State has a new identity in 2017
Photo by Gerald Castillo
A year ago, head coach Ty Harrington convinced himself that last season would be the year that Texas State baseball returned to its title-winning ways.
It was his first year back after a bout with cancer and he envisioned his senior-laden team hoisting a Sun Belt championship because everything felt right. With a wealth of experience on the mound, impact hitters and a good influx of young contributors, Harrington said he felt an emptiness following the Bobcats’ elimination from the Sun Belt Tournament.
“I thought we were good enough, I thought we were prepared, I thought we had the momentum,” Harrington said during Wednesday’s baseball media day. “There were a lot of great things that were going for us and as baseball would have it, different things happen throughout the course of a game because it’s just that way. We didn’t win.”
This year, circumstance relieved the team of that expectation.
Last year, the 18-year veteran talked championship, this year he talked more about experience and having the “next man up” approach in lieu of preseason injuries and roster adjustments. The biggest immediate loss is junior shortstop Luke Sherley who will miss an “indefinite” amount of time with a thumb injury. Sherley’s injury caused a shift in the infield, with sophomore Jonathan Ortega moving to shortstop and sophomore Jacob Almendarez moving to second base after playing the majority of his first season in centerfield. Sophomore Ryan Newman takes over full-time at first base. Newman was recruited as a catcher, but started to transition last season.
“I feel comfortable there now, this time a year ago I was a little nervous over there,” Newman said. “Now I’m very confident.”
Texas State went from having eight seniors to just three this season in Quinn Atwood, Brandon Courevill and Joe Powell — all pitchers. Ortega says the lack of true four-year experience has created a level playing field on the team and thus, a lead-by-committee approach to the season. Where the team lacks seniors, it has a wealth of juniors and sophomores with ample playing time.
“It’s actually fun because everyone knows their role and is mature,” Ortega said. “No one has to go make sure this guy’s doing that or this guy’s doing that. Everybody knows what they have to be doing at the right time.”
With a new season also comes a new identity. Without the likes of Tanner Hill (15 home runs in 2016) and Granger Studdard (63 hits) at the plate, Harrington admitted they’re switching their approach offensively.
“We’re not going to stand in there and have guys sitting there swinging as much,” Harrington said. “We are going to have to be a little more creative and we are capable of being more creative because I do think we have some guys that can run the bases and do some different things.”
The Bobcats finished 2016 ranked near the bottom of the Sun Belt in on-base percentage (.354), RBIs (290) and seventh in steal attempts (56). The loss of Hill has Harrington getting more imaginative.
“Our offense is getting more aggressive on the base paths,” Newman said. “A lot less sac-bunting, a lot more hit and runs, trying to get runners first to third, a lot of runners moving and really aggressive on dirt-ball reads and taking easy bags. It’s not going to be as stationary last year.”
Texas State opens up the season this weekend hosting a four-game series against Purdue. The first game is Friday at 6 p.m.