Friday, February 6, 2009

Bulldogs ready to get cracking...

Bulldogs ready to get cracking

Rigorous routine has TC liking playoff prospects

l. marvel
j. fowler

Will Bolt’s first full recruiting class goes on display this weekend amid high expectations after a strong fall campaign.

“We’ve been practicing 2 1/2 weeks, and we’re ready to go,” said Bolt, whose first Texarkana College baseball team finished 33-23 and bowed out of the Region XIV tournament in two games. “I think we would have been ready if we had started last weekend.”

Although the Bulldogs have only two pitchers—right-hander Justin Fowler and lefty Zach Fowler (no relation)—Bolt feels a strong freshman class will make pitching one of the team’s biggest strength.

“As far as returners go, the two Fowlers are the only guys back on the mound,” Bolt said. “We had Gip Hendrix and Thomas Watson throwing in the regional elimination game last year, and they’re not going to pitch this year. That speaks to the depth we’re going to have on the mound. Even though most are freshman, they are quality arms.”

The Fowlers will pitch Saturday’s home doubleheader against Temple, a 6-0 team that played in the 2006 JUCO World Series. Sunday’s starters against Eastern Oklahoma, a top 25 team this season, at Dobson Field will be freshmen Tanner Bailey, a 6-7, 240-pounder from Little Rock, and John Stilson of Texas High. Taylor Nichols of Magnolia, Ark., is also in the mix of possible starters. All are right-handers.

In fact, Zach Fowler is the lone southpaw on the staff.

“Those five are the ones we’re looking at as regular starters,” Bolt said. “It will play out during the regular season as to who we’re going to depend on for the four conference spots.”

Sophomore Joaquin Hinojosa, player of the year in the Golden Valley Conference in California last year, will be the closer as well as the starting right fielder.

“Joaquin is from Texas and wanted to get back here,” Bolt said. “He called (former TC coach) Rob Childress at Texas A&M and asked him to recommend a school, and he sent him here. He’s committed to A&M next year.

Making up the TC bullpen are former Paris High School standout Colton Reavis, who missed his senior year with a torn ACL but was an early TC signee, Brittan Diamond of Sulphur Springs, Canadian Shane Cole, Justin Fielden from Gilmer and Ty Moore from Liberty High School in the Austin area.

The only other left-hander, Justin Parsons of Jasper, Texas, had Tommy John surgery on his elbow and will redshirt this season.

“Overall I feel good about our pitching,” Bolt said. “We’ve got two experienced guys who were in the rotation from Day 1 last year coming back to lead the staff. And the guys we’ve got in the bullpen are going to be able to match up with anybody in our league from a competitive standpoint.

“Our bullpen was our weakest point last year. We had no depth at all and ran out of options early. But I really think this year these guys will come out with good stuff and throw strikes. That’s what you need from relief pitchers.”

Several position players return. Former Arkansas High standout Lance Marvel hit .370 with six home runs last year, David Allday of Texas High had a good year at first base, second baseman Trey Buck of Crosby, Texas, led the Bulldogs in hitting, third baseman Watson of Paris was an all-conference selection, and DH/outfielder Hendrix was the conference freshman of the year, batting .380 with seven home runs.

Bolt said Marvel’s bat will be in the lineup, whether he plays behind the plate, in the outfield or in the DH role. He will share the catcher’s role with freshman Jordy Snikeris of Austin, who is an excellent defender and thrower, according to his coach.

Allday won the first-base job from talented freshmen Nichols and Taylor Bailey, a left-handed hitter with power.

Buck, who moved to shortstop last year when Justin Coats was injured, will play mainly at second, but will move back to short when the starter there, Stilson, goes to the mound. Buck is backed up by Ian Gilley from Fort Smith Northside. Gilley can also play short and third base.

Bolt calls Stilson, who got a late start in the fall after shoulder surgery, “a vacuum at shortstop. He makes the routine plays, then makes some others that make you say ‘Wow.’”

Backing up Watson at third is Diamond, termed a “throwback guy, hard-nosed, gritty player,” by Bolt.

“We’ve got quite a few guys who can play more than one place in the infield,” Bolt said. “They’ve got good chemistry as a group.”

Bolt expects his outfield to be one of the best around. Freshman Austin Atwell from Allen, Texas (Wylie High School) is the team’s fastest runner, and Houston freshman Brian Ellis from Houston is not far behind.

“They both cover a lot of ground and have strong, accurate arms,” Bolt said. “Ellis actually led us in hitting in the fall at around .500. He’ll probably be my three-hole hitter.”

Hinojosa will bat cleanup for the Bulldogs.

“He’s not going to hit a lot of home runs, but he can do a lot of things with the bat,” Bolt said. “He’s also an excellent outfielder.”

Zach Fowler, Moore and freshman Devin Day from Ashdown will back up the outfield starters.

Brad Flanders is back from Bolt’s coaching staff last year. He will coach first base and work with the pitchers. Newcomer Travis Wendte, a former professional player, joined the staff the spring semester. He will work with the pitchers in the bullpen.

Bolt expects a strong schedule that includes defending national champion Grayson College and 2007 title holder Chipola College will prepare his team for conference play.

“Based on what we saw in the fall, Panola College has a lot of returners and will be tough, and I’m sure Navarro added a couple of guys at the break,” he said. “Northeast Texas is going to be a lot better, and Angelina is strong every year.

“There should be five or six teams battling for four playoff spots, and I like our chances. Our goal is to win the league, go to the World Series and win a national championship. That will be the goal as long as I’m here.”