Ada — The East Central University baseball team has been retooled and is ready for the 2014 season. The Tigers have 23 newcomers on the roster and just nine returners from a season ago.
“We had to retool after last year,” said head coach Dino Rosato. “I am pleased with my assistant coaches, Montgomery, Schmidt, & Mistler, for their efforts when it came to recruiting and facilities management in the off season. We have put together a solid group of young men after losing so many seniors to graduation a year ago.”
ECU will have a lot to prove, as the Tigers were picked to finish 11th (13 points) in the 2014 Great American Conference Preseason Poll, as voted on by the league’s head coaches.
Southern Arkansas was a clear top choice with 100 points and 10-of-11 first-place votes. Arkansas Tech was the only other team to receive a first-place vote, finishing second with 88 points.
Southwestern Oklahoma State was picked third (78 points), Arkansas-Monticello fourth (63), Henderson State fifth (61), Harding sixth (55), Ouachita Baptist seventh (50), Southeastern Oklahoma state eighth (46), Northwestern Oklahoma State ninth (25) and Southern Nazarene 10th (19).
The new look for the team does include nine returners, which includes three pitchers and six fielders. Senior Robert Buitrago leads the group of returning pitchers for the Tigers, finishing 2013 with a 5.50 ERA, 31 strikeouts and a 1-8 record.
“We have one returner on the mound in Robert Buitrago,” Rosato stated. “He has done a fantastic job for us the past two years. He has shown tremendous growth as a leader on and off the field. I am expecting big things from Robert on the mound this year.”
Besides Buitrago, ECU also returns Levi Keeton and Robert Cave to the mound. Both saw limited action in 2013, with Cave appearing in 10 games and Keeton just five.
The Tigers focused on pitching for the 2014 recruits, adding nine to the squad. Alex Barnes, Icezack Flemming, Oscar Gomez, Lucas Kaplan, Cam McKay, Merrick Ardoin, Mike Andrade, Matt Fitzgerald, and Jake Wellington are all expected to see time on the mound for ECU.
“Pitching is always key. It is the one position where we retooled by bring in a few guys that are expected to make the largest impact for us,” added Rosato.
The Tigers have six players returning for fielding positions in Ethan Gold, Josh Lavender, Brandon Maggia, Michael Mariano, Cale Russell and Eric Swann. Gold had a strong year at the plate for ECU, with a .300 batting average, 24 hits and 14 RBIs.
The outfield group has added by speedy transfers Ty Huie, Dustin Torres, Gavin Susca, and Ariel Adut. The infield group also added a batch of junior college transfers, including hard hitting Nick Spini, David Terrazas, and Luc Pomales. Rounding out the infield group is a talent batch of middle infielders including Casey Chenoweth, Garrett Donohoe, and Casey Kenney.
“We have a good group of talented student-athletes,” Rosato commented. “They have done well learning and adapting to the systems. My staff and I feel we have had good preparation throughout the fall semester. Now the team will have an opportunity to compete. The level of success they experience will come down to their level of execution.”
The new additions and a fall season that saw the team gather a lot of team synergy is a good start in that process.
“I think we have added good depth defensively and we have built a deep pen with our recruiting this year,” added Rosato.
For the second-straight season the Tigers will open the season at Tiger Field and will play the first seven games at home. ECU opens the season with a three-game series against Cameron, Feb. 1-2.