MOUNT PLEASANT – Spring may be far away on the calendar yet, but the Iowa Wesleyan College baseball team will open its season this weekend already with a road trip to Kentucky.
The Tigers will face Lindsey Wilson College of Columbia, Ky., for a pair of doubleheaders this weekend starting with games Saturday afternoon. Despite a spell of bad weather in Kentucky this month the games are scheduled to go, though Saturday’s starting time for the first game has been pushed back to 2 p.m. to allow more time for the field to dry.
The series against Lindsey Wilson kicks off an IWC schedule that is loaded with tough competition and is intended to have the team ready for anything when the Midwest Collegiate Conference schedule comes around. In his third year as head coach, Brett Monaghan has lined up a schedule that has the Tigers playing a pair of NCAA Division I schools as well Oklahoma City University, which finished third in the NAIA World Series last year and is now making the transition to NCAA Division I. Also on the slate are two teams ranked in the NAIA Preseason Top 25 Coaches’ Poll, as well as games against three more teams receiving votes in the poll.
The Tigers are coming off a season in which they finished 21-27, facing a similarly tough non-conference schedule before finishing 12-10 and fifth in the MCC in the regular season. The season ended with a flourish, though, as IWC ripped through the MCC Tournament to win its second straight conference tourney title and earn a third straight trip to the NAIA Region VII Tournament. At regionals the Tigers won their first two games, knocking off the top seed and then eliminating conference rival William Penn University, and finished third overall for their best regionals performance in 42 years.
Wesleyan will be going for its third straight MCC Tournament Championship this year, and a win this year would be doubly sweet, for the conference tourney is likely the only route to NAIA postseason play for MCC teams. The regional round has now been eliminated, meaning most likely only one conference team will advance to the postseason.
IWC will make its push for a spot at the top of the conference with 12 returnees from last season. Included among those returnees are four starting position players and four players who pitched significantly as starters last year, and among those are eight players are four who received all-conference recognition last year.
Last year’s starting outfield returns intact, led by senior outfielder Frany Cruz (Toa Baja, Puerto Rico), who was named First Team All-MCC last year after batting .371 with 63 hits, 11 doubles, three home runs and 34 RBIs. Also returning is Devin Smith (Sr.-Lynwood, Ill.), who was honorable mention all-conference after hitting .328 with seven homers, 37 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. Senior Edwin Jimenez (Lawrenceville, Ga.) was the third piece to the outfield last year and led the team in hitting, batting .392 with 67 hits and 17 stolen bases.
Little experience returns on the infield, which will be bolstered by transfers as well as some possible position shuffling by last year’s outfielders. Senior Zach Starkey (Aurora, Ill.) is a transfer from NCAA Division I Marist (N.Y.) College, while Edder Morales (Jr.-Barquisimeto, Venezuela) is a transfer from Cochise (Ariz.) College and is expected to be the team’s starting shortstop. Among the candidates for time on the infield include Cruz and Jimenez, who both can play the middle infield.
Wesleyan returns a significant amount of pitching from last year’s team. Hector Acevedo (Sr.-Guaynabo, Puerto Rico) led the MCC in strikeouts last year and started 13 games, pitching 79 1/3 innings while compiling a 6-5 record. Justin DeVoe (Sr.-Newton, Iowa) also came on at the end of last season and ended up leading the team in wins (seven), innings pitched (82), games started (15) and tying for the team lead in complete games (four).
Both Acevedo and Curt Barnes (Sr.-Lone Tree, Iowa) were named honorable mention all-conference selections last season. Barnes spent much of the season in the bullpen but also did a fine job in spot starting duty last year, overall finishing 4-2 with a 5.16 earned run average which was second on the team. Barnes also had a pair of complete games and struck out 37 in 45 1/3 innings of work.
Among newcomers expected to add to the pitching depth are Milton Gonzalez (Jr.-Canovanos, Puerto Rico) and Jorge Martinez (Jr.-Tucson, Ariz.). Gonzalez is a transfer from Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, while Martinez came with Morales and catcher Diego Marquez (Jr.-Los Mochas Sinaloa, Mexico) from Cochise College.
A total of 19 newcomers includes 13 transfers and six freshmen. In all a roster of 32 players will start the season for Coach Monaghan, who is the first IWC coach to be at the helm of two straight postseason appearances for Tiger teams since Tony Damewood in 1994 and 1995.
The Tigers will spend the first month of their season on the road, including a trip through Oklahoma and Texas over Wesleyan’s spring break March 2-7. IWC is scheduled to play its first home games March 14 against Briar Cliff University at 3 p.m.
For more information regarding the IWC baseball program or any of the Tiger athletic teams, contact sports information director Adam Glatczak (319-385-6306 phone; 319-385-6384 FAX; email@example.com e-mail) or log on to IWC's athletics web site at www.iwc.edu/athletics.