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When the Patriots opened their season this Friday, it marked the 13th season opener for Luther Bramblett as the head coach at St. Catharine College.
And this 13th winter has left a lot of questions as to how Bramblett thinks his Pats will do.
“I like our team a lot,” Bramblett said. “The guys have worked extremely hard this fall and so far in January, but we’ve been on the field just three times. This weather has been the worst since I’ve been here and it has made it tough to prepare the way we’d like to.”
With the weather being an issue, it’s not the only one the Patriot mentor sees.
The Patriots have a lack of experience in MSC play, only returning three position players with 80 or more at-bats. Leading the way is Adrian Garcia (Anaheim, Calif.), an NAIA Player to Watch, who will compete for time at third and in the outfield.
Garcia batted .341 with 10 doubles and 31 RBI last year as the shortstop.
A pair of first basemen/DH candidates returns for the Pats as well in Josh Whitmer (Taylorsville) and Eric Standafer (Shelbyville).
Whitmer had nine doubles and three home runs last year while hitting .229. Standafer had a .289 average with six doubles and a homer.
“We don’t return a lot offensively,” Bramblett said. “We lost quite a bit off of last year’s squad, but we did a good job of replacing those guys. We did, however, return quality guys on the mound, and that’s where most games are won and lost.”
The Patriots return 18 wins from last year with Andrew Nelson (Eureka, Calif.) leading the way.
Nelson went 5-2 with a 2.80 ERA in 61 innings. Trenton Claunch (Burgin) also returns with his 4-0 mark out of the pen. He had a 2.37 ERA in 15 appearances last year.
Bruce Tolliver (Whittier, Calif.) also returns, after going 5-5 with a 3.09 ERA in 55 innings.
Cory Klinger (Rushsylvania, Ohio) led the Pats with 18 appearances last year and went 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA.
“We have quality experience returning on the mound, both as starters and relievers out of the pen,” Bramblett said. “With what we’ve brought in, we are excited to see how it goes this spring.”
Looking at the new additions to the pitching staff, one could see why Bramblett is optimistic about the Patriots staff. John Werner (Anaheim, Calif.), Jake McCoy (Mesa, Ariz.) and Steven Borkowski (San Diego, Calif.) will all compete for weekend innings.
All three of these guys compete well, are durable and throw a lot of strikes, according to Bramblett.
Alex Knowles (Huntington Beach, Calif.), along with returners Cody Alvey (Upton) and CJ Gant (Louisville) will toss out of the Patriot pen.
The wildcard could be lefty Rich Corrente (Chatham, Ontario), who is coming off Tommy John surgery but has looked good in his pen work.
In addition to their pitching strength, Bramblett is excited about the defensive talent they’ve put together.
“I feel like we are more athletic than we ever have been,” Bramblett said. “We run well, have range and strong arms at most every position. We are experienced at most positions and believe that this is the most talent we’ve had since we went four-year.”
In the infield, the Patriots will rely on red-shirt junior Francisco Gonzalez (San Diego, Calif.) and Marc Mason (Tehama, CA) at shortstop. Both players are transfers and make routine plays.
At second base, transfer Alfredo Bohorquez (Maracaibo, Venezuela) will get the first nod. He’s the fastest Patriot and may have the best hands in the infield, according to Bramblett.
Transfer Ty Broady (Greenville) will compete with Garcia at third base. At first base, newcomers Danny Jimenez (Fountain Valley, Calif.) and Dominique Guevara (Oxnard, Calif.) will compete with Standafer and Whitmer.
Any of those players may find their way into the DH spot as well. Sophomore Tyler Devine who (Harrodsburg) led the Pats in hitting this fall, will fight for time as well.
Behind the plate is where the Patriots lack the most experience.
Sophomore Drew Kissel (Jeffersonville, Ind.) will start the season as number one on the depth chart. Bramblett said that Kissel has worked extremely hard and has earned that spot.
Freshman Tyler Steiner (Coral Glades, Fla.) will be the number-two guy and has improved vastly since the fall started. Transfer Eric Walker (Rockford, Ill.) will compete for time as well.
In the outfield, transfer Nick Rosso (Santa Barbara, Calif.) leads the way and is the most likely to start in centerfield.
A number of players will compete for time at the other two outfield positions.
Garcia and Jimenez could see time there, and returner Lamont Calloway (Louisville) played some outfield last year.
Transfer Harold Diaz (Gurabo, Puerto Rico) is also a candidate to see some time there. Eric Donnelly (Coral Springs, Fla.) and Cody Kollenberg (PeeWee Valley) both have improved and could see some time.
“We have a lot of question marks but really like the make-up of our team,” Bramblett said. “We have talent but so does everyone else in our league and on our schedule. With that said, I like the way we’ve prepared, worked and got along as a team, despite the adverse weather so far this spring.”
The Patriots open up on the road for the first two weekends of their season at University of Mobile in Alabama and at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn. They open up at home on Feb. 14.