final collegiate season after pitching 138 1/3 innings for UNC-Asheville.
Wright said “word-of-mouth recruiting” helped the new players find their way to Athens. “We feel like we’re doing the type of job that allows our players to go out and really do a good job for us (in) representing our program, and getting people to want to play here,” he said.
With regard to recruiting position players, Wright said, “It’s gone very, very well. We’ve brought in a lot of athleticism.
“We’re excited about what we’ve brought in offensively as well, because I think it’s going to play well to our strengths and what we look for in the style and system that we play.
“The guys that have grown up a little bit are going to help us out in the middle of our order.”
Blevins is projected to be the No. 3 batter. Joey Miller, another import from Frederick Community College, will hit in the middle of the lineup as well, and will play first base. Johnston, who hit 10 homers last season, will also bat in that neighborhood.
On offense, Wright said, “We’re going to be in a pretty good situation.”
Going into the season, the expected starting rotation is Ryan Weatherholtz, Spears, and Devin Smith, a fifth-year senior.
Weatherholtz went 7-8 last season with an ERA of 5.26 over 89 innings. Smith was 6-3 with a 7.15 ERA over 68 innings.
Wright also likes the quality level of the relief pitching corps, which features all-WVIAC selection Will Zuspan.
“You’ve got eight to 10 guys who are sitting on the bench after the top three who can go in and keep runs off the board,” he said. “We’re pretty excited.”
Due to the weather in southern West Virginia, the team embarked on its first outing with very little outdoor practice. Wright voiced a positive outlook about the work CU did indoors in the past few weeks.
“In some ways it could be a disadvantage, but in other ways it can force you to focus on the finer details of the game,” he said.
“If you spend a lot of time outside, you’re more drawn to — just playing games. But (for) individual skill development, you’re able to focus more on that when you’re forced to be inside.”
He said the squad was outdoors to practice “some defensive stuff” on the artificial surface of the CU football field, and faced some “quasi-live pitching.”
On the way south to Savannah, Ga., to start the season, the Concord squad stopped off at East Lincoln High School in Charlotte, N.C., where CU alumnus Chris Matile is head baseball coach. Wright said, “He’s been nice enough to let us use his field on the way down.”
The Mountain Lions took a 5-4 loss in their first game, to Armstrong Atlantic State University on Friday. Armstrong was ranked the No. 29 baseball team in NCAA Division II in the first Collegiate Baseball poll of the season released last Monday.
Concord’s first home games are scheduled for Feb. 23 and 24 at noon against Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
— E-mail: tbone