PORTSMOUTH – Baseball is set to begin its seventh year under Head Coach Ted Tom this weekend as the 2014 season gets underway Friday at Georgia Gwinnett. In each of the past four seasons, the Bears have posted a winning record under Tom, who enters the season with a career coaching record of 170-167 at Shawnee State. Tom needs 26 wins to pass his former head coach Pat Rigsby as the all-time winningest coach in program history.
There appears to be plenty of optimism for the Bears heading into the season, who are slated to play a full 55-game regular season slate. Shawnee State has played for the conference championship in three of the past four seasons, winning two conference championships during that time. In 2013, the Bears went 30-29 overall and qualified for the Mid-South Conference Tournament.
"I really like the group of guys that we have," stated Tom. "We have a solid mixture of experienced players from last year and a core group of newcomers. We have meshed well in our workouts and are ready to compete against a different uniform."
Looking at the lineup, four regulars from the 2013 season will return with another year of experience under their belts.
"Behind the plate, Dustin Bickmeyer [.324 avg. in 2013] will be our No. 1 catcher while Brandon Blackwelder [redshirted in 2013] will back him up. We look forward to Dustin picking up where he left off last year and having Brandon there to back him up."
The outfield returns two of its starters from last season as the Queener brothers return for their senior seasons after transferring to Shawnee State prior to their junior campaigns. Todd Queener started 56 games in centerfield and led off a season ago, while Ryan worked his way into the starting lineup throughout the year before becoming a regular in the starting lineup during the second half of the season.
"In the outfield, we return Todd [.309 avg., 48 runs, 15 SB in 2013] and Ryan Queener [.324 avg. (.409 in MSC), 25 runs in 2013] who are looking to add on to the experience they gained last year. Newcomer Dalton Tinsley will add a much needed spark at the top of the lineup. Sophomore Nolan West will pick up a bat and be a dual player for us in 2014. Mitchell Lendenski [.356 OBP in 23 games in 2013] will add depth to our core of outfielders."
The infield will once again feature Daniel Katayama at third base. Katayama [.367 OBP, 25 RBI in 2013] started 46 games for the Bears in 2013. The rest of the starting infield at the beginning of the season will feature three transfers looking to make an immediate impact.
"On the infield, we will have a fresh look with lots of experience, anchored by the middle infield combination of Brady Page and Steve Davis. Daniel Katayama will return to the hot corner and look to improve on his numbers from 2013. Mason Wisner will anchor down first base and provide much needed power to the lineup while also offering back end stability to the bullpen on the mound."
The Bears return two weekend starting pitchers from 2013 in last year's No. 1 Cody Strayer [3-6, 3.71 ERA in 2013] and senior Zak Esposito [3-6, 3 complete games]. Freshman Derek Moore has also positioned himself amongst the Bears' top starters after a very decorated career at local Wheelersburg High School.
"On the mound, our strength will be in our starting pitcher as sophomore Cody Strayer, freshman Derek Moore and senior Zak Esposito will anchor the mound presence as the deepest staff in the Ted Tom era. Senior Bryan Sharkey [1-1, 10 IP in 2013], junior Ryan Valentine [redshirted in 2013] and Nolan Potter, along with sophomores Brandon Bonar [4.13 ERA, 28.1 IP in 2013] and Nolan West [2-1, 3.2 IP] will look to solidify the bullpen."
"All in all, I am really excited about this group of guys. They bring a lot of different things to the table and this may be our deepest team yet. I am looking forward to getting started and seeing how the 2014 season progresses as both our non-conference and Mid-South Conference schedule will be very grueling."
The 2014 season will be the 23rd season of Shawnee State baseball. The Bears' 12th game this season, which barring any schedule changes will be the 4 p.m. game against Concordia during their home opener on February 22, will be the 1,000th game in program history. The Bears are 543-442-3 as a program entering this year.