Friday, February 1, 2008

Muscle on the mound

Muscle on the mound : Talented pitching staff has Bulldogs coach believing conference championship is within arm’s reach

Will Bolt will no doubt carve his own niche, but for now the first-year Texarkana College coach doesn’t mind comparisons to former mentor Dave Van Horn.

d. phillips
Staff photo by Tanner Spendley Texarkana College head coach Will Bolt, left, goes over catching techniques with David Allday during practice Wednesday afternoon.

“I would say we have a lot of similarities, but I would never put myself in the same category with him,” Bolt said of Van Horn, who used the TC coaching job as a springboard to bigger things as head coach at Nebraska and now Arkansas. “People have told me that I reminded them of Dave as a player, and others have said I look like him when I’m coaching. I do take a lot of what I do from him. He knows how to get the most of out of his players.”

That’s what Bolt and assistants Justin Seely and Brad Flanders hope to do with their first group of Bulldogs, who open the season with a doubleheader at noon Saturday at North Central Texas Community College in Gainesville.

Bolt comes to TC from Texas A&M, where he was a volunteer coach under former Bulldog coaches Rob Childress and Matt Deggs. He also played for Van Horn at Nebraska and was a volunteer coach for the Cornhuskers.

He takes over a Texarkana College program that overcame the controversial dismissal of head coach James Mansinger last season to win the Region XIV East Conference title. However, only seven players return from that team, and Bolt will build his first squad around that nucleus.

That includes right-hander Jason Chowning, who heads a pitching staff that Bolt feels is the strength of the team.

“Our starting pitching should be our strongest point. Depth wise, we’re going to have to have some guys step up and define their roles as the season progresses,” Bolt said.

Chowning and Texas High graduate Josh Gill, also a right-hander, are scheduled to start on Saturday. Gill was in the starting rotation for conference play last spring.

Former Atlanta standout Logan Puckett, one of three transfers from Seminole State College on the TC roster, missed the last month and a half of the fall season with an elbow injury and will be brought along slowly in the spring. Bolt is counting on Puckett to be one of his conference starters.

The same is true of left-hander Zach Fowler, who helped lead Liberty-Eylau to two state tournament championship games, then signed with Louisiana Tech before transferring to TC for the spring semester.

Others in the mix are 6-6 freshman Justin Fowler from New Diana (Texas) High School, Zach Gryder from Calhoun, La., Cody Wilson from Groesbeck, Texas, redshirt freshman Thomas Watson of Paris and perhaps Gip Hendrix, a freshman from Shreveport.

Gryder is the only other left-hander in the group.

The closer’s role appears to belong to right-hander Cory Hill, a sophomore transfer from Canada, who pitched in the JUCO World Series for Iowa Western last spring.

Several of the pitchers could also be everyday players, including Watson, who was redshirted after being injured early last year. He will start at third base and bat fifth in the lineup. Watson led the team in hitting in the fall.

“He’s going to get his hacks in and drive in runs,” Bolt said. “We’re counting on him big time.”

Australian Dean Malthouse returns at catcher, where he established himself as a steady performer last year. He will be backed up by Arkansas High graduate Lance Marvel.

“Dean can handle the bat and can catch and throw with anybody in the conference,” Bolt said. “He’s a lot stronger than he was last year. He’ll do most of the catching, but if Lance could catch one out of every four games that would give Dean some rest. Lance can also play in the outfield, and if he swings the bat like he’s capable, we may have to find a spot for him in the lineup.”

David Allday, a freshman from Texas High, earned the starting position at first base in the fall, and will hit third in the lineup. Last year’s designated hitter, David Phillips, will back him up, although Phillips will be the starter in left field.

Defensive whiz Trey Buck, a freshman from Crosby, Texas, will play second and bat second in the lineup.

Shortstop Justin Coats, a 2006 graduate of Texas High, hit 10 home runs for Seminole last year, but it’s been his defense that’s dazzled Bolt.

“Justin’s one of the most exciting athletes I’ve been around,” Bolt said. “He made some plays in the fall that you couldn’t believe. He missed the final three weeks with a sore elbow, but he’s healthy now. I’m confident he can make the plays shortstops have to make, and he’s also going to lead off for us.”

