Lawrence Nesselrodt probably thought he had seen it all in 38 years as a college baseball coach. The effects of the coronavirus pandemic served as a reminder to be prepared for anything.
Like everyone else, WVU Tech had its season cut short in 2020. As the Golden Bears prepare to open this season on Wednesday, Nesselrodt did not let the opportunity at a teachable moment slip by.
"It really stretches that balance and we teach balance all the time, in mind and body," he said. "Great opportunity to learn that lesson for the kids, trying to balance the reality of adjustments with the key to success. The players are equally excited, but at the same time we're not taking anything for granted."
The pandemic has already thrown a wrench into this season. Tech was supposed to open the first weekend of February, but six doubleheaders have already been canceled or postponed because of Covid-19.
As of Monday, the path appears clear for Wednesday’s game against Pikeville. First pitch is set for noon at Shawnee Sports Complex in Dunbar. It was originally set for a Tuesday doubleheader.
The Golden Bears were 7-16 when the 2020 season was officially forced to an end on March 13. The NAIA granted all seniors the option of two more semesters, and five Golden Bears took advantage.
Those opting not to return were left-handed pitcher Reed McNeer, a James Monroe graduate, PikeView alumus Michael Rotenberry (right-handed pitcher), LHP Trey Dalton and catcher Kurt Latocha.
The five returning seniors are outfielder Corey Lewis, middle infielder Doug Pollock, outfielder Josh Ramirez, first baseman Bob Funk and infielder Pat Burke.
Junior right-hander Calyb King will be the ace of the weekend rotation for the Golden Bears. He was 7-1 with a 3.04 earned run average in 2019.
Joining him will be local products Wil Mullins and Logan Stump. Mullins graduated from Greater Beckley Christian and Stump is an Independence alumnus. Rounding out the weekend rotation will be Logan McClure, a sophomore from Hurricane.
Adding depth to the staff will be juniors Brett Linton, Matt Silverstein and Cameron Asbury and freshman Tyler Wilkinson, who played for Class AA state champion Bridgeport. Concord transfer Brandon Golden and true freshman Trevor Baker will also get some work.
Baker's twin brother Chad also joined the team but is nursing an elbow injury.
Luke Lindamood will replace Latocha as the starting catcher. Nesselrodt said the sophomore stepped up to win the job and will continue to get better.
Andrew Sharp (7 HRs, 20 2Bs, 34 RBIs in 2019) is the starting third baseman but can also give Lindamood a break behind the plate. Rilley Dube, a sophomore from Canada, will also see time at catcher. Burke would move to third when Sharp catches.
Kent Rooklin is a four-year starter at shortstop and is interchangeable with Pollock at second base.
Sophomore first baseman John Ackerman can also play either of the corner outfield spots. Backing him up at first will be Francesco Calderon, a 6-foot, 250-pound freshman from Ecuador who played at IMG Academy in Florida.
Lewis normally would be the starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, but he is out with an oblique injury. Also out with injury is left fielder Calen Owens, and right-fielder Funk is dealing with an academic issue.
With Lewis out, junior college transfer Jared Sermershein will play center field and Rooklin will bat leadoff. Yanick Petry, a senior from Germany, will play right and Ackerman will move to left, meaning Calderon will start at first.
Ramirez will likely be in the lineup at designated hitter.
Nesselrodt expects several other players to contribute as the year goes along, including local graduates Tanner Buchanan (Woodrow Wilson), Nate Hanshew (Midland Trail) and Bradie Vance (Westside). Others are Wyatt Tennant and Ryan Miller.
In addition to Lewis’ injury, Asbury is likely to miss 4-to-6 weeks after surgery, and Hanshew suffered a hamstring injury on Sunday.
Mullins, a weekend starter, will get the nod Wednesday against Pikeville (1-4). Mullins was 1-1 with an 8.36 earned run average in nine appearances last year.
The Golden Bears are still without a home field after last year's dispute that has kept them out of Linda K. Epling Stadium. All other home games are up in the air. Nesselrodt has reached out to other venues and is awaiting decisions.
Shawnee also serves as Tech’s field for outdoor practices. Indoor practices have been held at The Sandlot, a center in Mabscott that has afforded the Golden Bears batting practice, bullpen sessions and fielding and running drills.
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