Watson’s entrenched at third with Puckett available to play there as well as shortstop and second base.

“Logan will be our swing guy,” Bolt said, “but if something happened to Trey, we’d probably move Watson to second and let Puckett play third.”

Phillips, from Nacogdoches, was one of the Bulldogs’ top hitters last year as the DH, but Bolt said he has made himself a good outfielder, earning the left-field position.

“He moves well for his size, and has a good arm,” Bolt said. “In fact, he may also pitch some for us. We put him on the mound a couple of times in the ball and he threw 88 (mph).”

Returnee Trevor Rainey, a spot player in right field last year, has moved to center, his old high school position.

“Trevor’s our best defender in the outfield,” Bolt said. “He has the most accurate arm, and even though he’s not the fastest guy, he gets the best jump off the bat.”

Gill will play right field when he’s not on the mound, and Bolt said he’s expecting big things offensively from him.

“He’s really worked on his swing. He can hit the ball out of the park, but he can also run and showed the ability to use the whole field in the fall. He’s probably our best base runner and has the best speed on the team.”

Anton Garcia, who started in left field last year, will back up Gill.

With Phillips occupying left field, the designated hitter’s role will fall to Hendrix, who smacked 18 home runs his senior season in high school.

The Bulldogs went 1-1-1 in the fall conference tournament held at Northeast Texas Community College, and Bolt got the chance to see much of his conference competition.

“As far as pure talent goes, I think Panola College really jumped out at me,” he said. “I didn’t see Angelina, but we played Navarro, and they’re always going to have three or four pitchers who get drafted every year.

“We should be in the mix. We don’t have a whole lot of depth, so some guys are going to have to stay healthy and produce. But I would put our guys up against anybody. As long as they perform their roles and stay together, I think we will have a shot at winning the conference.”


Date Opponent-site Games Time

Feb. 2 at North Central Texas, Gainesville 7-7 Noon

Feb. 12 at E. Oklahoma, Wilberton 7-9 1 p.m.

Feb. 15 Grayson County at Brenham 7 4 p.m.

Feb. 15 Blinn JC, Brenham 7 7 p.m.

Feb. 16 Seminole State at Brenham 7 2 p.m.

Feb. 16 Grayson County at Brenham 7 5 p.m.

Feb. 22 Coffeyville, Kan. 7 TBA

Feb. 23 Coffeyville, Kan. 7-7 TBA

Feb. 24 Coffeyville, Kan. 7 TBA

Mar. 1 Seward, Kan., Colleyville, Texas 7-9 1 p.m.

Mar. 2 Seward, Kan., Colleyville, Texas 7-9 Noon

Mar. 4 at Fort Smith, Ark. 7-7 1 p.m.

Mar. 8 Eastern Oklahoma 7-9 1 p.m.

Mar. 12 x-at Bossier Parish CC 7-9 Noon

Mar. 15 x-Angelina College 7-9 Noon

Mar. 16 Longview, Mo., Tishomingo, Okla. 7-9 Noon

Mar. 19 x-at NE Texas CC 7-9 Noon

Mar. 22 x-Paris Junior College 7-9 Noon

Mar. 24 at Tyler JC 9 2 p.m.

Mar. 26 x-at Panola College 7-9 Noon

Mar. 29 x-at Navarro College 7-9 Noon

Mar. 31 x-Tyler Junior College 9 2 p.m.

Apr. 2 x-Lon Morris College 7-9 Noon

Apr. 5 x-Bossier Parish CC 7-9 Noon

Apr. 9 x-at Angelina College 7-9 Noon

Apr. 12 x-NE Texas CC 7-9 Noon

Apr. 16 x-at Paris JC 7-9 Noon

Apr. 19 x-Panola College 7-9 Noon

Apr. 23 x-Navarro College 7-9 Noon

Apr. 25 Eastfield College 7-7 1 p.m.

Apr. 26 x-at Lon Morris College 7-9 Noon

x-Region XIV East games.